New moms who long for a postpartum break can get really frustrated when baby won’t nap. While naps may fall in the category of “luxury” for most adults, but babies don’t always appreciate that luxury. Even solid sleepers will have days when naps just seem too much to ask. For some babies, resting in solitude is too much to ask any day.
Before you start asking Google for strategies to make your baby nap without all the fuss, take a moment to explore some possible reasons your baby won’t nap. Once you understand what’s behind the refusal to rest, you may come up with your own creative ideas to get your little on a more consistent sleep schedule.
10 Reasons Your Baby Won’t Nap
1. Your baby is overtired.
Your baby may struggle to nap during the day because she doesn’t get adequate sleep at night. The lack of sleep essentially causes more lack of sleep. That sounds like a problem with no solution, but there are a lot of actions you can take to improve your baby’s sleep patterns day and night.
Start by reading through the rest of this list to identify why your baby is suffering from nap resistance. Start by ensuring your baby has adequate opportunities to sleep without distractions during the day. She needs dim lighting and a quiet environment or perhaps soothing music in the background. If that doesn’t seem to do the trick, you may find something on this list that helps.
2. Your baby suffers from a medical condition that contributes to or causes sleep problems.
GERD is one of the most common medical conditions known to interfere with sleep. Lying flat causes heartburn, spitting up, and gas pain that make it difficult if not impossible for a baby to sleep soundly and safely. There are a variety of other medical conditions that may also interfere with napping, including ear infections that may disturb a baby who normally naps well.
If your baby normally sleeps well but suddenly resists naptime, she may need a checkup with the pediatrician or family doctor. You may also notice other signs of distress like excessive spitting up, projectile vomiting, or tugging on the ears if they’re infected.
The solution to nap resistance in this case is to get the medical problem under control.
3. Your baby is more hungry than tired.
It’s difficult to sleep when you’re hungry, and that need for nourishment is more intense for young babies. It’s possible that your feeding schedule isn’t in sync with the time you would like your baby to nap. That hunger leads to fussiness that is easily confused for nap resistance.
Try planning naptime soon after your baby feeds. That full belly may help her fall asleep and stay asleep for a longer period of time.
If nighttime sleeping is also a problem, you may try dream feeding. That’s the practice of waking baby just enough to initiate a short feeding while they’re resting. That can lead to longer sleep times, allowing caregivers to get the rest they need. And remember, more sleep at night can prevent your baby from becoming overly tired, which leads to more difficulty sleeping during the day.
4. Your baby is overstimulated in the hour leading up to naptime.
Some parents try to increase activity and stimulation just before naptime in an effort to tire the little one out so that they’re ready to sleep when a planned naptime comes around. That works for some babies, but it can easily backfire. The stimulation can lead to an overly alert baby who has difficultly winding back down to rest.
Try quietening your baby’s environment and cutting back on stimulation leading up to naptime. Dim the lights. Speak to your baby in a calm, quiet, soothing voice. Play soft, relaxing music. Read a story without the overly excited animated voice. Allow older children to play outside to reduce the activity level inside.
Don’t expect your baby to sleep immediately. You’re setting the stage so that she can wind down and hopefully fall asleep easily.
5. Artificial light has your baby’s internal clock confused or out of sync.
Do you sleep with the television on? Is your phone almost always in your hand? What about laptops, desktop computers, iPads, and other electronic devices?
Technology is a natural part of modern life, but they emit artificial light that can signal daytime to the human brain. Studies have shown that adults don’t sleep as sound with this artificial light in their surrounding environment, and babies aren’t any different.
Try turning off all screens when it gets close to naptime to see if it makes a difference for your baby. You can also make sure that your baby is exposed to natural sunlight during the day followed by dimmer environments in the evening or near daylight naptime. Opening windows, going for walks, or sitting on the porch, can help your baby learn when it’s time to stay awake and when it’s time to sleep.
6. Your baby doesn’t understand that you want her to nap.
Telling your baby that it’s time to sleep and getting your baby to understand that it’s time to sleep are two different things. Young babies are still developing language comprehension, and they rely on environmental cues to figure out what is expected of them at any given time.
One way to communicate that it’s naptime is to create a pre-naptime routine. Yes, you may already have a bedtime routine for the evening, but you may need something similar that leads up to daytime sleep periods. Shifts in lighting, location, position, and clothing can all serve as cues that tell your baby it’s time to rest.
Just like bedtime routines, this only works with consistency over time. Your baby needs to recognize that when certain things occur, it’s time to sleep.
7. Your baby doesn’t feel secure in the position she’s placed in at naptime.
Babies are no different from adults when it comes to feeling secure and comfortable when it’s time to sleep. Try adjusting where and how your baby sleeps to see if a new position, less clothing, or a different environment altogether is needed.
8. Your baby’s sleep needs are changing due to natural growth.
As babies get older, they need less sleep during the day. You may notice that your baby suddenly resists napping at a certain time of the day or will only tolerate one nap instead of two. It’s possible that her stage of growth is dictating a need for less sleep or just a different daytime sleep schedule.
Try working with your baby in this case. If she’s resisting naps at a certain time of day, make that naptime optional or shift it to a different time of day. Allowing your baby some control over her schedule can make life easier.
9. Your baby needs more structure and a consistent daytime schedule.
There’s nothing wrong with letting the day unfold naturally, but some babies need structure to sleep well. If your household has no consistent schedule, try creating one for your baby. When naptime and bedtime are more predictable, she may have an easier time napping.
10. You’re waking your baby up when transitioning between upright and flat positions.
You know the drill. Rocking or pacing your baby to sleep only to see those little eyes flutter open just as you’re gently laying her down in the crib or bassinet.
It’s like your baby has an internal alarm that screams, “You’re asleep! Wake up!”
What’s actually happening is a shift in inner ear fluid. The fluid rolls as your baby is eased into a flat position, and that is enough to wake many babies up, especially in the early stages of sleep.
If you think this may be one of the reasons your baby doesn’t nap, these ideas may help you prevent early waking during that transition:
- Allow your baby to sleep in a swing or bouncy seat. Bouncing the seat or rocking the swing while your baby is already in a comfortable sleeping position prevents you from having to lay her down after she falls asleep. It cuts out some of your cuddle time, but you may enjoy sitting nearby with a book, folding laundry, or just getting fresh air from a window.
- Nap next to your baby in your bed. Laying next to your baby allows you to soothe her back to sleep if she does wake up as you go into your sleep positions. You can both get some rest this way.
- Consider sleep training, which teaches your baby to fall asleep on her own. That eliminates the need to transition to a flat position. You may think that means allowing your baby to “cry it out,” but there are far gentler approaches that don’t require emotional stress for your baby or you. Make sure your baby is old enough for any sleep training strategy you want to attempt.
Why Should You Care That Baby Won’t Nap?
Getting your baby to nap and fall into a healthy sleep routine is important for many reasons:
- Adequate sleep is needed for growth and development. Even toddlers and children need routine naps to give their bodies time to work toward growth milestones.
- Babies easily become overtired, which leads to fussiness and crying. The more overtired a baby becomes during the day, the more difficulty they’re likely to have when trying to sleep at night.
- Overtired babies may send hunger cues because they want the comfort of their mother’s breast. Overfeeding can lead to gas and other digestive issues, which creates even more problems that lead to more fussiness and crying.
- Tired mamas and caregivers need naptime to rest themselves, accomplish household tasks, or simply spend time alone. Sometimes, naptime is your only opportunity to get a shower, soak in the tub, or make a phone call. That time is important to your own mental health.
Now that you have a deeper understanding of what may cause your baby to resist napping, you can start thinking about strategies to overcome the problem.