Naps are often the most complicated part of sleep for our children. You are not alone if you are a parent or caregiver struggling to sort out your little one’s naps. Many parents come to us looking for solutions for sleep training for naps, and we’re here to help!
The Most Common Questions We Get On This Topic
If you’ve made it to this blog post, you have likely found yourself in one of the following situations:
- Situation 1: We want to start sleep training but aren’t sure if we should use the same strategy for nap sleep as we do for night sleep.
- Situation 2: We are currently in the middle of sleep training but naps are a big challenge – what is going on?
- Situation 3: We are happy with how sleep is going at night, but naps aren’t great. Can we sleep train for naps only?
These are all common questions we get during our work as sleep educators. Before we dive in to the answers, let’s review daytime sleep needs by age to ensure your expectations are aligned with your baby’s biological needs:
0-3 months: 4-6 hours of daytime sleep split among 4-6 naps
3-7/8 months: 3-4 hours of daytime sleep split among 3-4 naps
7/8-13/16 months: 3 hours of daytime sleep split between 2 naps
13/16 months – 3 years: 1.5-2 hours of daytime sleep during 1 nap
Children who consistently struggle with naps are often overtired and struggle with energy to make it through the day. Scientific studies show that for children under the age of 5, daytime sleep is crucial for cognitive development and memory consolidation.
If you are a parent or caregiver who wants to help their child to get adequate daytime sleep and are looking for ways to do it, read on.
Situation 1: Should We Use the Same Sleep Training Strategy for Nights and During Naps?
The answer to this question depends on your child’s age. If your little one is 6 months or younger, wait to start working on sleep training during naps until night sleep has improved first. That is, once your baby is falling asleep independently at bedtime and sleeping for long stretches or straight through (11+ hours), then begin to apply the same strategies at naps. You may choose to start practicing with the first nap of the day, and then extend the process to the following naps once you begin to see some improvement. For example, if your 4 month old is struggling with chronically short naps, start practicing your sleep training techniques during the first nap and possibly the second (depending on how things are going), but give them a break for naps 3 and 4 and use the car or stroller to help them get some good sleep. The goal here is to avoid pushing your little one into overtiredness territory, and then everything sleep-related is at risk of falling apart!
If your child is 7 months or older, it’s best to apply the same strategy at bedtime and at naps from the start. The reason for this is that babies at this age are developing a stronger understanding of the connection between cause and effect. For example, a 9 month old demonstrates an understanding of this concept when she pushes the buttons on a TV remote to turn the TV on and off or drops food off her tray and it gets picked up. This makes it so that if caregivers change up the process around sleep during naps, your child is much more likely to become confused. In other words, he or she is unable to understand why you respond one way to them for sleep during the day, and another way at night. In general, a confused child will protest stronger and longer, as they are unable to develop their own self-soothing strategies without a consistent, predictable response from an adult.
Situation 2: Sleep Training for Naps is Not Working
Because of the way sleep hormones work in our bodies, sleep is much easier to come by at night than it is during the day. Melatonin, or the hormone that helps us to feel sleepy, is at its peak level at bedtime. This explains why our little one’s learn to sleep at night before they learn to apply their new sleep skills during the day. They are simply more tired at night!
For families in this situation, first it is important to be patient. It is completely normal for naps to take up to two weeks to fully improve. This goes for both the falling asleep process, and the length of time your child spends napping. In the first week of sleep training it is normal that your baby may learn to fall asleep quickly and independently for their nap, but not be able to connect sleep cycles resulting in naps only lasting 30-50 minutes. Being able to connect sleep cycles during naps comes with time and consistent practice.
Situation 3: Can We do Sleep Training for Naps Only?
Some families come to us for assistance with daytime sleep only. They may be lucky enough for their little one to sleep well at night, or they may be okay with waking a few times at night for feeds or to help get their little one back to sleep. The short answer to the question about whether you can work on sleep for naps but not for night is – it depends.
As we previously mentioned, night sleep is much easier to come by than day sleep for our little ones, so it isn’t entirely uncommon for children to sleep better at night. Before making any changes, consider some important factors that impact day sleep. Is your child awake too much or too little time between sleep periods? You can check by heading over to our wake window post. Next, is their sleep environment dark and quiet? Third, consider how they are falling asleep for their naps. If your child falls asleep with your help at naptime, scroll up to situation 1 and start there. It will become increasingly confusing for your child if your process for sleep at night differs from what you do during the day, and a confused child will struggle with sleep.
If your little one already falls asleep independently and you’ve tried everything you can think of to fix naps — schedule adjustments, putting your baby down earlier, or later, changing bedtime, saving the nap by helping him or her get back to sleep — but nothing seems to be working, this detailed 12 Step Guide to Getting Rid of Crap Naps for Good is for you. Our nap guide will help you troubleshoot an extensive list of factors playing into your child’s short nap cycle and walk you through making the necessary changes that lead to your baby getting the daytime sleep their body needs for healthy growth and development.
Support is Available to Those Who Need It
Sometimes working out your child’s nap issues can be complicated. Maybe your baby isn’t responding well to the changes, or you can’t seem to get them to sleep longer than just a few minutes at a time. Maybe you’ve tried all the ways, and nothing is working. Or maybe you feel like you could use some support, accountability, and guidance in reaching your family sleep goals. Whatever it is, please know there is help and support available to you!
At the Sleeper Teachers® we love nothing more than to be the newest member on your family’s sleep team. We have accompanied thousands of families on their journeys to teach their little ones to become great sleepers. It has been life-changing for so many families, and we’d be honored to guide you on your sleep teaching journey as well. Head over to this link to book a free sleep evaluation call with one of our pediatric sleep consultants so we can get to know your family and chat about how we might be able to help you.
And if you’re still on the fence, head over to our reviews page to read how impactful teaching independent sleep was for our clients. Lives change when everyone in a family sleeps!