What to Do When Your Baby Wakes Up Crying from Naps

If your baby wakes up crying from naps, look no further. In this article, I’ll share why this happens and exactly what to do to turn things around.

Baby Wakes Up Crying from Naps

As a first-time mom, any “success” I felt for finally getting my baby to nap all but vanished the instant he woke up crying. It didn’t help when I’d hear the dreaded cry much sooner than I expected or hoped for. And considering how often babies nap in a single day, that’s a lot of crying we have to deal with.

Thankfully, I later learned how to turn things around using both tactical and mental strategies. We can do plenty to help our babies wake up peacefully. At the same time, there are a lot of factors out of our control, and we need to work on how we respond to them.

If you find yourself in the same boat, you’re in the right place. Take a look at what finally helped my son stop waking up crying from naps. As one parent said about the article:

“You strive to help overwhelmed moms enjoy parenthood and you couldn’t be more right! You did that for me and your words of wisdom on naps were inspiring and so helpful. To not let the lack of quality naps determine my day was exactly what I needed to hear. That I’m not alone, it’s just a season we’re going through and, ‘it’s just a nap’ so it’s going to be okay; and this is not a measure of how good or bad of a mom I am. Thank you!” -Megan N.

Consider sleep training

The swaddle, the pacifier, rocking your baby to sleep—all these sleep aids were helpful when you were in the early months. But if your baby is past the newborn stage, he might be able to soothe himself back to sleep between naps. That way, should he wake up mid-nap, he can simply put himself back to sleep instead of crying out for you to help him do so.

The thing is, he hasn’t learned how (or been given the chance to). After all, he has relied on these sleep aids so much that he knows no other way to fall asleep.

If you feel like he has grown too reliant on sleep aids to fall asleep, consider teaching him how to self-soothe. By putting him down awake, he can learn how to fall asleep on his own if he wakes up mid-nap.

Free resource: Interested in learning more about teaching him to self soothe? Join my newsletter and get a preview of How to Teach Your Baby to Self Soothe. This chapter is all about the mindset needed for successful self-soothing and helping your baby put himself to sleep. As this parent said:

“After weeks of theatrics trying to get my son to bed via bouncing, nursing, and singing (and countless hours of googling), I came across your website and your experience was uncannily similar. We had a very strict bedtime routine, but it sure wasn’t working.

Tonight at 8:11pm I put my son to bed determined to use your method. I was prepared for hours of crying. My son fell asleep at 8:21pm. After weeks of long, distraught nights trying to get him to bed, he fell asleep in 10 minutes. It turns out my child just needed the opportunity to self-soothe. So, from the bottom of my sleep-deprived heart, thank you.” -Danielle Lothrop

How to Teach Your Baby to Self Soothe

Feed your baby after waking up

I figured that everyone fed their babies to sleep. After all, nursing or offering a bottle is one of the quickest and most efficient ways to get them to snooze.

The trouble is, your baby wakes up crying hysterically because he can’t fall back to sleep on his own. Instead, he needs you to feed him—even if he’s not hungry—to calm him down again.

But by feeding him after waking up, he won’t rely on feeding to fall asleep and can learn to keep sleeping should he wake up before he’s ready to.

Feeding him after waking up also has an extra advantage: you don’t have to worry about digestion issues during the nap. He wouldn’t be lying down flat on his back after he had just eaten where he’s susceptible to spit-up or reflux. He’ll also be awake to handle the discomfort of digestion and gas that can happen after eating.

Baby Wakes Up Crying Hysterically

Extend your baby’s sleep mid-cycle

All of us, including babies, sleep in cycles, typically for 45 minutes. If you’ve found that your baby wakes up after a consistent number of minutes, he’s likely having trouble transitioning from one cycle to the next.

You can help him continue sleeping for another cycle by beating him to the punch. Rather than letting him rouse himself awake, he can potentially sleep some more.

Here’s how: A few minutes before he typically wakes up, or as you catch him stirring and moving, ease him into falling back asleep. You could:

  • “Tug” at his pacifier, causing him to suck on it even harder
  • Move him to a new sleeping arrangement (such as from the crib to a swing)
  • Turn on white noise to lull him back to sleep
  • Pat or rock his body side to side

Shorten your baby’s wake times

You’d think that the more time your baby was awake, the more he’d appreciate a nice, long nap. Instead, not only is he cranky for a nap, but he’s cranky after waking up from one, too.

The problem could start not with the nap, but with how long he’s been awake. Being awake too long could be making him overtired, and he has a harder time settling during and after his naps. Because if you’re waiting for him to be fussy before putting him down, he’s likely already overtired at that point.

Instead, put him down for a nap 15 minutes earlier than usual and see how that goes for a few days. His post-nap cries could be a result of being overtired from the start.

Tell yourself it’ll be okay

My son had a great “nap day,” all because I told myself he would. Tired of feeling frustrated with each short nap and the endless cries that followed, I vowed that that day would be a good one.

Not only that, but I told myself that if he happened to wake up crying from a nap, that that’s okay, too. If he woke up right when I put him down in his crib or skipped his nap entirely, well, that’s also okay.

You see, sometimes, our biggest hurdles happen in our heads. We let one frustrating nap (or a series of them) determine the rest of the day or make us feel like a failure. But what if we tell ourselves that it’s okay, that it’s nothing to sweat about?

Let’s say your 4 month old baby won’t nap. What if you simply chose to let that go? To step back and say that her not napping isn’t a measure of your day, much less your worth? To ask yourself, Can I move on from this, even just for a moment?

One thing’s for sure: you’d be more likely to shrug it off and move on, perhaps focus on something more positive than dwelling on a frustrating nap. You’d realize that this is the season you’re in, and like all seasons, will come and go.

The next time you feel yourself tensing up and ready to lose your temper when she cries, pause for a moment and tell yourself it’s just a nap.

The bottom line

It’s frustrating when your baby wakes up crying from naps, especially when these naps run shorter than the time it took to get him to sleep. Thankfully, you now have a few tips to get through this hurdle, whether the naps were a “success” or not.

Get more tips:

Don’t forget: Join my newsletter and Get a preview of How to Teach Your Baby to Self Soothe below—at no cost to you:

How to Teach Your Baby to Self Soothe

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  1. Megan Neil says:

    You strive to “help overwhelmed moms enjoy parenthood” and you couldn’t be more right! You did that for me and your words of wisdom on naps were inspiring and oh so helpful. To not let the quality or the lack of quality naps determine my day was exactly what I needed to hear. That I’m not alone, it’s just a season we’re going through and, “it’s just a nap” so it’s going to be okay; and this is not a measure of how good or bad of a mom I am. Thank you, NINA!

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      This is so kind of you to share, Megan! I’m so glad I’ve been able to help in some way. Thank you for letting me know <3

  2. My problem is my baby does not want to eat when he wakes up. I don’t think he thinks he’s hungry more so he is pissed that I wake him up from a 1.5 hr nap. So he refuses the bottle. Then half way through his wake window he’s fussy and I know he must be hungry. I offer the feed but he does not want the bottle during his wake window… instead he waits until I put him in his sleep sack for nap time and then he instantly will drink his bottle then…

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Hi Sabrina! Yeah, he might be sleepier than he is hungry. See what happens if you don’t wake him up and instead let him run the course of his nap. Hopefully then he’ll wake up feeling rested and ready to eat.