How and When to Nap (Sleep) Train Your Baby or Toddler

How and when to work on naps

If there’s one thing we’ve written A LOT about here at The Baby Sleep Site®, it’s sleep training. Dare we say we’re sleep training experts? 😉 And usually, when we talk about sleep training, we’re talking about sleep in general — both nap time sleep and nighttime sleep. Today, however, we’re going to consider the two separately. We’ll compare nap training and night training, and we’ll explore when it’s best for nap training to happen.

In Some Ways, Nap Sleep Training Is Different Than Nighttime Sleep Training

Why? Because nap time sleep is different than nighttime sleep. Remember, according to Dr. Weissbluth, nap sleep and nighttime sleep are actually controlled by different parts of the brain.

Some families find that naps are easier, but many of the families we work with testify to just the opposite: that naps are HARD. And that’s understandable. Naps tend to be less predictable and routine than nighttime sleep. That’s especially true if you’re an on-the-go parent who doesn’t spend loads of time at home. And of course, your baby or toddler’s naptime environment is far different than his nighttime environment. Nights tend to be dark and quiet — days not so much!

Something else to factor in: nap time sleep needs change and shift more than nighttime sleep needs. Your child will go through a handful of nap transitions in the first few years of life, because as he gets older, he needs progressively less daytime sleep.

So what does this mean for your sleep training plans? It means that training your baby or toddler for naps may present different challenges than training her for nights. So don’t be surprised if certain sleep training techniques work well at bedtime but not at nap time (and vice versa).

It also means that you may have to be more persistent in your nap time training. This isn’t true for every family, of course, but it might be true for you. Don’t be surprised if your baby or toddler gets nighttime sleep figured out but still struggles with naps.

In Other Ways, Nap Sleep Training and Nighttime Sleep Training Are Very Similar

Training your baby or toddler to nap well may be a little more challenging than training her to sleep well at night. And you might find that you have to use different sleep training techniques at nap time.

But overall, nap training and night training follow the same basic principles, and they’re based on the same premise. Remember, sleep training is simply the practice of helping your baby or toddler overcome his bad sleep habits and learn new, healthy ones. That applies to both naps and nighttime sleep.

One of the biggest goals of sleep training is to help a baby or toddler overcome sleep associations. And sleep associations usually apply to both nap time sleep and nighttime sleep. For instance, a baby who has to be rocked to sleep at night will probably insist on being rocked to sleep for naps, too. A toddler who needs mom in his room in order to fall asleep at night will probably need her there at naptime as well. So in this way, sleep training for naps and sleep training for nights are similar.

Another overarching purpose of sleep training is to create some predictability and routine in a baby’s or toddler’s schedule. The level of scheduling depends on the family, of course. Some parents want concrete, down-to-the-minute schedules while others simply want to establish some general times for meals and sleep. Regardless of the type of schedule desired, however, the “predictability and routine” aspect of sleep training affects both naps and nights. You’ll need to establish a timeframe for naps and for bedtime, and you’ll need to build some routines that will help ease your baby or toddler into both nap time and bedtime. Again, in this way, sleep training for naps and for nights tend to be the same.

When Should Nap Training Happen?

In terms of when to nap train your baby or toddler, you have three options:

  1. Do nap training and night training together: Some families opt to tackle naps and nights together, and to sleep train for both at the same time. This is kind of a “rip the band-aid off all at once” approach — it can be painful while it’s happening, but it’s over fairly quickly. Some parents also prefer this method because they feel it helps maintain consistency and eliminate confusion. If you’re nursing your baby to sleep for naps but not at night, that can be confusing for your little one, and it can cause setbacks.
  2. Do nap training first: Other families prefer to deal with naps first, and leave night training for later. For some parents, it feels less stressful to deal with crying and fussing during the day, as opposed to dealing with it at 3 a.m. And parents who take this approach sometimes report that when their baby or toddler starts napping consistently, it actually helps their nighttime sleep, since they’re not getting overtired during the day. This approach may make more sense for those babies or toddlers whose nights aren’t terrible, but whose naps are.
  3. Do night training first: Of course, some babies and toddlers nap pretty well but are up all night. In those cases, it could make more sense to focus on nighttime sleep training first. Some families prefer this approach because they feel that if they can finally get the rest they need at night, they’ll be more equipped to deal with any nap time drama that might happen during the day.

Nicole’s Note:
“Every family will be a little different. We do offer newborn-friendly nap strategies, including sample sleep-inducing routines for newborns in our e-book, Essential Keys To Your Newborn’s Sleep, as well as special Personalized Sleep Plans™ specifically crafted to guide your newborn baby to better naps in a gentle, safe way. If you still haven’t nap trained and your baby is now an older infant, or a toddler, it’s never too late. Of course, the closer he is to the age of transitioning away from naps (3-4 years old), the harder it will likely be (not to mention how persistence only increases!) We generally start with nights and follow with naps soon thereafter, but again, every family’s needs are a little different, so we keep an open mind. We do not have a ‘one-size-fits-all’ type of mindset around here.”

When you nap train is up to you, of course, and will depend on a lot of unique factors (your parenting preferences, your family’s schedule, your baby’s temperament, etc.) But as you work to create a nap training plan, keep this in mind: your goals and expectations in nap training will probably be the same as those in night training. But the training itself may look a little different, or progress differently, since nap sleep is different than night sleep.

And remember: if you need a little extra help in your nap training, we’re here for you!

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

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How To Nap Train Your Baby or Toddler, and Improve Nap Sleep

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. Start putting the tips to use as early as your baby’s next nap!

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