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What to do when baby won't nap

We explain why baby may have trouble dropping off during the day and what you can do to help when they just won't nap.
Regular naps are important both for your baby and for your sanity. In fact, research has suggested that infants that take regular naps tend to be less irritable during the day and sleep better at night - what parent doesn't want that!

Most experts agree that daytime naps are important both for infant development and their general well-being however just like adults, some babies need more sleep than others and some less. By getting your baby into a good nap routine you'll be paving the way for good sleep habits as they grow and help to make their waking hours fuss-free.

How many naps does baby need?

In the first three months of your baby's life they'll sleep 'on demand' and trying to establish a nap routine is nigh on impossible. Instead you can focus on teaching them the difference between night and day so that they begin to tune in to a circadian rhythm.

After the three month mark your baby is likely to need two or three naps a day with each coming 2 - 3 hours after the last. Many parents settle into a mid-morning, mid-afternoon and late-afternoon nap schedule, although you should make sure not to put baby down for their last nap of the day too late or it may affect their ability to fall asleep later.

Between 6 and 12 months your baby is likely to need just two naps a day, usually sometime during mid-morning and then mid-afternoon. Depending on how tired they are you may find that they'll spend anywhere between 30 minutes and 2 hours asleep during each.

From 12 months onwards you'll find that your little one only needs one nap a day to recharge their batteries, usually sometime mid-afternoon. Then, sometime between the ages of 2 and 5 they'll stop needing a nap altogether.

Why won't baby nap?

While nap-time problems tend to be less disruptive than night time sleep issues they're frustrating nonetheless. If you learn to identify why your baby is having trouble dropping off you'll be better able to soothe them into a nap time routine that works every time (well, almost!).

Presuming they're not hungry, poorly or in need of a change, possible reasons why your baby may find it difficult to nap include:
  • Baby could be overtired -
    Strange as it seems you only have a relatively small window of opportunity during which your baby will happily settle themselves to sleep. Miss this and they will often get a second wind and be unwilling and unable to nap.

  • Baby could be overstimulated-
    Young infants rarely want to miss out on a thing so if they've been busy playing just before nap time they're unlikely to want to stop and settle down for a rest.

  • Baby could be distracted -
    If your baby isn't in the place where they usually sleep, there's lots of interesting noise, light or other 'interesting' distractions, they're unlikely to be able to switch off for a nap.

  • Baby could need you -
    If your baby hasn't yet got the hang of settling themselves to sleep you may find that they have trouble napping because you're somewhere else in the house rather than by their side.
How to get baby to nap

It may take a little persistence but once you've taught your baby to nap you should find that they are brighter during their waking hours and able to enjoy a more restful sleep during both nap and night time. Here's how:
  • Learn your baby's sleep signs -
    Babies can go from being wide awake to overtired in a very short space of time so learning their 'sleep signals' is a must for identifying when it's time to put them down for a nap. Put them down for a nap too soon and they'll not want to sleep but leave it too long once they're tired and they can become overstimulated and won't be able to settle.

  • Establish a routine -
    It's a good idea to establish a daytime sleep routine for your baby based on when they become tired. As you begin to identify when your baby is at their most lively and when they naturally wind down for a nap you'll be able to tailor their 'sleep schedule' accordingly. By putting your baby down for a nap at roughly the same time each day they'll learn what to expect and gradually settle more easily.
  • Help them to wind down -
    It's important to prepare your baby for a nap by having a little quiet time together before you place them down to sleep. Read them a book, sing them a lullaby or just give them a cuddle but whatever you do it's important that you're in a relaxing and peaceful environment free from distractions as this will help baby to get into 'sleep mode'.
  • Teach them 'bed' means sleep -
    You'll find that your baby associates where they are with what they're doing so if you place them down for a nap in the same place they sleep at night they'll begin to understand that it's time for them to go to sleep. It's also a good idea to make sure the room is dark, quiet and temperate so they're as comfortable as possible.

  • Help them to settle themselves -
    While it's often easier to rock or feed your baby to sleep it can mean that they don't learn to settle themselves. For this reason it can be a better idea to place your baby down for a nap while they're drowsy and then simply stay with them until they drop off. Gradually they'll begin to get the hang of going to sleep and settling themselves back to sleep without your help.

Whether you have a question about getting your baby to sleep or a tip you can share with other Mums and Dads, why not visit the AskBaby forums for a chat?

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This is a very informative article!
by majorsforminors 20th Jun 2013, 3:08pm
my seven month old son has three half hour naps a day, he goes down no problem at night, daytime naps can be a problem as he wont settle in his cot, as soon as i lie him on the bed he falls asleep no problem, he has started waking during the night,i try for at least an hour to get him back to sleep with no luck, again as soon as hes in the bed he falls back asleep, am i learning him bad habits?
by bighev 18th May 2010, 5:36pm
My 8 Week old is always crying unless he's moving around ... he sleep well of a night but its getting him to sleep ... he wont sleep in his mosses basket, his cot bed or the flat bit in his pushchair ... he'll only sleep in his car seat and im really worried about his back ... he dozes whilst layin on me or my partner but as soon as we put him down he screams and takes us a while to calm him down again and as soon as his in his car seat he's asleep straight away ... help!!!
by LorraineOx 4th Nov 2009, 3:47pm
So far my 8 week old is good during the day..She sleeps 'in' til 10am ....I make sure she naps at lunch time for a couple of hours and then again mid afternoon...she is very rarely grumpy or crying and sleeps long stretches over the night.
She may well get alot more sleep than alot of babies but I really do think the napping is good for her, if she is awake to long she gets grumpy, so I try to put her down as soon as she looks like she is ready to go - she tends to rub her face against me, or 'head butt' me gently and get a bit fidgety.
Sometimes she will be tired but hungry...so rather than a full feed I give her a couple of oz..she then goe off easily.
by BandaPanda 30th Apr 2009, 9:19am

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