13 Ways to Nap Train Your Baby

Let me just say this: napping is the worst. Not for me – anytime I get to nap (which isn’t often), it’s nothing short of amazing. No, it’s my son’s napping that is terrible. Or should I say used to be terrible. It all turned around once I started nap training.

I know what you’re thinking. I just made it through sleep training hell and now I need to do it all over again? Yes and no. This time you’re sleep training during the day and trust me – your baby’s crying doesn’t seem as terrible when the sun is shining and normal people are awake and going about their days.

One thing you need to know is that naps are weird. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying. Why are naps weird? Because they change constantly. One minute you’re doing 4 naps. You finally get comfortable with that schedule, and boom, you’re down to 3. You get the idea. Not to mention you’re trying to get your baby to nap while doing battle with a million environmental factors outside of your control. Loud noises outside, dogs barking, doorbell ringing, etc. It’s a land mine, really.

So if your baby isn’t napping well, know that you are definitely in the majority. In fact, I’d say most, if not all, parents struggle with some type of napping issue. Short naps (45 minute intruder, anyone?), refusal to nap, napping in the car, you name it and an exhausted parent has faced it. Even long naps can become a problem because baby gets too much sleep during the day and then guess what? He or she is up at night.

How do we fix this nap problem and get some much deserved time to ourselves during the day? Below are 13 things that worked for me – remember, I’m not an expert just a battle weary mother (and I’ve got the scars to prove it).

DISCLAIMER: If you have a newborn, this doesn’t apply to you. In fact, if you have a newborn you shouldn’t read this post at all. Check back in 3-4 months. In the meantime, do what you gotta do to help your baby sleep.

Tackle night sleep first.

Don’t try to nap train your baby if you’re still sleep training at night. Seriously, just don’t. Night sleep and naps are very closely intertwined. If your baby doesn’t get enough sleep at night then he or she isn’t going to nap well. And that means they won’t respond well to nap training. So save yourself the trouble and master night sleep first. Once that’s good, then move to naps.

Make sure baby naps in the same spot. Everyday.

Like bedtime, your child needs a consistent nap time spot. Where they nap should be where they go to sleep every night (aka. a crib or bassinet). That way they know that when you place them in the crib, it’s time to sleep.

Create a nap time routine.

Another routine? Seriously? Don’t worry – you don’t have to start from scratch. You can use an abbreviated bedtime routine for naps. At nap time I put on white noise and place my son in bed. Boom. Done. You can do the same thing. Maybe you want to throw a story in there. The point is, have a consistent routine for naps the way you do at bed. It’ll help your baby unwind and signal to them that it’s nap time (and time for mom to chill with a glass of wine. Who cares if it’s the middle of the day? You’ve earned it).

Feed baby before nap, not after.

I made this mistake over and over again before I finally caught on. I was always putting my son down for his nap 45 minutes – 1 hour before he was supposed to be fed. So what do you think happened? Yep, you guessed it. He woke up 45 minutes – 1 hour later. Finally I got smart and started giving him the bottle before he went down for the nap (even if it was a little earlier than I would normally). His naps always lengthened because his hungry belly wasn’t waking him anymore. There isn’t a perfect science to this, so just try it and see if it works for you.

Pay attention to wake times in the morning.

Once upon a time my son used to wake up at 4:30/5:00 am (I know, what was he thinking?). My husband and I would take him back with us to bed where he would play with his hands and feet for awhile and then drift off into a peaceful slumber until 7:30am. I thought it was amazing. Until his next, regularly scheduled nap lasted 40 minutes. Oops. Once I bit the bullet and started waking up at the crack of dawn with him (it wasn’t pretty), his naps started to get longer. And when his naps started to get longer, he slept longer at night. Go figure.

If your baby is taking super short naps all day, take another look at his or her nighttime schedule. What time do they go to bed? Can you move bedtime back (or up) slightly? What time are they waking? Do they go right back to sleep? If baby wakes up for a short amount of time in the early morning hours and then goes back to sleep, going back to sleep counts as a first nap.

Put baby down drowsy, but awake.

You’ve probably already mastered this art if you’ve gone through nighttime sleep training. But if not, here’s how it goes. Baby starts getting tired. Baby’s eyes shut briefly, then open again. Put baby down now. If you wait till he or she is fully asleep, then you’ve missed the boat. Why is this so important? If you continually put baby down fully asleep (naps or bedtime), he or she will develop a sleep association. This means the next time they wake up in the middle of the night or during the nap as they shift between sleep stages, they’ll expect to see you there. Ain’t no momma got time for that.

Play around with wake times between naps.

This is one of the areas that is always changing. As your baby gets older, he or she will have a longer wake time in between naps. It’s hard to determine what that wake time is, and once you finally break the code, it changes all over again. There are tons of handy charts online outlining wake times per age  (like this one). A good rule of thumb is to put baby down 10 minutes before his or her nap. This way, they’re already in the crib as sleep overtakes them. I’ve started doing this with my 7 month old and it’s made a world of difference. Much less fussing at nap time.

Another tip? The time in between waking in the morning and the first nap of the day is always the shortest. When in doubt, put your baby down for a nap 1.5/2 hours after he or she wakes for the day. Better to put them down earlier than later for the first nap.

Understand nap transitions.

Oh, nap transitions how I hate thou!

Here’s the deal: if your baby is unusually fussy, it may be time for a nap transition. So if you’re currently clocking 4 naps, drop to 3 (the last nap of the day is typically the one that goes first). This usually happens around 3 months. If you’re doing 3 naps, drop to 2 (usually anywhere between 6-9 months). Yes, this will stink and it means that baby is going to be awake longer in between naps (making for a fun evening for you), but once you drop the extra nap and plow through the transition, you’ll find the subsequent naps are MUCH better. When my 7 month old dropped to 2 naps recently, both lengthened to 1.5/2 hours instead of the usual 45 min/1 hr.

Not sure how many naps your child should be taking? Here’s a great article that breaks it down for you.

Watch out for the “on the go” naps. 

You’ve got 20 minutes before the bank closes. It’s 10 minutes away. You plop little Suzy in her car seat and head on over. On the way home, Suzy falls asleep. You curse the world.

Sound familiar?

Those on the go naps can be brutal. Even if they’re only 10 minutes, they can really throw off your baby’s nighttime sleep.

So what’s a mom to do? Stay inside every day and order everything on Amazon Prime? No, of course not. You have to live your life. To make things easier, try to plan around your child’s naps as best you can. So if little Jack just woke up from his nap, now is probably a good time to run errands since he likely won’t fall right back asleep. If Jack is due for a nap, try to hold off on errands until after he’s up. You can also take advantage of the evening hours and get stuff done once baby is in bed and your spouse is home to stand guard.

Or do what I do – make your husband run the errands for you on his way home from work (kidding – sort of).

Know when to give up the battle.

You probably already know from reading this blog that I’m a big proponent of the Ferber method (cry it out within reason). I use the same approach with nap training. Only this time, I limit crying during naps to 30 minutes. If 30 minutes has passed and my son is still awake (crying or not), the nap is over. We’ll move on to a new activity and I’ll try again in an hour. Trust me – I used to hold on thinking he would fall asleep any moment. Sadly, it didn’t work that way. A child’s drive for sleep just isn’t as intense during the day as it is at night. So don’t kill yourself trying to get them to nap. And if they fall asleep while playing, leave them there. Some battles are left alone.

Allow for flexibility.

No schedule is perfect. Inevitably things WILL happen. Your baby’s nap schedule WILL get messed up. And that’s okay. We can’t control everything (even though we’d like to). On those days, just do what you have to do in order to get your kid some sleep. Especially if you’re on vacation or in a new environment.

Don’t let naps go too long.

There’s that crazy talk again. A baby sleeping too long is a bad thing? Really? Yes, really. Especially if it means that the baby won’t sleep well at night. Most babies only need 14-16 hours of sleep a day (see chart here). This is broken up across naps and nighttime. The hours get less as your child gets older. So if little 7 month Suzy sleeps for 10 hours a night, she only needs 3-4 hours in naps. If she’s still taking three naps, that means naps are an hour each. I know, I know, it’s hard to get anything done in an hour. But trust me – if you let little Suzy sleep for 2.5 hours and then take two more 1.5 hour naps, you’ll pay for it with tears at bedtime, a super early waking, middle of the night crying, or worse – all of the above.

When all else fails, drink wine.

Wine is a mother’s bestfriend. If your baby won’t nap and you’re at your wits end, pop open that bottle, mama. Tomorrow’s a new day and you can start fresh then.

Moms: any nap training tips or techniques to share?

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8 thoughts on “13 Ways to Nap Train Your Baby

  1. This is great! I’m a first time mom and have been finding all the sleep info very overwhelming! Your posts are clear, concise and very helpful.

    I do have a question, not sure if you’re familiar with or use sleep sacks but my 4.5 month old sleeps in a Woombie cause his arms flail about throughout the night. We’re having trouble with getting him to fall asleep on his own because he can’t self sooth with his hands. Any suggestions for teaching LO to sleep with the sack?

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    1. Glad you have found this info helpful, Elisha! My LO didn’t use the Woombie but he did use a regular sleep sack. Honestly, he just chewed on the arms to self soothe. It was a little tougher but he learned how to get back to sleep in the middle of the night (this is where the sleep training came in). And once he started sleeping on his stomach, he actually had much more restful sleep.

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  2. My daughter sleeps from 8pm till 8am at night and she takes 3 naps of 40min-1hour in the day so it’s b*llshit thqt if they take longer naps that they sleep better. It is different with every mom i know so this is never right for every baby.

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    1. Thanks for your comment, Dani. You’re absolutely right – it is different for every mom/baby. I know that if my son took really short naps his sleep at night was impacted and if he took really long naps, it was the same thing. This blog post has tips that have helped me, but ultimately it’s up to every parent to figure out what works for them. It sounds like you have, so that’s awesome 🙂

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  3. I love this article. I am a new mom to a 3 month old. My baby sleeps 12-14 hours a night, but has a really hard time napping during the day. Whether she is on me, in her carrier, or in her crib she is all out of sleep after 20 minutes. She also has a hard time falling asleep because she jolts so bad it scares her. Should I be shortening her sleep at night (I’m really hesitant to do this) or is she getting enough total sleep that it doesn’t matter?

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  4. Hi! Thanks for the tips! My little girl (4 mo) was doing something very similar to your guy. She goes to sleep around 730 and sleeps straight through and wakes around 5a, give or take. I’d feed her and put her back down in her crib and she’d sleep another 2-3ish hours. But naps are 45 minutes at best. We’ve been trying exactly what you said, to get up with her and start the day with that early wake up, in hopes of lengthening naps. If anything they’re shorter! Closer to 35 minutes now. It’s been 5 days, so my question is just, how long if doing this did it take before you saw the lengthening of naps and the later sleeping in the morning? Thinking of giving this up if we don’t have any improvement after a week. Thanks!

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    1. It was a few weeks before we saw improvement. And I will say that he was closer to 6 months before we really saw naps improve. So I would try again when she’s a little older – naps are much harder than nighttime in my opinion.

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