The Seven Most Common Nap Traps

by Cathryn Tobin, MD

dad and twins nappingHave you been tripped up by any of these situations?

Nap Trap #1: "My baby wakes up the instant I put him down." He shouldn't fall asleep in your arms in the first place. Remember the rule: to bed semi-awake.

Nap Trap #2: "My baby refuses to nap." Typically, the problem is timing. A baby won't nap unless he's tired. Try too early, and he'll resist; try too late, and he'll catch a second wind. In general, a young baby needs to nap after 2 hours of activity.

Nap Trap #3: "My baby takes only short naps." There are several equally good reasons a baby may take only catnaps. First, a short nap may be all she needs; some babies are fully energized after 30 to 40 minutes of sleep. But this next reason is more likely the culprit: Your baby may be having problems going from a shallow to a deep sleep state. She may wake up after 20 minutes because she can't settle down. Here are some ways to help your baby relax.

  • Turn Down the Volume.
    Remember, it takes 10 to 20 minutes for a young baby to fall into a deep sleep. You must proceed with caution during the transition. The fewer distractions, the greater the likelihood he'll nod off. Young babies sleep best surrounded by white noise, but sometimes loud, sudden household noises interfere with drifting off. If there are older siblings at home, consider using white noise to minimize outside distractions. Like the mantra "om . . . om . . . om . . .," white noise allows a baby to dive into a deeper level of consciousness. Once he's asleep, there's no need to keep the troops quiet.
  • Get There First.
    If your baby consistently wakes up after a 30-minute nap, tiptoe into her room around the 20-minute mark, and charm her back to sleep once she starts the wake-up shuffle. Don't leave the room before she's in a deep sleep. If you try to sneak out too early, she'll notice and wake up.
  • Think Outside the Crib.
    Even when your baby's sleeping, his gifted brain is busy soaking up outside signals. A dark room sends the message "go back to sleep" and can extend nap time. So hang dark curtains, and get rid of the night-light.

Nap Trap #4: "My baby naps best in her car seat." A baby who loves to sleep in her car seat is most likely one who loves to feel cuddled, as though she's in a cocoon -- which isn't surprising, considering a baby spends 9 months curled up in the womb. Swaddling is the best way to re-create this comfort. According to recent studies, swaddling helps babies sleep longer.

Nap Trap #5: "My baby power-naps in the car on the way home from daycare and then refuses to go to bed." Some things can't be helped, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't try. Here are some suggestions: Ask your daycare provider to record your baby's naps for a week. Play around with the timing of the afternoon nap so he's not so tired when you pick him up. Avoid giving your baby a bottle on the way home -- the moving car plus relaxed sucking is a dangerous duo. Finally, when choosing a daycare center, consider one close to home so you can at least try to reduce the risk of your baby falling asleep on the way home.

Nap Trap #6: "My baby only catnaps because we're always on the go." Some families are so busy that it's hard to squeeze in a good nap. There's nothing intrinsically wrong with short naps, as long as your baby is well rested. However, if your baby falls apart at the end of the day, is hard to please, dozes off the instant he's in the car seat, or is high maintenance, I'd rethink your activities. If you have an older child with a jam-packed schedule, perhaps it's time to simplify. In an effort to allow stay-at-home naptime, I suggest you cut back on commitments, carpool, or hire a sitter.