Baby Sleep: Naps, Naps and Naps! How, When and Why!

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  • June 10, 2011

This week I have decided to answer several questions in one! I get SO many questions about naps- naps for all ages and all kinds of nap problems! This week I will focus on why your child may be resisting naps or taking short “disaster” naps. Next week I will focus on tips for improving naps!


Nap Facts


Night sleep develops before day sleep.

The first morning nap doesn’t start to develop it’s consistency in time and length until around 12 weeks and then the afternoon nap follows several weeks later. Notice the “around” and “several”…these are not definitive numbers.

So if you have a newborn,  after 6-8 weeks you can decide to put your baby down drowsy but awake at bedtime as your first big sleep goal! No nap coaching! Just make sure the daytime sleep tank is full any way you can get it. This will help your baby sleep better at night.

When sleep coaching, night sleep improves first and then the morning nap.

The afternoon nap and early rising are the last two pieces to fall in to place so stay consistent and don’t give up!

Naps are essential!

Naps can help improve your child’s mood and reduce crying, whining and temper tantrums. Getting enough day sleep helps their brains grow and develop so that they can learn and grow at the incredible rate that they do! Skipping naps never improves night sleep!


Potential reasons your child may be resisting naps or not napping long enough:


toddler stay in bedYour child has not yet learned the skill of putting him or herself to sleep independently.

If you are feeding, rocking, walking, lying down with your child to get them to go to sleep for their nap then they will need you to do this to help them get back to sleep when they wake at a normal arousal during a nap. If you find your child is taking longer and longer to get to sleep for their nap and when you do finally attempt to leave their bed or put them in their crib they wake suddenly, then it is time to nap coach! Follow all the details outlined in The Sleep Lady’s Good Night, Sleep Tight on how to do this. It takes a couple of weeks but it’s worth it! Your whole family’s lives will be transformed for the better!

You are missing your child’s nap window!

The more overtired you allow your child to get, the more wired he’ll get – making it harder for him to go to sleep and stay asleep. We all operate on an internal clock that tells us when to go to sleep and when to be awake. When we miss that window or sign that says “I am ready to slow down and get ready for sleep…I am waiting for the signs from you Mom and Dad”, the body secretes chemicals that wire our children which creates more crying, tantrums and artificial energy. This, of course, makes it more difficult to go to sleep and stay asleep. Watch your child for signs of being tired and aim to put him or her down for nap as soon as you see those signs. If you have an alert child who is good at masking his signs then you will need to watch the clock.

Developmental milestones, changes in childcare and growth can affect sleep patterns.

Make sure you are watching for signs of tiredness between naps and are adjusting your schedule accordingly. Always go by your child’s cues first! For instance, if your childcare center moves all 1 year olds to one nap and your 1 year old is not ready, talk to them, bring in my book and show them a typical 1 year old schedule. Share with them that the average age to transition to one nap is 15-18 months old. If you don’t feel your child is ready, ask them what you can do to keep them in the 2 nap room or program. Be an advocate for your child’s sleep!

The nap timing is inconsistent from day to day.

If your child naps well at childcare but you want him to nap on the go on the weekends, this may wreak havoc with his nap schedule and cause him to be overtired (and potentially negatively affect his night sleep). Try to be in sync with you childcare’s nap schedule (if it is working well and is reasonable) on the weekend and make naps a priority. Do your best to stay within half an hour of the nap time schedule you created. Our children do better when they go to sleep around the same time and wake around the same time…this is true for night and day sleep! (By the way, it’s true for adults too!)

Health problems can cause napping difficulties.

The most common are asthma, allergies, ear infections and reflux.  Asthma and allergies can interfere with breathing when laying down, which makes it harder to go to sleep and stay asleep. Ear infections can make lying down more uncomfortable and finally, our child can reflux more easily when lying down flat. Reflux can wake you up from a sound sleep! Since our children build their immune systems while sleeping, it is even more important that they get the sleep they need when sick. While they are sick and you are working on getting their reflux, asthma or allergies under control, do whatever you need to do to help them sleep. You can always work on undoing any negative sleep habits when they are feeling better! And of course, talk to your doctor about your concerns!

Gentle Sleep Solutions

Kim West
Kim is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has been a practicing child and family therapist for more than 24 years, and the creator of the original gentle, proven method to get a good night’s sleep for you and your child. She is the author of The Sleep Lady's Good Night Sleep Tight, its companion Workbook and 52 Sleep Secrets for Babies. Click here to read more about her.

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  • Ladybuglee says:

    I love your approach to sleep training, but I am still struggling with my 16 month old twins. They nap and sleep in my arms in a recliner! It is just a bad situation for everyone, but dh and I cannot handle the crying involved when we put them in their cribs. Do you have any suggestions?

  • gsc.heather says:

    @Ladybuglee I suggest you get Kim’s book The Sleep Lady’s Good Night Sleep Tight. There are step by step guides to helping get your children to go to sleep on their own and sleep through the night. She has many tips, problem solving, and age related examples to help you. consistency is the key! Crying is difficult for everyone. The Sleep Lady’s Shuffle is the best system to learn the very important life skill of going to sleep on their own. You cannot eliminate every tear but you can “minimize frustration and maximize reassurances” for your children during the sleep training process. If you need further support, please contact Kim or one of her certified sleep coaches around the USA and Canada. The coaches links will be posted on this site soon. I am certified by Kim; I hope this helps. Heather

  • smurphy says:

    My three year old sleeps beautifully for our nanny at naptime–head down, and he’s out in minutes…and if we have that rare date night, he’ll go down easily at bedtime too. I know they always act differently with care takers, but these last 2 weeks have been brutal at nap and night time for us. He gets viral induced asthma, so with this last cold, he would cough so much that he would throw up, was beyond tired and fussy, even though his asthma was “controlled.” We are approaching the end of the cold and have been down this road with some success so many times, but it always seems that it’s 2 steps forward three steps back. Also, my husband hates to hear the kids cry, so he will too often cave and go into the room so that the younger doesn’t disrupt our older son’s sleep or throw up (even when not sick) just because he’s worked himself up so much. For a long ime, he just needed me in the room, but now he is demanding the both of us to help him sleep–wrong direction!!! I know there is no quick fix, but how do we get back on track when I know there is another illness just weeks away? And how can I let him cry if he throws up? I don’t mind some crying, but now he will work himself up so quickly, that he will get stuffed and snotty within minutes! Any tips?

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  • Laura_kap says:

    Hello there…my sons 1 year birthday was last weekend, has had a rough sleep week! I went back to work full time this week, and I’m not sure if he’s going through a 12 month growth spurt? Or just changing his sleep requirements.
    Before last week, he would go down after our usual bedtime routine (bottle,bath,book,bed)
    At around 7:30 and sleep quite solidly until 5:30 am….very regular night sleeper 10 hours….and napping around 9:30am for 1-2 hours…..afternoon 1-2 hours around
    Then 2 weeks ago, he totally rejected his afternoon nap…..we finally got him back to normal…but started tossing longer and longer at night before settling. To the point where he’d flop and play off and on until 9 10 or even 11pm. At the same time he began to sleep longer during the day. This is very odd to me, because he’s been sleep trained since 4 months and has always been able to settle well and fairly quickly.
    Just as I was starting to wake him from his afternoon naps after 1 hour to try and correct the above issues…..the night fussing getting worse and longer fussing before naps…..odd….then yesterday he played through his afternoon nap ( jumped around the crib, got out of his sleep sack etc…) and so i did his bedtime routine early to get him down around 6:30 and he did go down, but didn’t stay settled…tossing until midnight, then standing and whiny crying in his crib until 5 am.. At midnight we did a diaper change and 5 oz bottle he seemed hungry, he chugged the bottle and cried when it was empty, so I refilled with some warm water it seemed to help a little, I rocked him ( which I only do when he’s sick, teething or growth spurt).. He slept in my arms…but as soon as I put him down…the flip flop stand up lye down routine started again. I rubbed tylonal on his gum at 3 ish…..that helped a little, same rocking followed by crib gymnastics….5 am diaper change when he started crying…again.
    Where did my 10 hour night sleeper – 3 hour day sleeper, sleep trained 15 mins or less to settle baby go???? I worked my tail off to get him to that happy place, and he’s always thrived on a schedule……and is a very happy active baby…even with the above messy sleeping. He’s still got a smile most of the day……
    Can anybody help me get my little guy back to centred??????

  • breefawn says:

    Laura_kap It sounds like he’s going through a sleep regression. You can read more about what to expect I would also recommend that you check out, which can help you to get his sleep back on track. Good luck!

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