When our sweet ones are little we’re often caught in the nap trap, here’s how to embrace it without feeling deprived.
If you were in the airport security line and heard a baby screaming and a mother whose entire shirt was soaking wet from leaking milk.
With a half crazed / half zoned out look on her face as she tried to cover herself with her scarf… well that was me.
At one point I had 5 kids under 5 years old and let me tell you something.
The nap trap is real
What is a nap trap?
Let’s start with a loose definition then get more specific.
A nap trap is when you are restricted due to your child’s napping needs.
Nap traps manifest in the following ways:
This isn’t exhaustive, but you’ll get the idea:
- Having to sit down while baby naps on you
- Not feeling free to leave the house because baby doesn’t sleep well outside the home, falls asleep randomly in the car, or gets overtired
- Needing to remain beside or with your child while they nap so they don’t wake up
- Having a general sense of being “trapped” by your baby or toddler’s schedule
In this post I’m going to break down a bunch of different things, so keep reading.
Tried-and-true *hands on* newborn settling strategies that even the most fussy (or wide-awake-sleep-refusing) newborns cannot resist!Learn More
Nap schedules vs. wake windows
One thing that many women need to choose between is whether they are going to simply follow baby’s wake windows (get my free cheat sheet on this below). OR whether they should opt for a predictable daily schedule for their little one.
Pros of Wake Windows with respect to the nap trap
- You can go and do immediately after baby wakes from a nap since you know the time frame when they’ll need another nap
- Time is not the restriction, per se, but how long baby can stay awake
- The time when your baby or toddler is up and playing is when you can get things done
- You an use wake windows and stop contact napping and then have a TON more freedom
Learn how to space naps, how many a day per age, best times, etc. and get your nap game ON!
Pros of daily schedules with respect to the nap trap
- You are able to have predictable days and plan FOR the times of rest or being “trapped” randomly when baby falls asleep.
- Things that need to get done can be scheduled in or, at minimum, you can relax knowing there are pre-determined times during the day where you can tackle these things.
- Your life doesn’t feel totally powerless at the mercy of a tiny precious human’s whims. Instead, you control the flow of the day meeting their need before they need to protest to have them met.
Which nap is the most important?
You may want to drop a nap.
Perhaps, you want one nap on the go so you can enjoy life outside the home.
If that’s the case, let me tell you which nap is the most important.
- Babies under 1 year old | the morning nap is typically the most important. This is because if they get progressively more tired throughout the day they will not nap well in the afternoon either, and then overnight will wake more. As sleep begets sleep. And overtiredness begets bad sleep.
- Toddlers 1 year and older | the afternoon nap is the most important and eventually will be the only nap left.
To a certain extent, if you have an easy baby it won’t matter. But if you have a baby who fights sleep then it’s important they aren’t catnapping all day.
If baby takes a substantial nap in the morning, they will avoid the overtired cycle. If the morning nap goes badly and baby becomes wiped out, they’ll often wake up early from an afternoon nap as well.
Instead, focus on getting that good nap per day and then you’re more free during the other times.
How do you get out of a nap trap?
First, to some extent you won’t get out of the nap trap until your little one is no longer napping.
Quite frankly, babies need sleep and if you don’t give it to them Then You Will Pay. They will too, of course, as sleep is related to healthy development.
But there ARE strategies you can use to alleviate some of the stress of the nap trap.
#1 Wean from contact napping
Being physically trapped by a napper is not for the faint of heart.
Some moms can cope for a while, but inevitably it becomes too much. Particularly if you have toddlers running around. A time will come when you must wean from the contact nap.
The good news is: even if you’re trapped at home while baby naps, you at least can get up and do other things.
- Teach baby to settle in their own sleeping space.
- Wean from strategies that promote contact napping and start teaching baby more independent sleep.
- Choose a more gradual or abrupt pace depending on your own capacity to handle a more official sleep training intervention.
Create sustainable sleep habits for your little lamb so the whole family can sleep peacefully without the stress, drama, and tears.Learn More
#2 – Create a predictable routine
One of the reasons babies end up contact napping is that they are awake when playing, when out and about, etc. and then as soon as you feed them… BOOM they’re out like a light.
Then, because they have to catch sleep whenever they can, as they aren’t naturally getting it at predictable times.
If your child gets a nap at more or less the same times every day, they simply don’t fall asleep at other times.
Why? Because they’re not tired at other times, they’re well-rested.
Get my cheat sheets (newborn up to elementary aged kids) and find your family’s groove.
Use them for:
- nap times
- meal times
- chore times
- play times
- AND more!
#3 – Go WITH the nap schedule (mentally)
Something that happens to us all is that we begin to fixate on what we WANT.
So, we’d rather be able to come and go as we please and the naps fit in with that. Well, when the naps don’t fit in with that, we fixate on the ANNOYINGNESS of it all. Which is normal, I get it.
But a better way is to dive INTO the nap schedule, not fight against it. Either way, your little one must nap. If they’re easy peasy and will nap here and there without entering the dreaded overtired cycle then fine.
- Give in mentally to the nap schedule and then find benefits and opportunities with it.
- During naps, actually do something that gives you life or must be done so you feel refreshed (or accomplished) when naptime is over.
- Make your home more of a haven so you don’t feel the need to escape it.
#4 – Learn how to nap on the go well
If you are simply an out and about person, feel stifled at home, but still want a well-rested baby then this is a must.
Do note, eventually, to have long full length naps they will need to be in their own sleep space. Otherwise, they’ll get used to (and develop sleep props) for movement.
Here are a few tips to help you achieve better on the go naps.
- Keep clothing associated with naps consistent (swaddle or put a sack on if you want them to sleep)
- Coordinate outings with naptimes, so some nap may happen in the car, or on a walk, or at the park, etc. so they are assured to get at least 45 minutes asleep.
- Be content with a partial nap since there’s a chance they may wake after 45 minutes verses having a full 1.5 to 2 hour nap.
- Use movement to get them to sleep. It’s super effective, which is why it’s a sleep prop, ha.
FAQs about being trapped by naps…
You can wing it and if you have an easy baby it’ll be fine.
If you have a baby with higher sleep needs or who is fussy, winging it won’t help it’ll make you both overtired and irritable. Just like you need sleep, babies need sleep. In fact, they need way more than you so it’s just something that must be prioritized the first year.
By the time your child is 18 months old they’ll have one afternoon nap. I think after that there’s only a trap if you wanted to be out ALL day and need to give them a nap
That first year you can be “nap trapped” if baby won’t sleep in their own sleep space off of you. So at that point the nap trap will typically only stop when you decide to help them sleep in their own space.
Babies can nap on the go, for sure. You don’t want every nap all week to be on the go, but if you need to get out and want to make sure baby doesn’t miss their nap altogether, just get a comfy stroller or carrier and let it be!