Yawning. Ear tugging. Eye rubbing. These are just a few indications your little one might be tired and ready for a nap, but what happens if your baby refuses to shut their eyes? If they scream and cry but refuse to go to sleep?
(Trust us. We’ve been there. We get it.)
The good news is there is help. There are numerous things you can do to lull your love bug to sleep. Below are a few common nap problems and, more importantly, tips, tricks, and solutions.
From sleep regressions and illness to physiological changes, there are numerous reasons why your baby may skip a nap — or stop napping altogether. The most common include:
Your baby isn’t tired
This may seem obvious, and in a sense it is, but trying to convince your child to sleep when they are wide awake is a recipe for disaster. Odds are they’ll just scream and cry and become despondent and upset.
Instead of trying to force a nap on your overstimulated, overexcited, or overenergized infant, engage them. Play with them quietly, and try for a nap again within 30 or 60 minutes. As babies grow, their nap schedule shifts and sometimes they simply need to be awake for longer periods of time.
Your baby is overtired
While this sounds counterintuitive, napping an overtired baby is tricky. When a baby is exhausted, (unlike their parents) they may have a hard time falling asleep.
To prevent this, Dr. Gina Posner, a pediatrician at the MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California, suggests creating a schedule and keeping a keen eye out for signs of fatigue. “At the first sign of them being tired, put them down, like when they start rubbing their eyes or yawning.”
Your baby needs a better schedule or routine
Children thrive on routines, and babies are no different. They know it is time for bed or a nap based on their circadian rhythm and external clues.
Place your baby in a dark room. Change their diaper. Swaddle them, if they are still young enough to do so, and reassure them it is okay to rest.
Be compassionate yet firm in your tone and use the same verbiage every time and day, i.e. “It is time for bed. Lie down. Go to sleep.” Courtney Zentz — a pediatric sleep expert, certified lactation counselor and the owner of Tiny Transitions in Philadelphia — tells Healthline, “napping your child at the same time every day, and in the same way, sends them a signal that sleep is coming.”
Your baby needs a better sleep environment
If your baby struggles to sleep during the day and at night, the problem may not be with them or your approach, it may be with their environment.
Older children in particular need a quiet, dimly lit space. Draw the blinds and use blackout drapes, when possible. Consider a white noise machine, if/when appropriate, and keep baby’s room cool. It is also important you make sure they are dressed appropriately for sleep.
Your baby is hungry
Establishing a solid feeding and sleeping schedule can be tricky — especially because your baby’s needs will change as they grow. However, if your baby wakes from their nap early or struggles to fall asleep you may want to consider whether hunger is an issue.
Sleep disruptions can occur when your little love bug is hungry. Consider how much and how often they’re eating and whether you need to increase their feedings.
Your baby is in the middle of a developmental change
If you’ve tried everything else and your little one is still struggling, they may be in the middle of a transitional period — like a sleep regression or developmental leap. Be patient. These sleep-related issues are temporary, and consistency is key.
If you’ve made all of these modifications and your baby is still having a hard time falling or staying asleep, you may want to talk to their doctor. Some health conditions, like reflux, can affect a child’s sleeping habits.
The short answer is yes: Babies need naps.
However, Posner tells Healthline that some children give up their daily nap earlier than others. “Almost all babies need naps,” Posner says. “However, children can outgrow naps if and when they sleep longer stretches at night, usually 14 hours or more.”
The amount of sleep your baby needs varies, depending on their age. Newborns nap a lot, with most averaging 14 to 17 hours sleep in a 24-hour period. However, this sleep is inconsistent and broken up, particularly over the first few weeks when babies wake for frequent feedings.
Things settle a bit as your baby nears their second and third month. Most infants can sleep for 6 hours a night, for example, by 12 weeks. But even as night sleep solidifies, infants and toddlers still need naps.
In fact, according to the Children’s Hospital of St. Louis, “daily naps for children are essential for good days and good nights.”
1 to 3 months
From 1 to 3 months, children will average 15 hours of sleep. This is broken up between several long(ish) stretches in the evening and three or four naps during the day.
3 to 6 months
By 4 months, most children are sleeping 12 to 16 hours a day. This is generally divided between two or three naps and a longer stretch at night. However, as your baby nears 6 months, the third nap may be dropped.
6 months to 1 year
Older infants nap less, and for good reason. At 6 months, most children log 10 to 11 hours a night, and at 9 months, children log 10 to 12.
However, children in this age group need 12 to 15 hours of sleep total —meaning they still need to nap. What your child’s nap schedule looks like will vary, depending on their age, temperament, and your personal schedule, but most 6-, 9-, and 12-month-olds nap twice a day.
1 year and up
While most 12-month-olds sleep 11 to 14 hours a day, how — and when —your child gets those Zzz’s will change soon after their first birthday. Many toddlers transition to one longer nap by 14 or 15 months of age.
That said, it is important to note that all children drop their naps eventually. Most continue napping until they are in preschool — between the ages of 3 and 5 — however, some children drop their midday nap before their second birthday.
Some of the most common sleep-related issues are sleep associations, or behaviors that help your baby fall and stay asleep.
However, if your baby is relying on you to perform a sleep association — such as rocking, replacing a pacifier and/or feeding them to fall asleep — they may struggle to return to sleep after waking.
The most common sleep associations and sleep-related problems include:
- nursing or bottle feeding baby to sleep
- rocking or cuddling baby to sleep
- driving or walking baby to sleep
The good news is most of these issues can be rectified, with time and patience. “Sleep is a skill,” Zentz tells Healthline, “and that foundation, if built strong from birth with the understanding of your child’s needs, can ease children into the natural consolidation of sleep.”
However, habit-breaking is hard (particularly when that habit is related to sleep) so expect resistance and some tears, until a new routine is established. You may want to try a sleep training method or work with a sleep consultant on ways to establish positive sleep habits.
Infant sleep is tricky. While numerous factors can affect a baby’s nap schedule, most can be rectified with time, patience, practice, and consistency.
The key is to determine what is affecting your child’s sleep schedule, to remove any crutches and/or obstacles that may be standing in their way, and to help them establish healthy sleeping habits.
Will these changes happen overnight? No. Again, establishing a solid nap schedule takes time. But trust us: You and your little will be happier in the long run.