Why Baby Nap Sleep Is Different Than Night Sleep

Why Naps are Different than Night SleepRaise your hand if this describes the scene in your home: bedtime is peaceful and easy (and followed by hours of uninterrupted sleep), while naptime is a raging battle of wills (followed by little to no sleep at all.)

Guess what? My hand would be up right now, if I didn’t need both hands to type this post. 😉

That scenario is a familiar one here at The Baby Sleep Site. We hear from a lot of frazzled parents who can’t figure out why their babies and toddlers sleep so perfectly (or at least better) at night and so not perfectly at naptime.

We have the answer to that one: naptime sleep and nighttime sleep are very, very different. So different, in fact, that naptime and nighttime sleep are actually controlled by different parts of the brain, according to Weissbluth.

But we’re not going to get into the biochemical reasons for the difference here. Instead, we’ll explore a few of the practical, common sense reasons why naptime sleep can be far more challenging than nighttime sleep.

Nap Sleep vs. Night Sleep — Consistency and Routine

Let’s start by examining the ways that naptime and nighttime routines are different. When it comes to bedtime, you likely have some sort of routine in place (and if you don’t, we recommend you create one!) Whether your routine involves bath, books, lullabies, or cuddling, it’s the routine itself that matters — doing the same thing in the same order at roughly the same time each night helps signal to your baby or toddler that bedtime’s coming. It also provides a way for your little one to wind down (a critical part of preparing for nighttime sleep.)

Now, think about your naptime routine. Different, isn’t it? A few of you may have a naptime routine that you stick to like glue (and that’s great!) But let’s be honest — it can be harder to have a consistent nap routine in place, simply because it’s harder, day to day, to make sure we’re home at the same time, and that we have the 10 or 15 minutes we need to go through each step of the routine itself. This is especially true if you’re an “on-the-go” parent.

Instead, you might find that naptime sometimes happens in the car, or in a stroller, or even in your lap. And if naptime tends to happen at different times each day (based on your daytime errands and busy-ness), that can mean that naps are even less predictable.

This is understandable, of course; it’s just not feasible for many of you to be home for every naptime, every single day. This is especially true if you have a newborn who naps four or five times a day, or if you have siblings who are all on different nap schedules. But remember that less consistency and routine at naptime can mean a lower quality of sleep, making naptimes stressful and sleepless.

Naptime Sleep vs. Nighttime Sleep — Different Environments

Think about what your house is like at night. It’s dark. It’s (relatively) quiet. Everyone is asleep. Those all sound like ideal sleeping conditions.

Now, think about what your house is like during the day. Sunlight is pouring through your windows. Everyone’s awake. The phone is ringing. The mail carrier is delivering the mail and dogs are barking. The TV is on. Your 5 year old is playing superheroes at top volume (or maybe that’s just mine…)

Could you nap through that?

This is another reason why naptime sleep is often less peaceful than nighttime sleep — the environment in which it happens isn’t nearly so “sleepy.” Sure, you can do your best to create a calm, quiet naptime space. But you can’t blot out the sun, or insist that every single dog on your block stop barking for two hours. And, some babies simply can’t learn to sleep through noise.

Naptime Troubles? Let’s Fix Those.

You know why naptime and nighttime sleep are different, and a few reasons why naptime can be a whole lot less restorative and peaceful than bedtime. Now — how do you “close the gap” between nap sleep and night sleep?

You could start by putting a few of these ideas into practice:

  • Develop a routine, and (mostly) stick with it. Routines go a long way towards promoting good, healthy sleep. Develop a short, basic naptime routine (something you can do in about 5-10 minutes, longer if your baby is spirited), and then try to do it before every nap. The shorter and simpler the routine, the more likely you’ll actually do it each day.
  • Make sure naps happen at (mostly) the same time each day. Timing and routine go hand-in-hand. First, determine how many naps your baby or toddler needs. Second, work to establish a nap schedule with your baby or toddler. Finally, commit to sticking with this schedule as often as possible. Every day is ideal; if that’s not possible aim for 4-5 days each week. For more information on establishing a nap schedule, visit our Sample Schedules page.
  • Allow time for winding down. Shaye, one of our sleep consultants, made this observation about naptime:

    “I think naps are tough because we tend to be running errands, playing, etc. And then boom! We expect them to just lie down and nap amid all that craziness.”

    If that describes your situation, try to allow more time for your baby or toddler to wind down before her nap. Spend some time reading to her, or offer her a few “quiet” toys to play with.

  • Create a “nighttime” nap environment. It’ll never be perfectly dark and quiet at naptime, but with the right nap products, you can get close! 🙂 Blackout blinds and white noise machines create a dim, noise-free setting that’ll help your baby or toddler nap longer and better.

Are naptimes rough at your house? How do you cope? Any tips to make naptime sleep more like nighttime sleep? Share your thoughts!

Naptime sleep (or lack thereof) making you feel flustered and frazzled? 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. Or, join our Members Area packed with exclusive content and resources: e-Books, assessments, detailed case studies, expert advice, peer support, and audio courses. 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!

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35 thoughts on “Why Baby Nap Sleep Is Different Than Night Sleep”

  1. My problem is actually the complete opposite! We are trying to go from cosleeping to crib with my 13 month old. Once she got older, she would only nap in my arms. As soon as I’d put her down she’d wake up within 10 minutes but if I held her, she’d sleep for 2 hours. We finally recently got her to nap in her crib. She does fantastic with it. I get her drowsy and put her in and she’s goes right to sleep and sleeps for an hour and a half to 2 hours. But at nighttime?? We do the same thing but she wakes up after about an hour and nothing we do will get her to go back to sleep in the crib. It’s so frustrating! Any idea what could be going on here?!

    • Hi @RyanAnn – Thanks for writing, and I’m sorry to hear that night sleep has been so rough for you lately! Now that naps are going well, you can start working on her night sleep! She may just need more help learning how to fall asleep on her own at bedtime, and/or just for those night wakings. Here’s an article to read that might be helpful:
      If you would like help at any time, please check out our one on one consultation packages, where we will work with you on a detailed plan you can commit to and feel good about.
      You can check those out here: https://www.babysleepsite.com/services/
      I hope things smooth out quickly RyanAnn! Good luck!

  2. I have a five month old that is a dream at night and difficult in the day! I’ve done everything from solid routine, awake times, sleep cues, sleepy environment and white noise but nothing is working! At night I can put him down awake and walk away and he takes a few minutes to fall asleep. He wakes at 5am everyday and even managed to put himself back to sleep then. I just don’t understand! Patting him to sleep works once and then resettling never works. I’m at the point where I’m just going to do whatever I need to and get him to sleep. Otherwise he doesn’t sleep in the day!

    • Hi Melina,
      Thank you for your comment! I’m sorry you’re having so much trouble with nap sleep as compared to night sleep. You are definitely not alone! Naps can be tough at this age. You mention going by wake times and sleepy cues, but not exactly what method you’re using, so I’ll link you to our sample 5 month schedule just to give you an idea of what we often recommend: https://www.babysleepsite.com/schedules/5-month-old-baby-schedule/
      Make sure you’re getting feeds in appropriately, too, since many babies seem to shorten their naps during the day if they’re hungry.

      Many babies are also just not able to link their sleep cycles yet. If you suspect that’s the case, check out our article on the “wake to sleep” method, which many families use at this age successfully: https://www.babysleepsite.com/sleep-training/wake-to-sleep-help-baby-short-naps/

      I hope this helps, but if you need more help, please do send us a brief example of your schedule, the wake times you’re trying to [email protected]. We’d be happy to help further!

  3. I have a recently just turned 6 months old Who is refusing his third nap. I put him down 1.45/2hrs of awake time, as he starts showing signs of tiredness, I.e eyes rubbing, yawning and being a little fussy. I do the short routine of letting him know it’s nap time, by telling him (been doing this since he was 6 weeks old) close the curtains, cuddle and sing lullaby and pray. So o don’t know why he still won’t take that nap. Its been almost 3 weeks now that he hasn’t taken that nap, save for this Sunday, when he did take the nap. He plays in the crib and babbles for the hr slated for sleep. Once I go to him after the hour is up, he is still energetic, but by the time it’s an hour later, he starts fussing.

    By this time he has been awake for close to 4 hours,(last wake up time was 1pm) and bed time is round the corner. Bed time is 6pm

    Please what do I do, I know He isn’t ready for 2 naps yet, he is too young. Please help me. (I am from the member area).

    • @Lola – Thank you for reading and for sharing! I’m sorry to hear that you’re having a frustrating time with scheduling your little guy’s naps – it can be exhausting! As a Member of our site, you have the unique luxury of being able to communicate directly with one of our sleep consultants about this and ask all of your questions directly. You can ask any question on any of our e-Books – here’s the link to ask your questions on our Mastering Naps and Schedules e-Book here: https://members.babysleepsite.com/sleep-needs/nap-needs/ and a sleep consultant will be able to reply to answer more specifically than I am able. You can also log in to your account and live chat with one of our senior sleep consultants, too – you can find their chat times on the right-hand side of the screen when you log in – https://members.babysleepsite.com Hang in there, Lola – and good luck!

  4. I have a 4mo who naps incredibly well without a fuss, but when it comes time for bedtime, it is such a battle. He just cries and wants to be held to sleep. For his naps, he sleeps in his own bassinet and is put down awake and is able to fall asleep on his own with a pacifier. For bedtime, we will do the exact same routine as a nap and he still cries. Is there something I’m doing wrong? I know he knows how to self soothe with a pacifier. Help!

    • @Natalie – Thank you for stopping by our sleepy little village and for sharing with us. Be assured that it is very common (and normal!) for baby nap sleep to be different than night sleep even if you do exactly the same routine for each! You may just want to keep working to tweak his bedtime routine and schedule to see if you can get a different result. If you continue to run into issues, please consider connecting with one of our sleep consultants who can get more specific information from you and walk you through a process to find better sleep at your home. You can read more about our lovely ladies here: https://www.babysleepsite.com/about Hang in there, Natalie!

  5. My 3.5 month old sleeps well at night for the most part. He will go to sleep drowsy but awake and fall asleep on his own. However, he will NOT nap anywhere but on me. I have tried a million times. I’ve tried putting him down drowsy, asleep after 5 min, 15 min, 30-40 min. He immediately wakes up crying.

    • @Meghan – Thank you for writing to us! I am sorry you have been struggling with your son’s naps! That is a difficult age and I remember those days when both of my boys were little. It is pretty normal at this age but there are ways you can help during this time. We have a free guide about naps available for you to sign up to download that will be able to provide some tips to help: https://www.babysleepsite.com/free-baby-nap-guide/
      I hope this helps!

  6. My 5 week old has been doing well with naps. We put him down when sleepy and most of the time he can fall asleep on his own. At night he will fall asleep, then wake minutes later screaming. The only way we sleep well is if he falls asleep nursing and stays with me. It is okay now that I am on leave, but when I go back to work it will be tough of it keeps going!

  7. @ Tamara — our free nap guide may be helpful, as you try to figure out why your little guy is so nap resistant. You can access it here: https://www.babysleepsite.com/free-baby-nap-guide/

    You can also search for nap articles on our blog. Simply scroll up this page and look for the Google search field on the right. Type “nap” as your search term, and then you can browse all the nap-related articles on the site.

    Hope this helps, Tamara! If not, don’t hesitate to contact us for more info.

  8. He’s has always been like that. I used to be able to put him down for a half of nap after he fell asleep then he would wake up 30 minutes later and I would have to hold for the rest of the nap. For the last month I can’t even put him down at all. 🙁 He did just get past his 18 month sleep regression that lasted about 2 weeks, but no such luck with naps. If I try to put him down, he wakes up and we end up making the nap process a lot longer than it should be.

  9. I have it dark, do a routine, and have a sound machine on and my 18 month old will only nap if I am in his room holding him. He puts himself to sleep no problem at night. If I put him in the crib for a nap he will cry for 3 hours and make himself poop and vomit. Any suggestions?

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