Sleeping should be easy. After all, you’re so tired at night that you’re asleep before your head hits the pillow.
Rocking used to work so well, Your baby was out after five minutes. At 3 months old, it takes much longer than five minutes of rocking to get them to sleep, if it even works at all. The longer they stay awake, the more upset they get. When they do sleep, they sleep for 15 minutes and then wake up crying again.
Sound familiar? Unfortunately, falling asleep is a learned skill and babies aren’t born with it. You have to teach it to them.
However, 3 months old is a bit early to start an intense sleep training program, so I’m here to offer some tips when you find that your 3 year old all of a sudden won’t nap.
After all, nap time is sacred for both you and your baby. You get a break, and you feel so accomplished when you get your baby down for a long, peaceful nap. The defeat you feel when they wake up after less than 30 minutes is heartbreaking.
It can leave you feeling frustrated and sobbing when your child screams every time you try to put them down. But it will leave you equally as exhausted when you have to hold them through their entire nap just to get some quiet.
If this is your current struggle, you’re not alone and you can rest assured there’s a fix. You’re not a failure, and your child isn’t ruined. Naps may be hit or miss right now, and you may be running on caffeine, but there are some tips that may work for you.
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Reasons Why Your Baby Won’t Nap
If your baby is tired, shouldn’t they just go to sleep? It can be frustrating to encourage a little one to go to sleep when they don’t understand the world around them. You understand it so well and you know what they need!
However, some of the reasons why they won’t nap may surprise you and enlighten you as to how you can help them nap better moving forward.
1. They’re not tired enough.
Ok, this one makes sense. If your baby isn’t tired enough, they won’t go to sleep. You may have been on a consistent nap schedule up until now, but as your baby grows, they’ll want more and more awake time between naps.
If your baby is wide awake at nap time, it may be time to start keeping them awake for a bit longer. If it’s too soon after they wake up in the morning or too close to a prior nap, it simply may not work.
2. They’re too tired.
Being overtired is a real problem for children. They simply won’t sleep (or they won’t sleep well) if they’re overtired. Your baby will have a harder time falling asleep if they’ve been awake for too long. Sleep begets sleep.
If your baby missed their morning nap, stayed up too late the night before, or woke up way too early this morning, they may not nap very well throughout the day. It’s important to build a schedule that promotes sleep rather than stretching their awake time past what they can handle.
3. They are too hungry.
Sleep issues can sometimes be caused by a hungry tummy. Babies who fall asleep in the middle of feedings often don’t get the calories they need and they wake up hungry again shortly thereafter. It’s a good idea to feed your baby before a nap, but not right before.
Growth spurts, which happen right around 3 months old, can also be the cause of excess hunger, and while there’s nothing you can do about it except ride it out, you can rest assured that growth spurts typically only affect sleep schedules for a few days.
4. They don’t know it’s time to nap.
Of course your baby can’t tell time. But if you don’t promote an environment of sleep, your baby’s body will respond accordingly. They’ll be overstimulated and won’t calm down enough to sleep when it’s time.
A good nap routine is shorter than the bedtime routine, but similar in that it prepares your baby for what’s coming next. If they’re not feeling calm or soothed consistently, they won’t learn what should happen at nap time.
5. The environment is wrong.
Some people can nap anywhere, anytime. Your baby probably can’t. Evaluating your child’s environment when they’re not napping as they should can clue you into what kind of environment they enjoy for sleep.
If you’re not doing what you can to recreate that environment for them, they won’t sleep very well. While newborns can sleep nearly anywhere, older babies need more quiet, dark, calm spaces. Nap mats can be great as well.
6. They are nap transitioning.
Much like sleep regression, developmental leaps can get in the way of good napping. If your child is going through a developmental milestone, which is likely at about 3 months, you may notice some changes in nap habits.
These nap transitions mean not getting very restful sleep at nap time or skipping naps (usually the last nap of the day) altogether. If your child is already going through sleep regression, this is likely the cause of poor napping.
7. They don’t know how to fall asleep.
No baby knows how to fall asleep on their own without being taught. Falling asleep doesn’t just happen when you’re tired unless you know how to do it. If you’re struggling with naps all of a sudden, it may be because your child is growing and learning more about their environment.
This increased awareness of the world around them can lead to overstimulation and a reluctance to nap, especially if they know there’s something better going on out there. They don’t yet understand that they’re not missing anything, and they can’t yet force themselves to relax and fall asleep.
Tips to Encourage Better Naps
Here are some ways you can fight the reasons why your child may not be napping and encourage more restful naps in the future. Some of them make sense and some of them may be a last ditch effort to get you a few extra minutes of peace.
1. Don’t let your baby stay awake for more than 90 minutes.
It may seem backwards, but again, sleep begets sleep. You may think your baby will sleep when they feel tired, and sometimes, that’s true. Newborns sleep a lot, but at 3 months of age, they need a bit more encouragement.
The more tired you are, the more you want to sleep, but as parents, we fall into the trap of keeping our child up much longer than we should, missing their optimum sleep time. An overtired baby will take a fitful and cranky nap.
Shorter wake times make for better naps. You can still rely on cues to tell you your baby is ready for a nap, but watch the clock to make sure you’re not keeping them awake for too long.
2. Stick to a daily routine.
Consistency is key in most things related to your baby, and napping is no exception. Routines will help your baby adjust to life outside of your body, and even though your 3 month old is still very young, you can help them understand what to expect from day one.
While you can’t rely on the clock to settle into a routine just yet, you can set up your day to flow naturally, encouraging nap times. No matter what time your baby wakes up in the morning, eat breakfast, play for a little bit, and then start the nap routine.
Doing the same thing every time can signal to your baby’s body that nap time is coming and it’s time to settle down and get ready.
3. Create an environment conducive to sleep.
Even if your baby wants to sleep, the environment may not be right. Too much outside stimulation can prevent your child from getting a restful nap. There are some things you can do (besides a routine) to create an environment of sleep:
- Use white noise to block out everything else. It can help muffle the sounds of other children or you cleaning in the kitchen. Get a white noise machine or use a fan or a heater in their room.
- Swaddle your baby for comfort. Even though they may be past the swaddling phase, if you’re suddenly having trouble with nap time, wrap them up tightly so they’ll feel snug. You can also use sleepsuits to ease the transition from swaddling to sleeping free.
- Fall back on a carrier for those who won’t nap unless they’re held. It’s a good compromise to keep them feeling comfortable while you can still use your hands to get things done.
- Try transitioning to a swing or a bassinet if your baby likes to be held during naps. It could help them feel close to you, the movement could lull them to sleep, and it could ease the transition to napping in the crib later.
4. Tug on their pacifier.
If naps always seem to end abruptly and way too soon, this is a neat trick for babies who take pacifiers. If you know your baby will go down with a pacifier and be asleep within a few minutes, give it a tug a few minutes before they usually stir or wake back up.
When your baby’s body relaxes after falling asleep, the pacifier falls out. Your child can’t yet reach for it and put it back in, so they wake up crying. To prevent this, pull on the pacifier gently. This will cause them to suck harder and tighten down, keeping the pacifier in and keeping them asleep longer.
The extra sucking will also encourage your baby to sleep longer and may even start a new sleep cycle. You just bought yourself more time and prevented them from waking up too soon.
5. Do the “arm test.”
As a general rule, it’s smart to put your baby down awake, but drowsy to allow them to fall asleep on their own. It can prep them for self soothing and sleep training later. However, it can be tough to try this same tactic over and over again with no luck.
If you’re struggling with putting them down awake but drowsy, try putting them down completely asleep. You may be thinking that won’t work either. How many times have you tried to put your baby down only to have them wake up the second you let go?
To test whether they’re totally asleep yet, do the arm test. Hold their arm up in the air and let it drop. If it flops back down, they’re in a deep sleep. If your baby tries to pull away or squirms, they will probably wake up when you put them down.
6. Feed your baby after they wake up.
Feeding your baby to sleep is a blessing and a curse. It’s so great that we know they’ll fall right to sleep when feeding, but when they come to rely on it, it’s a tough habit to break. It may seem backward, but wait to feed your baby until after they wake up.
They may fall asleep quickly while feeding, but to break the reliance and encourage better sleeping, you can reverse the cycle. It can break the association between feeding and sleep, which makes it easier on you to put them down.
If you think your child’s difficulty napping has to do with digestive issues, it can curb any reflux that may be happening by laying them flat after they eat. Plus, when they wake up, they’ll be ready to eat and they’ll be more alert and have a lot more energy.
On the contrary, if you think the restless naps are from a hungry tummy, try feeding your child at more regular intervals while they’re awake and make it a point to feed them about 30 to 45 minutes before nap time so they won’t be hungry but they won’t rely on feeding to fall asleep either.
Things to Avoid
There are also plenty of things that can make all of this worse. Some of them you can avoid and others you really can’t do anything about. You just have to get through it.
1. Napping in the car
Napping in the car can be really destructive to your child’s schedule. Falling asleep in the car for a few minutes will have your baby waking up even more cranky and irritable. It’s best during this phase to reserve napping for home, especially if your child is already having trouble.
Your child may fall asleep for ten minutes, which is long enough to keep them awake when you arrive home, but not long enough to keep them going until bedtime without a major attitude.
Try to keep them awake by opening a window or singing. Schedule your errands to avoid naptime or avoid going out if at all possible until you’ve made it through this inconsistent time of difficulty napping.
Unfortunately, there’s not a lot you can do about your child getting sick, but it can definitely interfere with good napping. Something as simple as the common cold can throw off nighttime sleep, which interrupts the entire schedule.
If you find that your child was up all night with a runny nose and they begin to fall asleep during breakfast, take them back to their crib for a nap to encourage the association between naps and where they happen.
There’s nothing wrong with a much needed vacation, but your child doesn’t know you’re at the beach or at Grandma’s house. Schedule sightseeing and tourist attractions around naptime and replicate the same nap environment you have at home the best that you can.
You’re not always going to be able to avoid scheduling trips, and you can’t always predict when your child will go through these difficult phases, but you can increase the chances they’ll nap in an unfamiliar place if you make it feel more like home with a lovey and a routine.
Once again, there’s nothing you can do about older siblings causing a ruckus. The blessing of siblings shouldn’t be overlooked, but babies have even more difficulty sleeping when they know there are cool things going on.
Before nap time, separate your baby from the older siblings by giving the older siblings a quiet task and taking the baby away for a calming routine. This will eliminate the distraction and the noise so you can get your 3 month old to sleep easier.
This parenting gig isn’t easy, and when you can’t even rely on the naps you’ve come to look forward to every day, things can get dark really fast. Thankfully, this 3 month nap regression won’t last too long.
Understanding why it happens can help you solve the problem, and even when there’s seemingly no rhyme or reason, there are still a few tips you can use to ease the pain temporarily.
You may find that the simplest change will turn things around. Don’t get too frustrated. It’s easier said than done, but if you get caught up in the moment, your baby can sense that, and it will only make things worse. This too shall pass.