Baby naps (or lack thereof) are, by far, the source of frustration for many new parents and one of the main reasons people find The Baby Sleep Site®;. The reasons your baby won’t nap are numerous, but this article will discuss the 5 main reasons a baby won’t nap and what to do about it.
1. Your baby may be over-tired
Have you ever gone to bed so late at night that you can’t fall asleep very easily? This happens to me especially on nights I work late or even when I hang out with friends too late. I get home, think I’m going to fall asleep very quickly and it takes me 30 minutes to an hour to fall asleep. Very frustrating! My husband, on the other hand, no matter what, can fall asleep within 5 minutes, literally. I’m sure my husband was an “easy sleeper” baby and me? Probably not-so much. Needless to say, my son who inspired The Baby Sleep Site® likely takes after me.
Your baby can also experience this over-tiredness, only it comes faster. Since a baby can only stay awake so long before needing to sleep (they are learning A LOT very quickly and everything is new!), he may have trouble settling down to nap and go to sleep. The reason for this is because our bodies release hormones to fight fatigue and help us stay awake. This is a defense mechanism. While some babies will simply fall asleep where they are playing such as an activity mat or in the living room, others will begin to cry and get fussy.
Once you do your baby’s nap routine, you might think she is going to fall asleep very quickly, but in reality, she has probably missed her ideal window for sleep and is now in hyper-drive mode fighting fatigue and thus, fights sleep.
Your baby is not likely intentionally fighting sleep (but see below if you have one of those babies), but your baby may simply be too wound up to nap well. For these babies, it’s important to avoid common baby nap mistakes and put them down for a nap before you see signs of fussiness or rubbing their eyes. These are signs that you are already too late. Once your baby is older, it will be important to have an age-appropriate baby nap schedule.
2. Your baby may not be tired enough
As your baby gets older, the signs they are getting sleepy begin to become very confusing and blurry. What may look like sleepiness can actually be boredom. Unfortunately, it’s very challenging to read all the signs very clearly and they can’t tell you “I’m not tired!” like toddlers can. Even when toddlers tell you they’re not tired, do you always believe them? Not likely, unless they are one of the few who happily go off to bed anytime they are tired. If you have one of these toddlers, count your lucky stars!
Depending on your baby’s temperament, your baby may end up playing for a good 30 minutes to an hour rather than sleep. This is usually a sure sign that your baby is simply not tired yet. Other babies will cry when they are over-tired or not tired enough. They simply don’t like to be alone! If you keep a sleep log, you can start to look for a pattern of your baby’s natural sleep times and, again, it will be important to have an age-appropriate baby nap schedule, even if it’s not a rigid baby sleep schedule.
3. Your baby may not want to nap
What would you rather do, play or sleep? Well, since we are parents now, the answer is probably sleep! But, for babies and toddlers, the answer would probably more often be PLAY! It is much more fun playing with mom or dad than boring ol’ sleep. My son has told me a few times that “sleep is boring” and “takes too long.” The world is such an exciting place that sleep during the day, when the sun is out and there are toys to play with, is often one of the last things a baby wants to do. Once your baby starts to become social around 6 weeks old, depending on personality, your baby won’t always want to nap nearly as much as we wish they did.
If you could eat ice cream for dinner, would you? Some would say yes and some would say no, but regardless, we know it’s not good for you, right? Many times, babies simply don’t know what’s best for them and we have to teach them. So, even if your baby doesn’t want to nap, that doesn’t mean you let them do what they want. We, parents, need to make the tough decisions, sometimes, and this includes when your baby won’t nap. You need to set up your routine and set limits.
4. Your baby does not know how to nap
It seems like it would be easy: close your eyes, relax, go to sleep. But, for some people and babies, going to sleep is simply not easy. As I mentioned above, I do not go to sleep at the drop of a hat. I never have. Sometimes I have to work at it. And, some babies have to learn how to do it. After all, maybe you had to learn how to get your baby to sleep in the first place, if you didn’t have very much baby experience. Similarly, your baby may have only learned to fall asleep with the motion of your belly. Maybe that’s the only way he knows how to nap right now.
Parenting is all about teaching our babies and children how to be successful grown-ups. And, if you think your baby will learn certain skills in one session, you are going to be sorely disappointed. We have been teaching manners for YEARS, now, for example. It takes a LOT of repetition and CONSISTENCY. It sometimes still amazes me that I have to remind my son to say “please.” So, please teach your baby your expectations for napping and how to nap.
5. Your baby’s nursery is not conducive to napping
When my husband was in the military, he taught himself to fall asleep in the middle of a room with a bunch of guys being loud. Somehow he taught himself to tune it all out, take three deep breaths, and sleep. Not everyone can sleep through noise (least of all me) nor can some people sleep in a bright room. Make sure your baby’s nursery is set up to promote sleep, both day and night. Some babies won’t nap in a bright room. The sunlight simply keeps them awake or it’s difficult to go back to sleep after one sleep cycle.
Bonus: Your baby might be hungry
Some parents are much more stringent about feeding on schedule or following an eat-play-sleep routine and, in some cases, your baby may be hungry at the “wrong” time and either can’t nap or can’t nap longer, because he wakes up hungry. This may be especially true during the newborn stage, when babies need to eat frequently. Keep that in mind when you set your baby’s routine or schedule.
I hope this has helped you pinpoint why your baby isn’t napping and if you’re looking for ways to get your baby or toddler into a healthy sleeping routine during the day, I encourage you to check out our free guide, 7 Common Napping Mistakes and/or check out Mastering Naps and Schedules, a comprehensive guide to napping routines, nap transitions, and all the other important “how-to” of good baby sleep. With over 40 sample sleep schedules and planning worksheets, Mastering Naps and Schedules is a hands-on tool ideal for any parenting style. For those persistent nighttime struggles, check out The 3 Step System to Help Your Baby Sleep (for babies) or The 5 Step System to Better Toddler Sleep (for toddlers). Using the same unique approach and practical tools for success, this e-book helps you and your baby sleep through the night. Have a newborn at home? Download our free guide on newborn sleep, 15 Baby Sleep Facts New Parents Need To Know, or purchase a copy of our comprehensive e-Book on newborn sleep, Essential Keys to Your Newborn’s Sleep. Or, join our Members Area packed with exclusive content and resources: e-Books, assessments, detailed case studies, expert advice, peer support, and teleseminars. It actually costs less to join than buying products separately! For those looking for a more customized solution for your unique situation with support along the way, please consider one-on-one baby and toddler sleep consultations. Sometimes it’s not that you can’t make a sleep plan; sometimes you’re just close to the situation or too tired to!