Most new parents wonder at one point or another how to get babies to nap longer. After all, nap time is sacred. It’s the time you use to catch up on…whatever. Nap while the baby naps. That’s what they all say. But often, you find yourself tidying up, doing dishes, or reveling in a much needed shower.
No matter what you do during nap time, you probably frequently wish it was longer, for both you and your baby.
Thankfully, there are a few steps you can take to get your baby to nap longer as well as some additional tips and tricks that may prove helpful.
To get started, you may need a few tools.
What you will need to follow this tutorial:
- Your baby (duh)
- A dedicated sleep space
- Milk or a snack
- A routine
- White noise machine
Armed with these “tools,” you’ll be able to create a better nap space for your baby and hopefully encourage them to sleep a bit longer.
Step by Step Instructions
These step by step instructions will guide you through creating a great nap environment for your child. Some of these things you may have already done, and if that’s the case, you can skip that step and go on to the next.
1. Focus on night sleep.
Often, if a child is having trouble napping or takes shorter naps than they should, it’s important first to evaluate how they sleep at night. Night sleep is easier to fix, and the urge to sleep is stronger at night. Establishing good routines for the night will help your child adapt to the same sleep routine during the day.
In addition to that, babies sleep longer stretches at night, so training them to sleep during these longer stretches will also encourage longer sleeping during the day. If napping seems to be off, night sleep may be off, too. This is the best place to start.
2. Pay attention to awake times.
Babies don’t sleep well if they’re over tired or under tired. If awake times aren’t long enough, your baby won’t be tired enough to nap. If awake times are too long, your baby will be overtired or overstimulated and won’t sleep well.
Follow age appropriate awake times to optimize the nap cycle. Here’s are a few suggestions:
- Newborns should be awake for 30-90 minutes at a time.
- Babies 7-15 weeks should be awake for 1-2 hours.
- Babies 4-5 months should be awake for 1.5-2.5 hours.
- Babies 6-8 months should be awake 2-3 hours.
- Babies 9-12 months should be awake 2.5-3.5 hours.
- Toddlers still taking 2 naps should nap a total of 3-4 hours.
- Toddlers taking 1 nap should nap for a total of 4-5.5 hours.
3. Use feedings to your advantage.
Your baby will nap better when their belly is full, but due to reflux and other common newborn issues, it can be tough to get your baby to nap well right after eating. Time feedings so they can digest the food more thoroughly before lying down.
Other babies have a sleep association with feeding and can’t fall asleep unless they’re nursing. This step can help break the association with food and sleep, so your child won’t get in the habit of falling asleep while eating.
It’s important to remember that there’s nothing wrong with feeding your baby to sleep, but it can contribute to shorter nap times if they’re falling asleep rather than filling up. Rather than sleeping for as long as they should, they’re waking up hungry. Separate feedings and naptime by at least 10 minutes.
4. Find a nap-friendly space.
While babies younger than 4 months can typically nap anywhere, older babies need more restorative sleep in an area that’s far away from daily distractions. You can use white noise, black out shades, a lovey, a nap mat, a sleeping bag, or a sleep sack.
At 4 months, your child enters into a developmental phase that changes their sleep patterns. They may be picky about where they nap and stop napping well, which may mean it’s time to switch up the nap space.
At this point, it’s time to recreate the nighttime space for daytime sleeping. Once you find what helps your child to sleep more restfully, make sure you equip them with the tools they need to take them.
5. Establish a routine.
Much like your bedtime routine, a nap routine will help clue your child into what time it is. Make sure they do calm activities leading up to their nap like reading, swinging, rocking, or singing. It can be similar to your bedtime routine, but shorter.
This sends behavioral cues to your baby that it’s time to calm down and sleep. Do the same activities in the same order at the same time every day to see if you can get your baby to relax and sleep for longer without fighting it.
Keep in mind that children 6 months and older will likely nap at the same exact time every day while younger babies will nap according to the appropriate awake times.
6. Be consistent.
Your nap schedule should be consistent because children thrive on predictability. While your child can’t tell time, and you may not take naps at exactly the same time every day, your routine can remain the same.
For example, your day may include waking up, having breakfast, playing for a bit, having a snack, and then starting the nap routine. While they may wake up at 7am one day and 8am the next, you can still follow the same rough schedule to keep it consistent.
None of this has to be complicated. The schedule should be easy for everyone to follow while still allowing for some flexibility. If your baby is in daycare, make sure they follow the same schedule you do at home, or mimic their nap schedule at home for more consistency.
7. Encourage falling asleep independently.
All babies need sleep training because falling asleep alone is a learned skill. There are plenty of sleep training techniques you can use to get them falling asleep at night independently, but it’s an important skill to have at naptime, too.
Baby sleep cycles are typically about 50 minutes long, but they may cycle through two of them in a single nap. If they’re waking up around 45 minutes and crying for help to fall back asleep, you can teach them to do it on their own.
Introducing sleep associations (like the white noise or a lovey in step #4) will help your child fall asleep on their own when you put them down or if they wake up from a nap too early.
8. Introduce a set length for naps.
You can teach your baby to stay quiet for longer by setting a minimum time limit for naps. Just because your baby is awake, doesn’t mean it’s time to get up. Once you put your baby down, set a timer and don’t go get them before the timer is up, even if they wake up early.
Once again, because their sleep cycle is only 50 minutes long, they may wake up early. If you give them an hour for a nap, no matter when they wake up, they may fall back asleep in that extra ten minutes and sleep another cycle.
Even if it doesn’t encourage your child to fall back asleep, it can still give you the peace you need throughout the day.
While adhering to these steps to get your child to nap with more consistency, it’s important to customize this list to make it work optimally for you. Be sure to keep the following things in mind along the way.
1. Watch for sleepy cues.
Every baby has a signal that they’re ready for a nap. Knowing your baby’s cue will help you pick the optimal time for a nap. There are days when your child may need more sleep than others, and you have to deviate a bit from the schedule to get them the sleep they need.
Looking tired, rubbing their eyes, and yawning are telltale signs, but your baby may exhibit others like extreme fussiness, hyperactivity, or something else entirely. While it’s important to watch the clock, it’s also critical for good sleep that you time the nap appropriately based on behavior and your child’s individual needs.
2. Avoid screen time.
Watching TV can make it really hard for your child to go to sleep. It can also disrupt their sleep cycle. Technology is a stimulus that they’re simply not used to and it’s likely to keep them awake long after you turn it off.
Avoid screen time before naps and bedtime to help them settle down. It’s best to reserve screen time for right after they wake up.
3. Find the balance between noise and silence…
People tell new parents to nap while the baby naps. But haven’t you also heard it said that you should make a lot of noise while your baby sleeps so they get used to it? They’ll be a sound sleeper if you do. How do you do both?
You have to strike the right balance between the two, and it’s a tough thing to do. The best thing to keep in mind is that while you don’t want blaring music in the next room while they sleep, you also don’t want it to be completely quiet.
4. …and light and dark.
The same goes for the brightness in the room. The sun shouldn’t be in their eyes, but you also don’t want your baby trained to only sleep when it’s pitch black. They’ll never nap again!
You can dim the lights and draw the curtains, but make sure you find the right balance between the two so your baby’s internal body clock doesn’t get confused between day and night, which is also a nightmare for parents.
5. Give yourself some grace.
Remember the big picture. Short, inconsistent naps can be frustrating and stressful, but it won’t last forever. Tracking your baby’s sleep can clue you into patterns that you can take advantage of. You may also find that your baby simply prefers to sleep more at night. As long as they’re getting enough sleep, short naps are ok.
Keep in mind that nap training takes time and you may spend a few weeks getting it right. Be consistent and have patience with yourself and your baby. You will eventually fall into a groove.
Hopefully this tutorial was helpful to you. Even if there are only a few tips here that you can use, the goal is to ease the stress and make you feel like you’re not alone. So many other parents have gone through this phase.
Following these steps to create a more consistent routine for your little one, no matter what that looks like for you, is the perfect way to customize this tutorial and make it more personal.
Let me know what you think in the comments and share this with other moms who may be struggling. We’re all in this together!