How Down Time in the Crib Can Be Bad For Your Baby’s Sleep

Imagine putting your baby to sleep in her crib. Your baby doesn’t cry. She happily plays in her crib, looks at the mobile, or babbles, but isn’t sleeping. Or, your toddler happily chats in his bed for an hour every night before going to sleep. You’re lucky, right? This is the ideal baby sleep situation and you have nothing to worry about, right? Wrong. This article will explain how TOO much downtime in the crib can be bad for your baby’s sleep.

A while ago, I received an e-mail that went something like this:

If your baby is moaning, but not crying, is it OK to leave them in the crib? For how long? Is it cruel? Will it make for a bad start to the day?

Baby Wake Early

Should immediately tend to your baby when he awakens?

If your baby wakes too early in the morning (what is “too early” will be different for everyone) and she is not crying, I would absolutely recommend that you NOT go in to engage her. This will inadvertently reinforce her continuing to wake up too early. If your baby is crying, you will want to limit your engagement as much as possible, feed her, if appropriate, change her diaper, etc. but not make it FUN to be up and try not to get her up UP for the day. This may “set” her internal clock to continue to wake early.

If your baby wakes up in the morning and it’s not “too early” but she’s happy, allowing some playtime is perfectly okay. I remember one phase in my son’s sleep when I’d hear him wake up, it wasn’t too early, so I’d go in to get him up and he fussed at me for coming in too early! The first day he did this, I didn’t understand, but after a couple more times I figured out that he was enjoying his “relaxation time” in the morning. When we used to have a lot of sleep problems, you could NOT have told me THAT would happen and I believe you!

Is it cruel to leave a baby alone in her crib?

All parents will have a different philosophy about whether it’s “cruel” to allow your baby alone time in his or her bed. My take on it is if they aren’t upset, some independent “think” time or relaxation is not a bad thing and may even be a good idea. Some of my best ideas come to me when I’m lying in bed (or at least not talking to anyone) or walking/running on the treadmill. This site was one of those ideas! 🙂 Once I got the idea, I shared it with those closest to me, but the idea itself came to me when I was all by my lonesome. Your baby may like the time and if she isn’t crying, she probably does!

Although independent playtime can be good, at some point, allowing too much “downtime” in the crib or bed can be bad for your baby’s sleep and you do want to avoid it. Just because you may have an easy-going baby who will lay in bed for hours without crying doesn’t mean she should. You might think this sounds far-fetched and babies who lay around for “hours” will be a rare few, but once your baby does know how to sleep independently, it is very normal for babies to begin to play and chat up a storm in their bed in the morning when they first wake up or before they go to sleep at night. I know, I know! I didn’t think it would happen either, but it did!!

Why down time causes baby sleep problems

First, too much time on your baby’s back, when their heads are still soft can cause plagiocephaly, or their head to be flat or misshapen. Since it is recommended for SIDS prevention to put your baby on his back to sleep, this has become more prevalent. You will want to give your baby plenty of tummy time to play during the day.

Second, too much “resting” time can actually lead to short naps, more night-wakings, and especially long middle of the night wakings, for older babies and toddlers.

Some general rules of thumb:

  • Once past the initial sleep coaching period, limit “downtime” to a maximum of 20-30 minutes before naps and 30 minutes prior to bedtime, if possible.
  • If your baby or toddler has not fallen asleep, consider getting them up and trying again about 30 minutes later. OR, if it’s at night, reconsider his schedule.
  • Don’t make schedule decisions based on one day or even two. If he or she has a lot of “downtime” for one day, that is okay. This article is discussing more of a consistent pattern over days/weeks/months, not a one-time event.

In the end, you know your baby best and what’s “too much” for one baby won’t be for another. I have one client whose toddler takes 45 minutes to fall asleep no matter what time they put her down. She “chats” to herself about her day and needs that “unwind” time. For her, this is perfectly acceptable and even what she needs. Now that my client knows that, she can set her schedule appropriately. As always, keep in mind that something isn’t a problem until it becomes one.

How much time do YOU allow in the crib not sleeping? Do you think it’s cruel to let your baby stay in her crib awake?

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32 thoughts on “How Down Time in the Crib Can Be Bad For Your Baby’s Sleep”

  1. Second, too much “resting” time can actually lead to short naps, more night-wakings, and especially long middle of the night wakings, for older babies and toddlers.

    How do you define “older babies”? Is 6-months considered an “older baby”?

    • Hi @Rosalyn Williams, thanks for visiting the baby sleep site! At 6 months we wouldn’t consider that to be an older baby just yet, especially because their sleep needs are much higher at this age and they are usually still taking 3 naps (although that third one may be a shorter catnap). Are you experiencing longer night wakings or shorter naps from your 6th month old? If you’d like, feel free to send me more information on your situation and I’ll be happy to pass along more info for you!

  2. Amazing blog. Really helpful for new mom and dad.New born baby is used to sleep with mom. Getting baby sleep in crib really difficult for mom. Thank for a guide to put baby sleep in crib. Really helpful guideline.

    • Hi @Marria – Thanks for writing! We are happy to hear that our information has been helpful! : )

  3. Hi!
    My 5 and a half month old is sleeping through the night well. She’ll wake up somewhere between the 11-12 hour mark, I go in to change her diaper, give her a bottle and lay her back down. She usually falls back asleep within 15 minutes or so.

    My question is about her nap time. During playtime, she’ll start showing the signs of sleepy (head roll, eye rub, glazed over stare, head rub) so I put her down immediately. But as soon as I walk out it’s like she has this burst of energy lol! Rolling around, chatting, playing with her cute feet. I then start thinking I put her down to early but she was showing all the signs and I put her down immediately b/c I don’t want her to get overtired.

    Unfortunately this makes me feel guilty that I may have put her down to soon and now I’m waiting for her to fall asleep.

    How should I handle that?

    • Hi @Nicole, thanks for writing! I’m glad to hear your daughter has been doing so well at night. It is normal for one area of sleep to be going well and the other area (naps in your case) to be more of a struggle. My son always needed to wind down a bit before sleeping, so I think that’s normal, especially since she’s not screaming her head off. Here is a link to download a free guide with nap tips that will give you more information on this:
      I hope this helps! Let us know if you need anything else!

  4. My son is 8 and a half.months old and sleeps 11-13 every night and has 2 to 3 naps a day, but I’m wondering when I should go get him from his crib he will wake and sit up and not make a noise and just rub his blanket, sometimes he will sit up look around and lay back down and sometimes fall back asleep and sometimes he will stand up and make noise but for the most part he wont make a peep… when should I go in and engage with him? He has almost always been an amazing sleeper but I dont want him to just lay in there by himself if I shouldn’t be most the time he falls back asleep after 20 min …. help please !

    • Hi @Amber Donnelly, thanks for writing to us! It is hard to say exactly what is best since I don’t know your son’s full schedule and I am also a representative of our Client Relations Team and am not a sleep consultant, so I will answer from my own personal perspective – mom to mom, if you will. 😉 I think if it had been the length of time your child should have slept (like all night or had a decent nap) and you see he’s awake and playing quietly in the crib, I’d go get him. But if he wakes up after only napping 45 minutes or something, I’d wait it out to see if he can put himself back to sleep. Keep an eye on how he’s doing, if he gets extra crabby or something it may be that he shouldn’t have been taken out just yet.
      If you do want to speak with a sleep consultant and not just another mom (although they are all mom’s too!) you can see our different options to work with them here:
      I hope this helps!

  5. I am a nanny for 7mont old twins. The parents have an issue getting them to sleep through the night without waking up for a bottle. Occasionally they will just wake up an talk for hours. This morning I came in at 4:30 and the mom said they had been awake since 3:30. I finally got them back to sleep around 5:30. When one of them woke up this morning she was talking, playing with her feet, and generally happy and content. They don’t allow any down time in the crib and I don’t completely understand it. The babies sleep has become a big issue. i have been asked to only let them sleep 30 minutes twice a day. I don’t agree with it but what can I do? They aren’t my kids. How do I help the parents sleep train them? It’s hard to just leave them if they wake up because they will wake up the other one.

    • @Haley, Thank you for your comment! I use to be a nanny myself and it can be challenging when you are asked to do something you don’t agree with or don’t see as best for the children. I would be happy to point you in the direction of some more information that hopefully the parents would be interested in looking over.
      Here is a link to a sample 7 month old schedule:
      A baby at 7 months old should be napping about 2-3 hours a day spread out between 2 naps (maybe a 3rd catnap that’s about 30-45 minutes) and getting 11-12 hours of sleep at night. The theory that keeping them awake during the day will help them sleep longer stretches at night is actually contrary, as an overtired baby actually sleeps worse than one that has been napping well all day (seems crazy but it’s true!). Perhaps their mom thinks if you keep them up during the day they will sleep better for her at night.
      At this age we would say that 1-2 night feedings are normal and may be necessary as not all babies can sleep through the night at this age, but anything beyond that is likely a sleep association. Here is more information on what that is:
      Working with twins can be much trickier of course, but if the parents are interested our sleep consultants have a TON of experience working with families of twins and could certainly help create a plan for them to get them sleeping better during the day and night. And it is great they have a nanny that will stick to the plan! Our consulting services are unlike others because we believe that all babies are different so we will create a plan of action based on the temperament of the children as well as the parenting style. For more information feel free to email our client relations team at or you can view our services online here: I hope that helps and that everybody starts getting the sleep they need soon!

  6. Thanks for the update Dyan!
    It sounds like things worked out, even if not the way you had planned!
    Hope things continue to go well. 🙂

  7. Update: I gave up. I started letting him stay at school longer so he can nap. He naps well at school and now doesn’t go to sleep until about 8:30 or 9 but he sleeps through (or wakes for a few and falls back asleep quickly) and wakes between 7 and 8 am.

  8. @ Michelle-
    Thanks for writing! We are so happy that the articles and information has been helpful! 🙂

    @ Lainie-
    Good luck! I hope things are going well!

    @ Dyan-
    Schedules can be SO tricky! It sounds like you are working hard to get your little one on the right track, and i hope he has transitioned to preschool well, and the night wakings have improved!

    @ Lori-
    Oh no! Sleep transitions and teeth! I hope things have smoothed out by now. You can feel free to continue to offer two naps on some days and one one others. It is common to go back and forth for a while as a toddler transitions to one nap. You may just need to “feel it out” on some days.
    Good luck!

    @ Idoo-
    Depending on how she handles being over tired, she may be able to make it to 730 bedtime with an early nap. Others will fall apart with too long in between sleep. It does sound like she was ready and willing to wait for her regular bedtime, and did have a harder time falling asleep perhaps because she was over tired from having an early nap. Usually one day off schedule will not cause any issues, so hopefully everything is fine now. 🙂
    Best wishes!

  9. An update, if you’re looking here still:

    My 17 month old had an early nap yesterday cause my Mom – the babysitter – said she seemed really tired. So 11:15-1:15.

    By 5pm she was acting grumpy, so I laid her down for bed at 6:45. She took TWO HOURS to fall asleep. She seemed tired, but was still chatting and playing away.

    Seems like I should have stuck with a 7-7:30 bedtime, right?

  10. This is an excellent article, and so timely. I’m having the same problem as Jane. I think my 13.5 month old is on the verge of transitioning to one nap. His afternoon nap has always been hit and miss. Sometimes, he will sit in his crib and fuss off and on for the full hour (I try to wait an hour unless he’s really crying). It always takes him about 30 minutes to fall asleep at naptime and bedtime, usually an hour for the afternoon nap. Recently, it has been taking longer sometimes for the morning nap, pushing wake-up too late to get an afternoon nap. I’m unsure if I sure continue the back-and-forth, or go ahead and move him to one nap. He’s also teething (4 at once, OUCH), which is making sleep decisions harder! Oh, the joys of parenthood! lol

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