Express Sleep Plan

5 Bad Nap Habits Your Baby May Develop

Baby Nap Habits

Did you know that your baby can develop habits at lightning-fast speeds? It’s true; even though she cannot walk or talk yet, she can develop a deeply-rooted habit very, very quickly. This explains why, after just a few days of rocking your baby to sleep, she will come to expect to be rocked. And this is why many babies quickly come to need a pacifier to calm down, even if they have only used the pacifier for a week or two.

Babies can be especially prone to develop bad naptime habits. Why? Because that is when we parents are up and about, and are likely to jump in and “help” (by rocking, offering a pacifier, using the swing, etc.) if baby is fighting sleep. And, let’s be honest, most of us would do just about anything to help our babies take long, restful naps, because that translates into down-time for us!

So, what does this fact mean for us as parents? Two things: first, do not feel bad if your baby develops a bad sleeping habit. Sometimes, during our babies’ illnesses or bouts of teething, we have to help them fall asleep occasionally. And newborns often need to be ‘parented’ to sleep. This is understandable, and if our babies develop a sleep association as a result, it is not because we did anything wrong.

Second, this fact is a good reminder to all of us to watch for bad sleeping habits that our babies may be developing, and to take action to correct those habits when we feel it’s necessary.

So, what kinds of bad napping habits should you be on the lookout for? And how can you correct them? Let’s take a look.

5 Bad Napping Habits Your Baby May Develop

  1. Napping in the Swing. This is an easy one to fall into – believe me, I know from experience! My kids always napped so well in the swing, and while I didn’t usually put them in the swing to sleep at night (that’s not always safe), I would put them in the swing for naps, if they were having a hard time settling down. While it helped ensure that they took long, restorative naps (and gave me time to rest myself!), both of my boys got into the habit of needing the swing to nap, and I eventually had to work on breaking that habit.
  2. Napping on You. If your baby always needs to lie in your arms for naps, or perhaps ride in the baby carrier at naptime, this could become a napping habit. There is nothing wrong with your baby snuggling up to you at nap time, of course (just as there os nothing wrong with rocking or nursing your baby to sleep!), but it may eventually begin to wear you out, since you will need to put “work” into helping your baby sleep. I had a friend whose baby would not nap well unless he was in his mom’s arms. My friend told me that this was fine, at first (she loved it during the newborn stage), but after a few months, she was ready for her son to learn to nap on his own!
  3. Napping on the Go. If you have a busy schedule, or if you have older kids who keep you running around from one activity to another, your baby may get into the habit of taking naps on the go (in the car, in the stroller, etc.) While it’s fine for naps to occasionally happen on the go, this should not become a regular thing. For starters, your baby may come to depend on the motion of the car or the stroller to fall asleep. What’s more, moving naps are not as restorative as naps that happen on a still, flat surface (like the crib), meaning that if your baby regularly takes moving naps, his sleep deficit will grow quickly, to the point where he may become overtired.
  4. Napping Without a Schedule. During the newborn stage, there is no such thing as a by-the-clock schedule. After the first few months, however, predictable patterns may begin go emerge in your baby’s sleep. By about 6 months, your baby will probably be ready for a clock-oriented daytime schedule. It does not have to be a rigid nap schedule, of course, but you should have some general timeframes during which your baby sleeps. However, if your older baby still does not have predictable naptimes, and is napping erratically at random times throughout the day, it’s likely that she’s not getting enough sleep. And all that erratic napping could interfere with nighttime sleep. So it’s best if you implement a daytime schedule to help your baby eat and nap at predictable times.
  5. Napping Too Much. I know what you’re thinking: “I would do anything to have that problem!” But truly, some parents are faced with a situation in which their baby sleeps for long periods during the day, but then wakes frequently at night. This is especially true during the newborn stage; a baby who has his days and nights mixed up will sleep too much during the day and not enough at night. But older babies can do this, too; a baby who consistently does not get enough sleep at night may take long naps during the day, which causes her to sleep less at night, which causes longer daytime naps…you get the idea.

Nicole’s Note:
“One of the more common sleep problems we address in a Personalized Sleep Plan is how to help baby nap in the crib or pack-n-play, instead of a caretaker’s arms. We’ve even had 18+ month olds still napping in arms. While it’s wonderful to cuddle your baby, keep in mind your baby will take naps over 2,500 times before she’s 4 years old! That’s a lot of holding, which would be wonderful if there wasn’t laundry, vacuuming, showering, or eating to do. Some new moms hardly feel like they have time to shower or eat, and the stress mounts. :( Sometimes having ‘you’ time can be enough to recharge and it’s important.”

For even more nap and schedule help, check out these members-only resource, found in our Members Area:

Not a member? Not a problem! Join today, and you’ll receive instant access to our vast online library of sleep coaching resources. Plus, members enjoy 20% off all personalized sleep consultations (and depending on the membership package your purchase, that savings alone can sometimes pay for the cost of your membership!)

Get Personalized Baby Nap Help You Can Feel Good About, With The Baby Sleep Site®

Don’t feel up to working on your baby or toddler’s nap challenges on your own? While our Members Area is great for DIY moms who prefer to tackle sleep challenges on their own, we know that other moms much prefer to go straight to one-on-one help. Well, good news – we offer that, and you can start getting the personal help you need TODAY!

Browse our list of consultation package options here.

Once you make your choice and purchase, you will immediately receive an e-mail with your Helpdesk login information. You’ll be able to login and start your Family Sleep History form right away – it’s that simple!

Want more information about how personalized help works? Check out our FAQ page here, and get answers. You can also take a tour of the Helpdesk.

How To Avoid Bad Baby Nap Habits, and Help Your Baby Nap Better

bss_ebook_7napmistakes_left-transShort or non-existent baby naps can be so frustrating – but you don’t have to suffer through them! We have a ton of nap resources – and one of those nap resources is our free guide, 7 Common Napping Mistakes. Are you making any of these common nap mistakes? If so, they may be the cause of your baby’s non-napping. So download your free guide today, and start putting the tips to use as early as your baby’s next nap!

Is your baby developing any of these bad napping habits? How are you working to correct them?


  1. Jessica says

    Our 21 month old has been a great napper since we instituted our sleep plan at 13 months. Then all of a sudden 2 weeks ago he flipped out and refused to lay down or fall asleep in his crib. I think its the 24 month sleep regression so we have been trying to stay as consistant as possible. In the last 2 days it has gotton progressivly worse so we have resorted to going for a ride in the car to get him to sleep then transfering him to his crib where he will nap for 2 hours. Thanks for the reminder that we shouldn’t create new sleep issues by using the car movement as a sleep cue. Does the members area give a little more advise on how to cope with sleep regressions without forming new (and bad) habits? We are not sure how long this will last and its scary!

  2. Emily DeJeu says

    @ Jessica – first, let me say that I’m glad your sleep plan was such a big help when your little guy was 13 months old! Second, I think your thinking is exactly right here; this is more than likely the 2 year regression rearing its ugly head. 😉 I’m glad to hear that you realize this, and are trying to work through it. Some parents make the mistake of assuming, when this happens, that their 2 year old must be done napping, and they cut out the afternoon nap. While this is true for a small percentage of 2 year olds, it’s definitely not the norm. So I think you’re wise to stick with it and trust that this will pass, and that he’ll be taking his afternoon nap again eventually.

    As for how to deal with this – the Members Area could definitely be a good resource. As a member, you’d be able to read an online copy of our Toddler e-book (see more info here: You’d also have be able to chat with other parents who’ve experienced this, and get insights that way. And Nicole does a weekly member chat on Wednesdays, so you’d have the chance to ask her for input. There are also loads of case studies and past tele-seminars, some of which would definitely apply to your situation. So yes, membership could be a good option for you. :) More info is available here:

    Thanks for your question, Jessica, and for taking the time to comment! Best of luck to you, as you try to ride out this regression. :)

  3. says

    One of the issues I ran into with my son was jaundice- he was such a sleepy baby for the first month or so. I’d read descriptions of wide eyed newborns watching blurs of light on the ceiling and have no comparable experience. If I held my son, he was sleeping. If I nursed, he was sleeping (and he got quite accomplished at eating while sleeping too). Sleep associations were just inevitable. We ended up doing CIO way younger than we wanted to (4.5 months) because all those sleep associations made the idea of lying him down “sleepy but awake” kind of a joke.

  4. Emily DeJeu says

    @ Meagan – interesting point; I hadn’t realized that one of the side effects of jaundice was extra-sleepiness. Thanks for pointing that out! And I get your point about “drowsy but awake” not always being an option; the same was true for my oldest son. During his first few months of life, it seemed like he was either dead asleep (and impossible to wake up) or wide awake and screaming. There wasn’t a whole lot of middle ground! 😉

    Thanks for commenting, Meagan, and for sharing some of the details of your experience.

  5. Dawn says

    Can you point me to the research that shows that moving naps are not as restorative as non-moving naps? I have read that is one person’s opinion (Dr Weissbluth’s) and logically it doesn’t make any sense to me, so I wanted to read the research on the subject. Thanks!

  6. Emily DeJeu says

    @ Dawn – I talked with Nicole, and with some other sleep consultants, regarding this question. Here’s the verdict: this concept is (as you point out) one that Dr. Weissbluth introduces in his book. We’ve been through the book, and there doesn’t seem to be a particular study that Weissbluth references when he makes this point (although he does reference 12 studies/articles about naps in general, so it’s possible this concept is included in one of those). However, I think it’s important to take Weissbluth’s own expertise as a pediatrician with decades of experience into account, too. Even if this is his opinion, and not necessarily information he gleaned from clinical research, his opinion is likely more informed than most other peoples’ opinions, given the work he does, and the length of time he’s been doing it. Does that make sense? Of course, we also hold to the idea that parents know their babies best, so if moving naps seem to really work for your baby, then no worries. :)

    Something to consider, if you’re thinking through moving naps – Dr. Sears is a big advocate of “rocking/wearing/swinging/driving down”. Basically, you provide whatever motion is necessary for baby to settle and fall asleep (rocking, wearing in the sling, swinging, driving around, etc.). Then, when baby is sound asleep, you transfer to a flat, stationary surface. This suggests, to me at least, that Dr. Sears believes having at least some of a baby’s sleep happen on a stationary surface is preferable to having all the sleep happen while the baby is moving.

    Something else to consider – in our experience, moving sleep can be really beneficial for newborns and very young infants, because their sleeping patterns are nothing like ours. It does seem possible for newborns and young babies to sleep really, really soundly while in the stroller, or in the car, or in a sling. For that reason, moving sleep probably isn’t a big issue for the first 3 or 4 months. After the 4 month sleep regression, though, a baby’s sleep patterns change and become more ‘adult’ in nature; at that point, I think moving sleep likely becomes more fragmented and restless, the way it is for us adults.

    Does this help? If this is something you’re figuring out with your own baby, we can offer some advice and tips (provided you want help, of course! 😉 )

    Thanks for reaching out, Dawn! Don’t hesitate to follow up with any additional questions.

  7. Emily DeJeu says

    @ Dawn – the sleep consultants managed to dig up a link to two studies that seem to indicate that moving sleep might be too stimulating to be restful: Scroll down to the middle of the page to find the section called “Rocking baby to sleep: A controversial infant sleep aid”. The first full paragraph there suggests that rocking may keep babies to alert to sleep deeply. Full citations for the studies referenced are available at the end of the article.

    Hope this helps!

  8. Zahrah says

    My 4 month old is just not sleeping!!! She’s fighting her naps and also night sleep. I’m sure her gums are troubling her as well. I’m exhausted. How long will this carry on? Please help?

  9. Emily DeJeu says

    @ Zahrah – this sounds a lot like the 4 month sleep regression (read about it here: Unfortunately, this never really ‘ends’ – sleep patterns change permanently at 4 months. Is her nighttime sleep affected, too? Is she waking a lot at night? Or is it just naps?

  10. Zahrah says

    Hi Emily her night wakings are from 1 or 2 times per night to 3 or 4. I also find it hard to get her to fall asleep and stay asleep during naps. She is a very light sleeper and the building we live in is very noisy, do you perhaps think this is the cause? If so how can I make her fall asleep and stay asleep through the noise. I do have a white noise running but doesn’t help much. And also what do you mean by her sleep patterns change permanently at 4 months? Will the night wakings and fighting naps now be a permanent thing? Thanks

  11. Emily DeJeu says

    @ Zaharah — her night wakings don’t sound excessive, since she’s still very young; waking 2-3 times each night is normal at this age. So nothing to worry about there.

    As for the noisy building — definitely utilize white noise. If it doesn’t seem to help, then perhaps try a louder setting?

    In terms of the changing sleep patterns — take a look at this article when you have a chance: It’s not that the night waking and fighting naps are now permanent; it’s just that those problems reveal what’s happening to your daughter’s sleep patterns. Your daughter is starting to cycle in and out of deep and light sleep, just like we adults do. The problem is, as she transitions between sleep cycles, she’ll likely wake up. Most babies don’t know how to put themselves back to sleep when this happens, so they cry for mom or dad to come and help them fall asleep again. This affects naps, too.

    The good news is, you don’t have to live with this problem; you can help your baby learn to fall asleep on her own, without help from you. When she can do that, she’ll be able to put herself back to sleep when she wakes between sleep cycles, and that will mean much less night waking, as well as longer naps.

    If this is something you want to know more about, I’d suggest downloading our free guide on how to help your baby sleep through the night: That’s a great place to begin for moms who are just starting out with sleep training.

    Hope this helps, Zahrah! :) Thanks for commenting, and don’t hesitate to ask more questions, if you have them. You can ask them here, via the comments, or you can email them to contact (at) babysleepsite (dot) com.

  12. says

    Thanks Emily! This topic is interesting for me… And I love to shared about it…

    WEll, I believe that you should start by revamping the bedtime routine. what I mean is that if your baby’s dependent on a bottle or breast to sleep, start and initiate scheduling the last feeding a good thirty mins prior to her usual bedtime or nap…

    And then, when she is sleepy – but not asleep – make your move and place her in her crib. I am sure that she will fuss (perhaps loudly) at first, but give it a chance.

    Once she accepts and learns to soothe and calm herself — perhaps by sucking on her thumb (a harmless, helpful habit for babies) or a pacifier, or by rocking herself or fingering her blanket — she won’t need you anymore… Ofcourse this is at bedtime only!

    That’s it… Any ideas to expand the conversation?

  13. Zahrah says

    Thanks Suzzaine and Emily. Things are starting to make more sense slowly…. @ Suzzaine i do give her a last feed well before bedtime or nap time. Another major concern I have is every single time wether for naps or bedtime, she MUST cry for a while and fuss and make strange sounds(as if she’s constipated but she definitely isn’t) before she falls asleep. I do put her in her cot as soon as I notice any signals that she is sleepy and I also time to put her down 90 minutes from her last sleep session. Am I perhaps putting her down slightly too early or a bit too late and missing her “sleep window” if so how do I make sure I put her down at the exact proper moment? Also, she is dependent on a pacifier for sleeping I don’t give it to her at any other time. She is a very “sucky” baby and she also is experiencing itchy gums at the moment. Will it be to early to wean her off from the pacifier @ 4 months? As some experts says it assists with teething issues. Any tips and suggestions welcome. Thanks

  14. Emily DeJeu says

    @ Suzzaine — thanks for sharing your insights!

    @ Zahrah – 90 minutes of wake time is on the longish side, but it’s not necessarily too much (some 4 months olds are fine with this amount). I’d suggest you keep watching her sleep cues (as you mentioned you already are) and see if she consistently starts to show signs of being tired before the 90 minute mark.

    As for the pacifier, I wouldn’t be in a huge hurry to wean this early. Lots of babies have strong suck reflexes, and really do NEED to suck frequently. If the pacifier is working for you and for your daughter, then no need to rush into weaning.

    Hope this helps! Thanks for commenting, Zahrah! :)

  15. Zahrah says

    Thanks Emily you sure did put my mind at ease with the weaning issue, I’ve been fretting about wether to do it or not for a while now. I will try a 60 minute wake time and see how that works out. Once again thanks for your feedback.

  16. Emily DeJeu says

    @ Zahrah — no problem! Glad this info has been helpful to you. Let me say that it sounds like you’re an excellent mom, and that you’re doing a fantastic job in working to understand your daughter’s sleep, and in trying to make sure that she gets enough. Good job, mama! :)

  17. Zahrah says

    Aawww thanks Emily! Coming from an expert like you sure does make me feel like I’m doing a good job and you just put a huge smile on my face as I read your comment. Keep up the good work! Thumbs up!

  18. Kate says

    Enjoyed the article and the comments…I’ve been thinking the last few days about how nice it would be in certain situations to still have some of the old sleep associations (nursing, stroller walks, car rides) that we worked so hard to get rid of! After having a really good month and a half of scheduled naps, my little guy is changing things on me again! In the long run, I know that it’s great that he only really sleeps well in a crib and that I can no longer really help him go to sleep, but oh boy…Time for the 9 month sleep regression! Thanks for the article, Emily!

  19. Emily DeJeu says

    @ Zahrah – awww! Thanks :) I don’t know that I’m an expert (I’ll leave that title for our team of sleep consultants!) But I’m so glad to hear that you’re finding the articles and resources on the site both helpful AND encouraging. We strive to make the Baby Sleep Site® a place where all moms feel welcome and safe to ask questions and share their viewpoints. So glad to know that, for you, the site is just that!

    @ Kate — oy! Sleep regressions are no fun. :( You’re right, though; this will pass, and even though his good sleeping habits are frustrating now, you’ll love them in the long run! Sounds like you have your head on straight, so to speak, regarding this regression. Now, let’s hope it passes quickly! :)

    Thanks for commenting, Kate!

  20. Emily says

    I have 2 very annoying new nap issues! Firstly, I went back to work about three weeks ago, and Imogen now goes to nursery (daycare) 4 days a week. I’m not sure what they’re doing to get her to sleep there or whether it’s just the noise and too many distractions etc, but she has gone from taking at least an hour nap, twice a day (often more like 1 hour 15 mins) to just 30-40 minutes. And because she is there 4 days a week, that is now “the norm” for her – crazy how quickly she can get into a new habit! How can I fix this, when I only have her 3 days a week now? Secondly, Imogen now sleeps on her front, but when I lay her down for a nap, she immediately gets onto all fours and sits up, and then cries because she can’t figure out how to lie back down again. Should I keep going in and lying her back down again, over and over until she gets it, or should I just leave her to figure it out? So frustrating as she was a previously good napper and is now pretty rubbish, argh! She has just turned 13 months. Thank you!

  21. Emily DeJeu says

    @ Emily – oh, so tough! Daycare can definitely mess with naps. You have a few options, in terms of the shortened nap situation: 1) You can go with the daycare schedule, and stick to offering one nap consistently at home. This *might* help her adjust to the daycare schedule better. OR, 2) You can try to make up for lost sleep at home, and offer extra-long naps during the 3 days she’s home with you.

    As for the getting on all fours/sitting up thing – no easy fix here! The good news is that as she grows, she’ll figure out how to maneuver herself from all fours back to lying down, so this won’t be a long-term problem. In the short-term, though, you could definitely keep going back in and laying her down.

    Hope this helps, Emily – hang in there!

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