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 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!

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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, and start putting the tips to use as early as your baby’s next nap!
 

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55 thoughts on “How and When to Nap (Sleep) Train Your Baby or Toddler”

  1. Hello, I have a ten month old who has been sleep trained since she was six. She sleeps independently in her own room and is put down wide awake. Naps, however, are a completely different story. She naps with me in my arms – but in her room with the shades drawn and the white noise on. I would like to nap train her, but for one nap only- specifically the second one. Can I do that? Or will o be sending her mixed messages by holding her for one nap and putting her down for the second?

    • @Nazneen – Thank you for reading and for sharing with us! Great news that your little girl is sleeping well during the night! 🙂 Nap training can be quite different from night time training and frequently has different results. Generally, being consistent in your approach to nap training as she learns will help her learn what you expect from her for nap sleep. Once she’s learned what you expect, it may be easier to modify how she sleeps during the day from one nap to the next. Hope this helps, Nazneen. Hang in there!

  2. Hello! My daughter is now 10 months. We focused on night training first about 2 1/2 months ago. She was dependent on boob to go to sleep for all naps and bedtime until that point. We did camp out method, it was going great (8-10 hours uninterrupted) until teething/holidays/sickness sparked a big regression. Now we are getting night under control kind of again, she is falling asleep in her crib by herself and sleeping for a 6 hour stretch (it WAS back to every 3 hours waking). However, nap time is a catastrophe almost every day and we are spiraling out of control. She is 100% dependent on boob to fall asleep. The same camp out method does not work for nap time. The only way I can get her to nap is to nurse her until fully asleep then transfer her to her crib. Some days she refuses to fall asleep even on the boob! Like today for instance, she took one HALF HOUR nap in the middle of the day…. I am so sleep deprived from the last 10 months. I have no idea what to do. She is stubborn and will go the distance during the day, as in, will not go to sleep on her own. Another thing worth noting is that we are about to go on our first major trip across 3 time Zones in two weeks, so more sleep training now seems like a waste of time? Please help me. I am at my Whits end. Also, she has never taken a bottle and has been exclusively breastfed her entire life. Do I wait until we are back from our trip and try CIO or camp out again? I need her to be able to go to sleep without me, I am going crazy. Please help, thank you.

    • Hi @Monica – Thank you for writing to us! Congrats on making progress on your daughter’s night sleep! It sounds like you have been working so hard for so long, and I completely know how exhausting this is, but do know that you have made progress, and you can get there with naps too! Naps can be tougher, so hang in there! Regarding whether to keep working on naps now or to wait until you are back from your travels, this really depends on you! You can certainly wait if you are “hanging in there” with things the way they are now, but it sounds like you are just about at the end of your rope, and you may want to work on naps now before you go! You should be able to see progress in the next couple of weeks, and just keep on offering those naps and choose what type of sleep coaching you would like to do/what works best for you.
      If you would like more help with her schedule and nap training, and nights too if they do not smooth all the way out, we are here and have wonderful consultants waiting to support you through this!
      Hang in there Monica, and contact us if you need assistance!

  3. I need some advice. I’ve got baby number 5 who is almost 9 months old and will not sleep in her own bed at all. She was a reflux baby and I found it was best to nurse her laying on my side for her not to spit up. Now we are in a habit of napping together and sleeping together. She’s growing and my moving in bed is waking her. I really struggle with letting my little ones cry it out. She does not like to swaddle either. What steps can I take, and about how long will it take, to get her in her crib (in our room still), out of my bed for good, and having her sleep for a good 2 day naps and all night?

    • Hi @Kim – Thank you for writing and I am sorry to hear that you are having a tough time co-sleeping with your baby. We help so many families to transition their baby to their own sleep space, and work on this gently to limit tears. Unfortunately, we cannot predict a specific time frame for each baby, because progress is so heavily dependent on your baby’s personality and your implementation or plans too.
      We are also not able to accurately predict how your baby might react to the changes made. I can tell you that generally, the gentler methods (no-cry) can take longer than methods that involve crying (Ferber style methods), but all sleep training can take anywhere from a couple of days to a month or more.
      If you would like one on one help with this, your consultant can create a holistic plan for you that you can feel great about!
      You can read about all of our sleep consultation packages here if interested: https://www.babysleepsite.com/baby-toddler-sleep-consulting-services
      Good luck Kim and hang in there!

  4. Is it just me, or is any advice on this topic really “it depends on the baby”, ergo: there’s nothing specific about the advice your giving, frankly I saw nothing in this article that I could “take home and put to practice”. As someone who is going through this right now and struggling with this, I hoped to read some concise strategies to attempt approaching, and what to do when that fails. But, there’s nothing really prescriptive on this topic. I too can write like this and call myself an expert on the topic. Sorry, I’m a bit frustrated when I’m looking for advice on the topic, and all I find is a lot of wishy-washy-it-depends jargon. Wish you’d have something more pragmatic. Thanks.

    • Hi @Mark, thank you for stopping by the Baby Sleep Site and I apologize you are frustrated. It can be super difficult with these topics because all babies truly are different and respond to the same thing like night and day. We try to provide some guidelines on our site to give parents a starting point and for some it is specific enough to get them all the way to a better night or daytime sleep! Other families do need more information and support, and we understand that which is why we offer so many other resources. If you are interested in downloading a free guide on nap help, please feel free to sign up to receive the guide here: https://www.babysleepsite.com/free-baby-nap-guide/
      We also have a variety of ebooks, audio recordings, and offer personalized sleep coaching on our site to give parents whatever level of information they are looking for. If you are stuck with your child’s naps or any other area of sleep and want to work with us, we would love to have you. Feel free to contact us at [email protected] at anytime.
      I hope this helps provide some clarity and I apologize again if you are frustrated.

  5. Hello, my daughter is 4 months tomorrow and I am looking into sleep training, specifically nap training, as I am going back to work in a few weeks (working from home) & she has been a catnapper recently going downhill.

    Nights are great, she sleeps 8:30/9pm to 8am with 1 MOTN wake/feeding, and she wakes in the morning happy & smiling. She does get rocked or nursed to sleep at night.

    Naps have always been 30-45mins for her, and in the recent week or so, even shorter and harder to put her down. She always cries upon waking from a nap.

    We have the same nap routine when at home: change diaper, put in sleep sack, close curtains, white noise, and hold her and pat until she gets drowsy, then down in crib. Except now as soon as I put her down, she cries.

    I’ve tried different awake times…1h30, 1h45, 2h…I’ve tried getting her down at first signs (she gets glazed eyes/stares into space)…I’ve tried leaving her in her crib awake, and for about 5 minites she’ll whimper off and on…then escalate to screaming (I get her when it escalates…I can’t leave her crying like that). I’ve tried consoling her when she’s in the crib and it doesn’t work, makes her cry more…..none of this seems to be on the mark.

    However, these past few days she will nap for 45mins+ if I am holding her or she’s in the swing…and I had to resort to doing this so she’d get adequate sleep and not be a cranky mess.

    Several days a week she will take her morning nap in the car while I’m out on errands or moms group, could this impact napping at home?

    It’s obvious she can’t get herself to sleep or back to sleep after waking from a cycle…and has sleep crutches, and I’m not sure where to start helping her learn to nap independently. Thank you for any advice!

    • Hi @Carol, thanks for using the Baby Sleep Site as a resource for helping your daughter nap. We have a free guide available to download with information on getting you started on improving your daughter’s naps. To access the free guide, please sign up here: https://www.babysleepsite.com/free-baby-nap-guide/
      If you need more help beyond the free guide, we have an ebook all about naps that goes more in depth to help lengthening her naps and getting her on an age appropriate schedule. Here is a link for more information on that: https://www.babysleepsite.com/mastering-naps/
      I hope this helps and you seen an improvement soon!

  6. My 7.5 mos old is a good night sleeper but a bad napper. He will only nap for 30 min and then wakes up screaming. He’s still tired-he’s rubbing his eyes and so cranky-but won’t go back to sleep. I’ve let him cry to see if he’ll go back to sleep but if he does it will be 10 min at most. I’ve tried to go in and soothe him but once he sees me he cries even harder when I leave the room. What should I do? How do I get him to sleep longer?

    • @ Ila – Believe it or not, this is sooooooo common. Nap sleep and night sleep are controlled by different parts of your son’s brain, so it’s understandable that his good sleeping habits at night aren’t transferring to his naps. What you could probably use is a step-by-step plan to help you teach your son to go TO sleep independently at the start of a nap time, and then BACK to sleep when he wakes too early. I’d recommend you consider a Mastering Naps and Schedules bundle – it includes the e-book, which provides tons of tips and sample schedules, as well as an Express Sleep Plan that provides you with a day-by-day plan for improving his naps – and it’s just $77 (and right now, it’s on sale!). You can read more about it here: https://www.babysleepsite.com/mastering-naps/

      Hope this helps, Ila! Best of luck to you and to your family 🙂

  7. @ Susan — we do have an article on how night sleep is different than nap sleep; you can read that here: https://www.babysleepsite.com/baby-naps-2/why-baby-and-naps-different-than-night-sleep/ That may have some insights for you.

    In terms of sticking to one bedtime: it may be a better idea to flex bedtime a bit, depending on his tiredness cues (and depending on how naps have gone.) Obviously, you don’t want to put him to bed way early, but shifting bedtime to 7:00 or so likely won’t hurt, if you think that he needs to go down earlier.

    In terms of how to address the crying: do what feels most natural for you. You can do a check-and-console kind of thing, where you go in periodically and comfort him for a few minutes. Or you can allow him to cry it out, if that’s something you’re comfortable with. How you deal with this fussiness is totally up to you. I’d recommend reading through the different types of sleep training methods that are out there: https://www.babysleepsite.com/sleep-training/sleep-training-from-no-cry-to-cry-series-part-1/ (this is part one of a 6 part series).

    Hope these resources help you, Susan! And thanks so much for reaching out, and for commenting. 🙂 Feel free to ask any other questions you might have!

  8. Thank you, Emily. He has such a hard time staying up longer than 1.5 hours before he gets super fussy and overtired, but I will try to space out his naps a little longer.

    Also, even on days where he has had 3 naps, it is still very difficult to get him down for the night. He often screams and cries for awhile. Is there something about night sleep that is different from nap sleep? If so, what can I do to address it? I’m wondering if I should just stick to one bedtime (like 7:30) and put him in his crib no matter what? I always worry that I’ve put him down too late or too early depending on when he last woke up.

    Thanks again!

  9. @ Susan — first, let me say that it sounds like your 6 month old is a champion sleeper in a lot of ways! So that’s good; whatever you’ve been doing has clearly worked. 🙂

    In terms of why he’s resisting that third nap, I suspect you’re right in your observation that the first two naps are on the long side, and that might be messing with the 3rd nap. If you look at our sample 6 month schedule (https://www.babysleepsite.com/tag/6-month-old-feeding-schedule/) you’ll see that we outline 3 or 4 naps that total about 3 hours. So essentially, your son’s just napping really efficiently; he’s cramming his naptime sleep into two long naps.

    Here’s something you could try: put him down a bit later for his first and second nap, trying to stretch that second nap so that it happens a bit later in the day, closer to bedtime. Getting the spacing just right will be a little tricky and may require some trial and error. But the idea would be that if you space those two naps differently, the second nap could end close enough to bedtime that you wouldn’t need to squeeze in a third nap. Make sense?

    Hope this is helpful, Susan! Keep us posted. And thanks for reaching out! 🙂

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