If your baby won’t nap don’t worry, I’ll break down the most common reason and some solutions to help your little one start snoozing.
There’s nothing like having a baby that refuses to nap.
You look around, the house is a mess, you are wiped out, and there is stuff to be done.
I’ll do all that when baby naps, you tell yourself…
Famous last words.
Whether there is much sleep being had or not, the truth is this.
Babies are supposed to nap, and quite frequently at that.
Newborn babies can spend over 6 hours a day napping on-top of sleeping all night, and even 12 month olds still need around 3 hours of daytime sleep.
So, what the heck is going on with your baby who is refusing to nap? Maybe they’re not actually staying awake ALL day, but they are fighting the second nap or third nap of the day.
Or, maybe the length of their naps barely gives you time to take a quick shower, let alone give you enough time to work out, clean the house, and blow-dry your hair. Imagine how nice that would be. No… don’t imagine it.
And it is, indeed, possible. In fact, it’s very beneficial to your baby – and you – that he or she gets sufficient nap sleep.
In order to help you troubleshoot, let’s go over this list of 7 reasons why your baby won’t nap – and what to do about it.
1) Baby doesn’t know how to fall asleep independently
This is definitely one of the most common culprits of no-nap babies.
They need to be rocked and bounced and rocked some more, until you’re just about to put them down, and their eyes pop right open, demanding that you start the entire process over again.
This process may work better at bedtime where they have the day’s sleep pressure and melatonin to assist them, but during the daytime, they can take those little micro-naps and run until you’ve spent your entire day trying to “get them to nap”.
Learn how to space naps, how many a day per age, best times, etc. and get your nap game ON!
The solution really is a simple one, though not necessarily easy. You need to let your baby learn how to fall asleep independently.
While there is a place for rocking and assisting to sleep in the newborn stage – and for as long as you want to – but most parents hit a breaking point and realize they can’t be their baby’s nap crutch for the rest of their baby’s childhood
So, start laying your baby down drowsy and eventually awake, so your child can practice.
My class, Sleep Little Lamb, can help.
Create sustainable sleep habits for your little lamb so the whole family can sleep peacefully without the stress, drama, and tears.Learn More
2) You’re putting baby down too early
Even if your baby knows how to fall asleep independently, they still need the right amount of sleep pressure to help them fall asleep. Your baby should be falling asleep within about 5-10 minutes of being put down. And then being able to sleep for at least 1 two-hour nap per day.
The optimal timing of these naps is key to nap and overnight success. If you put baby down too early, he will surely fight that nap with gusto. Or he will lay happily awake for a long time before demanding you come get him (depending on temperament.)
Finding the right timing is key to perfect naps. See my sample routines below.
3) You’re putting baby down too late
As explained above, timing is everything.
So, just as you need to make sure you are not putting your baby down too early, you also need to make sure you’re not missing their sleep wave by putting them down too late. This is sure to cause overtired (stress) hormones to make it harder for them to fall asleep. This leads to more tears and shorter naps.
Little Lamb schedules are designed to help your baby ride their own little sleep waves into naps and bedtime. This helps babies fall asleep easily and stay awake longer.
- Newborn sample routine
- 3 to 6 month routine
- 6 to 9 month routine
- 9 to 12 month routine
- 12 months to 1 year old routine
4) Baby has to be in motion to sleep
If your baby only ever falls asleep in motion, whether it’s in a car ride, the baby carrier, a stroller, or your arms, he is going to have a hard time settling into deep sleep. And have trouble sleeping that full 2 hours, especially if you try to put him down.
Sleep in motion is not as restorative as stationary sleep because motion keeps your baby’s brain engaged just enough to prevent deep sleep. No wonder it’s hard to put them down.
Wean baby from naps on the swing or in your walking arms, and watch naps lengthen.
5) You’re expecting too much daytime sleep
It is actually pretty common that we talk to parents who are actually expecting too much sleep from their baby. If they’re sleeping 12 hours overnight at 8 months old, they aren’t going to be physically able to sleep 4.5 hours during the day.
So, if you put them down for a nap when they just aren’t tired, you can expect some protesting. Or, if you have a really chill baby, they might go to sleep, but end up waking early. Either from their nap or early in the morning.
If you’re having weird wake-ups from your otherwise good sleeper, you may be expecting too much sleep.
6) Baby is hungry
This is usually a problem with younger babies (under 6 months). That said, we’ve seen it in older babies, too.
If baby isn’t getting enough milk close enough to the start of their long nap, they could definitely be waking up hungry an hour into a nap. When they might otherwise have kept sleeping, they wake due to hunger.
This also happens with older babies who are ready for solids or protein with their solids, but are still only drinking milk or eating fruits and veggies.
7) Baby is super social
Sometimes it comes down to temperament.
If your baby knows how to fall asleep, is on the perfect schedule, is getting plenty of milk and the right kinds of solids, has a nice wind-down routine and sleep environment, then protests at nap time can be simple FOMO (fear of missing out.)
This is especially true for younger siblings. Babies who have discovered how much fun their older siblings are having don’t want to sleep sometimes.
If this is your social little one, the best thing to do is stay consistent with your plan and expectations and make sure everything else is spot on to support his naps.
Common questions about naps
In order for baby to get to sleep without being held, they need to learn to get to sleep independently. You’ll phase out the current sleep prop (holding to sleep) and teach them to fall asleep on their own with a settling method of your choice.
Holding to sleep gives baby a “job to do” which results in them waking up early (sometimes after 15 minutes) just to make sure circumstances are the same… aka that you are holding them.
This isn’t sustainable for you nor is it helping baby get the deep restorative sleep they need.
There are a few reasons this could happen.
1) Dad doesn’t feed baby to sleep and simply puts baby down to nap, so baby goes to sleep. If mom feeds to sleep then baby may wake up early or take super short naps to get fed by mom, again.
2) Dad does not reinforce habits that prevent napping and mom does. Solve this by creating consistent wind down routines then not deviating or intermittently reinforcing the very habits you mean to break.
3) Baby is social and feeling attached to mom or is going through a period of separation anxiety, wanting to be close to mom. This may mean baby doesn’t want to be separated from mom to nap, but is better able to relax into sleep with dad. Solution? Keep consistent and have connection time during the pre-nap phase.
Some mamas need to make specific periods of training to help ease their little one into a crib. They may have sleep associations with swings (which prevent deep sleep as the motion keeps them in lighter sleep), car seats, strollers, slings, or moms’ arms.
Essentially, the only way to stop this association is to create a new one and phase the other one out. You’ll make the crib inviting, do the wind down routine in the baby’s room, then put baby to nap there and settle them in your preferred manner.
The afternoon is an important nap because it helps bridge the gap between the morning and bedtime. If baby misses an afternoon nap they will go into bedtime very tired which usually results in more overnight wakings and even early morning wakings.
If the afternoon nap is being skipped or missed you have a few options.
- Shorten the morning nap so baby is more tired for the afternoon nap
- Move the afternoon nap back slightly so more sleep pressure has built up
- Drop the morning nap completely if it’s time for that
If baby has ever napped well then it’s likely a sleep cycle issue, meaning baby isn’t able to transition through sleep cycles on their own and needs to learn independent sleep.