When your baby won’t nap it can be so confusing.
You know that your baby needs to be sleeping regularly, but every single time you decide your baby might need a nap it all ends in tears. Literally.
So what happens? You think they’re tired. They’re giving you all of the right signs and signals. They’re rubbing their eyes, yawning and generally looking sleepy. So you put them down for a nap.
Then they cry the second you put them down, so you pick them up again. When they calm down, you try putting them down again, but they cry. Then you wonder if they might be hungry, so you feed them. And they nod off on the bottle or with your nipple in their mouth. You’re then pinned down for the duration of their nap!
Some days it can feel like every nap time has been a battle.
I remember feeling like I had spent entire days trying to get my baby to sleep. It seemed to be all I was ever doing with my time!
The naps felt like they dominated everything about my day, and in a way it made me feel chained to the house as I tried to crack the nap schedule.
The refusal to nap can often be combined with other frustrating things such as your baby waking up early from a nap when you finally do manage to get them to sleep. If you are looking to lengthen baby’s short naps, I have lots of tips for that on this post.
Usually the key to getting your baby to not only go to sleep in the first place, will also solve your problem with your baby taking naps that are too short to give them proper rest.
So let’s have a look at why your baby won’t nap and what to do about it.
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How much sleep does your baby need?
This handy chart will give you a rough idea of how much sleep your baby will need depending on their age.
It’s important to remember that every single baby is different and they won’t all conform to the same numbers and routine.
But to get an idea of what your own baby needs, you can spend a little time observing them. Try to time how long the remain awake and happy.
Start a timer when they wake first thing in the morning and see how long it is until they start giving you tired signals.
The signs that your baby is tired are:
- Staring off into space
- Jerky movement of arms and legs
- Pulling at ears
- Closing fists
- Rubbing eyes (this is usually only seen in older babies over six months)
- Getting fussy and frustrated
- Turning away from stimulation and eye contact
- Crying – this is the final signal your baby will give you and usually once they get to this stage they are already past the point of being overtired. Try to catch your baby before they reach this point
In general most babies of six months and over will struggle to stay awake for longer than two hours and remain happy. A newborn will only manage around 45 minutes to one hour of awake time.
Try to get to grips with your baby’s own natural rhythms. Watch them closely for their cues and try to write down the times when they showed signs of tiredness. This should give you an idea of when you can start to wind them down for a nap.
Reasons why your baby won’t nap
Baby is too tired
There is such a thing as being too tired to sleep. Your baby does not understand the concept of falling asleep as being something they have to actually try to do.
They just know that they feel horrible and their solution to that is to cry and get you to sort it out for them. In addition, the upset of being overtired causes the cortisol stress hormone to be released, which will make it even harder for them to sleep.
When your baby is overtired they become agitated and that just stops them from being able to get that sleep they so desperately need.
What can you do about it?
Keep an eye on the clock, and your baby’s own signals. Try to put your baby down for a nap at the first sign of tiredness.
If your baby does reach the point of being overtired, try the following to settle and soothe them:
- Swaddling. This can be a great tool to calm your baby down. It simulates the sensation of being constricted in the womb. Try a wrap swaddle, which simply zips up or pops together with poppers to save you struggling to fold a blanket the correct way around your baby. Cuddle your baby and this will calm them.
- Feed. If your baby has become really stressed out then offer them a feed. Many overtired babies will pass out on the bottle or at the breast within minutes.
- Dummy. Using a dummy for sleep time can be a total lifesaver. It’s a great replacement for your boob if your baby has taken to using you as a way to soothe themselves to sleep.
You can also try one of these 25 sleep tricks for your baby.
Baby isn’t tired enough
If you put your baby down before they are ready to take a nap, they will fight the nap. If you persist and your baby continues to resist, this game can continue until your baby finally is actually ready for a nap, but by now they are cross at being forced into napping and then they become overtired.
It’s a vicious cycle!
You may try to force your baby to take a nap because of plans you have that day which you mean you need to get your baby down for a nap early.
The trouble is, babies don’t play ball unless they really want to. Trying to make your baby sleep is going to be a battle, and it’s one you will rarely win.
What can you do about it?
It’s a frustrating thing about babies that there is such a thing as a “sleep window”. This is the time when your baby is actually ready for a nap.
The sleep window happens after your baby has had enough awake time, but before they have had a chance to become over tired.
I think this term can cause undue stress for parents. Just because you miss the mythical “sleep window”, it does not mean all is lost.
Putting your baby down too early will be a bit of a losing battle, but when your baby is overtired there are strategies you can deploy to calm them.
The overall solution is to have a vague routine. You don’t have to be totally strict if you don’t want to be!
Take a note of your baby’s awake time, as described above, so you know when they tend to hit their limit and start to get tired. Then try to fit your day’s activities around these nap times.
If you’re worried about having places to be that interrupt nap time, you could encourage your baby to nap on the move. Naps on the go, such as in the car seat or buggy, may not be as restful as naps at home, so remember to try and encourage your baby to have a longer nap at home later.
Baby is hungry
Hunger overrides pretty much everything! If your baby is hungry, then there is no way they are going to get to sleep!
It could be that they did not have a big enough feed at the last breast or bottle feed. Alternatively, they may be going through a growth spurt and so are demanding more calories at this time.
A baby who is too hungry will cry and fight sleep, because their instinct is to feed. It’s all about survival.
When you combine hunger with tiredness, you will often find your baby nods off midway through a feed. This means they have temporarily sated their hunger, but may wake up early from their nap because they are hungry again.
What can you do
A lot of baby books and experts may warn you about feeding to sleep. I would say that in the early months particularly it’s all about survival. Do not panic about so-called bad habits now, because everything will change so much by the time your baby turns one.
Having said that, if you are finding your baby’s hunger and tiredness is clashing, it can really help to figure out a routine that will work for you both.
It doesn’t have to be strict, with timings that you rigidly stick to every single day.
You could go with the Baby Whisperer’s method of setting a routine, known as the EASY routine. This involves working to a three-hour cycle.
The E stands for eat, then A is for activity and S is for sleep, This means that eating and sleeping are separated by play time.
Your baby is awake for around 45 minutes when they are up to three months old and up to two hours at six months.
Then you wind them down for a nap and they, hopefully, get to sleep and then you have You time. You can read more about the EASY routine over on this post.
If your baby has gas then laying down will make the pain worse.You may notice your baby scrunch their face up with the pain, pull their legs up to their tummy and cry.
They may turn red and you will find it impossible to settle them.
What can you do
Remember to burp your baby after every feed. If your baby displays the symptoms of trapped wind, then try to burp them again.
You can try lots of different positions to get the wind up, such as held upright to your chest, or sat up on your lap with their chin supported by your hand.
Standing up and walking a little with your baby in your arms can sometimes help to wobble the trapped gas out too.
Baby is reliant on a sleep prop
Your baby is tired, you’ve put them down to sleep in their cot and they are crying and crying until you finally pick them up again.
The classic sleep prop for most babies is simply being in their parents’ arms. They love to be comforted and cuddled. This is a natural instinct. They feel safe and it makes them feel good to be close to you.
Other sleep props include being rocked, walked, or fed to sleep.
When you remove that sleep prop, and just put your baby down to sleep in their cot, your baby will be confused. This isn’t what normally happens when you help me get to sleep!
What can you do
If the sleep prop works for you, then great! But you need to accept that if you are using the sleep prop, then your baby will expect it at every nap and bedtime.
There is no rush to get rid of sleep props if you are happy with the way things are! There are no rules when it comes to getting your baby to sleep, as long as they are sleeping in a safe and warm environment.
If you do want to encourage your baby to ditch the sleep prop then you can try removing the sleep prop you favour and swapping it for another sleep prop.
For example if you are rocking your baby to sleep, offer them a dummy and put them down in their cot. Once your baby is used to the new sleep prop, then remove this. You may find your baby finds it easier to ditch a sleep prop they have only just gotten used to than a long established one.
Your baby has not wound down for their sleep
Think about the process leading up to your baby’s nap. I remember before establishing our bedtime routine I would just pop my baby down in the cot and wonder why she wasn’t happy about it.
Babies need time to wind down and relax for sleep, the same as adults do at nighttime.
This is all part of teaching your baby how to fall asleep, which ultimately will help them learn how to self soothe eventually.
What to do
Show your baby that it’s time for a nap by giving them a regular sleep time routine.
Try to put your baby down to sleep in the same room at nap time. Turn the lights down, shut the curtains and create a peaceful atmosphere.
You could try adding some soothing music. Using a phrase that you repeat at every sleep time can also help them to realise that this is when they should be trying to get to sleep. I used to just say “It’s sleepy time now, night night.”
Try to keep this wind down time calm, with minimal disruption and other noise.
Your baby is in a developmental leap
Babies who are learning new skills or going through a growth spurt may be fussier than usual.
This means they may resist naps and be generally unsettled throughout the day.
These phases may happen then your baby is learning to roll over, talk and other new skills.
The Wonder Weeks book, and app which is also available, explains that developmental leaps happen at predictable times in your baby’s development. The book advises you when you can expect these leaps, so check it out if you fancy finding out more about that.
These phases can last for one to three weeks.
What can you do about it
Sorry, but there’s not a lot you can do when these fussy times hit. Remind yourself that it is completely natural and try to be consistent with your sleep routines.
If your baby seems to want to feed more, then let them have extra feeds. Growth spurts can lead to a huge spike in appetite.
These phases will end, and remember that every other parent experiences these difficult phases.
You might feel like nothing you are doing is making a difference, but just keep at it. Remain consistent and eventually things will click back into place.
Baby is uncomfortable
If your baby has an item of clothing pinching them, or they are too hot or too cold they will struggle to get comfortable enough to sleep.
They may also struggle to get to sleep in an environment with lots going on. For example in a room with a loud television on, lots of lights and stimulation.
What can you do about it
Check your baby’s nappy, and that they are at a comfortable temperature. You can check whether your baby is too hot or too cold by just sticking your hands down the back of their onesie to feel the upper back and back of the neck.
When putting your baby to sleep, use light blankets that you can add or remove to alter the temperature. Also dress them in cotton, breathable clothing that won’t make them too sweaty.
I hope you found these tips useful and that they have given you an idea for how to end nap strikes for good!
You may also like:
Routine for a 3-6 month old
Routine for a 6-9 month old
40 things to do with your baby at home