One of the most common sleep-training problems I encounter is moms wondering how to get a baby to nap longer. I hear a version of this naptime problem a lot!
“My baby only naps for 30-45 minutes. And they wake up screaming.”
“I try to keep them awake for 2 hours or so because they don’t take long naps, but they just don’t sleep well no matter what.”
“What do you do when baby won’t nap? Maybe I just have a baby that will not nap…”
It seems like everyone wants to know how to put baby down for a nap and how to get their baby to nap longer.
When I first released my sleep training guide, one of the first email responses I got said,
“This book is everything I have needed. I have started to do as the book says this past week and I see such a big difference. I was sure my baby was colicky, but now he naps every 45 minutes and sleeps more soundly. And, he doesn’t cry for hours before bed. Little one is a much happier, as am I. We can’t thank you enough.”
I can not tell you how happy this made me! Here’s the thing. Your baby very well may be over tired. A lot of babies are!
The #1 secret solution is actually to keep them awake for less time.
Yep, you read that right: PUT THEM DOWN FOR A NAP SOONER and they will nap longer.
Of course, there are other nap-time problems that my free sleep training guide goes more in depth on. Such as:
- Starting a healthy sleep time routine
- Watching for tired cues to optimize for awake times
- Sleep cycle transitions
BUT KEEPING BABIES AWAKE FOR TOO LONG IS VERY COMMON
Keeping them awake seems like a good idea. If baby takes short naps, you assume they need less sleep so that they’ll be more tired when they do nap.
But that’s actually spiraling in the wrong direction!! An overtired baby does not sleep as well. I have no idea why this is true, because when I’m overly tired, I feel like I could sleep for days.
Babies are different from adults though! If you want to get baby to nap longer, or it seems like baby won’t nap during the day, put them down for their nap sooner.
SO HOW LONG SHOULD BABY BE AWAKE?
Your newborn should not be awake any longer than 1-1.5 hours including the amount of time it takes them to nurse. All 4 of our kids have been awake for about 45-70 minutes as newborns. That shakes out to a 30-45 minute nursing session, followed by 10-15 minutes of “awake play time,” followed by a nap.
I know it sounds crazy, but people who try this are floored with the success! And with how much their baby sleeps!
Your 3-6 month old will likely not be awake longer than 1.5 hours at a time (give or take).
You can experiment a little with various “awake times,” and my free sleep training guide explains this concept in more depth. But, the general principle is, if your baby won’t nap for long, or if your baby won’t nap at all, start putting them down for a nap way sooner.
Babies need deep, consistent sleep just like we do! Except they need it way more frequently. My sleep training guide gives more in depth sample schedules for babies at various ages, but most people who implement our sleep training method end up with babies who….
- take 3-4 naps for 1.5-2 hours each ages 0-3 months (ish)
- take 2-3 naps for 1.5 hours ages 3-6 months (ish)
- take 2, 2 hour naps ages 6-12 months (ish)
- take 1, 2-3 hour nap ages 12+ months (ish)
Create a sleepy environment
You want to establish a sleep routine and sleep environment. Some things we’ve done with our kids are:
Use white noise for babies!!
We have a cheap white noise machine in 2 rooms and just a basic fan in another room. People wonder if white noise is a negative crutch or sleep association? Nope!
First of all, it’s easy to find where-ever you are. We’ve used bathroom exhaust fans in hotels, sound machine apps on our phones at a friend’s house, an old iPod, or a ceiling fan. Secondly, our kids can sleep without it if it’s not available… but they seem to sleep more soundly with white noise.
As our kids have gotten older, they don’t need it at all. But for babies, who startle easily, a dark room with white noise on signals to the baby who startles awake that it’s still time to sleep.
Swaddle baby for sleep
If your baby is not yet rolling, swaddle him/ her for sleep time! We use SwaddleMe velcro swaddles in a size small/ medium. Velcro swaddles are much easier to get a tight swaddle. My mom always marveled at how tight we could make the “baby straight jackets,” as she called them.
Some people will say their baby doesn’t like to be swaddled! Most babies actually DO like to be swaddled… if you swaddle very tightly and do it for almost every nap/ night time.
Swaddling helps babies:
- feel safe, secure, and snug; like they’re in the womb.
- not to startle themselves back awake as they’re falling asleep.
- to sleep more soundly.
Have a simple naptime routine
Implementing a simple, consistent naptime routine will help cue your baby that it’s time to sleep. You want the naptime routine to be short, calm, and easy for anyone to replicate.
Namely – you don’t want it to involve nursing! Because if baby associates nursing with falling asleep, s(he) will have way more trouble going to sleep for people who can’t nurse…
It’s okay for the naptime routine to be similar to (or the same as) the bedtime routine.
Our kids’ naptime routine is:
- lights off, sound machine on
- hold baby upright, snuggling on my shoulder and sing one song
- lay down with a sleep item (i.e. luvie or something else safe for baby)
- walk away and close the door (even if baby is ticked!)
We do the same thing at night. It’s all flexible, of course. Some nights, we let the big kids stay up for games or movie night. If we’re out playing until 9 pm in the summer, sometimes we skip stories before bedtime. Sometimes there is no sound machine if the kids are sleeping over at Grandma’s, and that’s fine.
The point of establishing these routines and cues with your little baby is to set the stage for them to become easy & good sleepers long term. It can be taught 🙂 You can teach baby how to nap well!
We have always kept basic blinds or curtains in baby’s room. It doesn’t get as dark during the day, but that’s okay. Our most difficult sleeper seemed to sleep a lot better as a baby when it was really dark, so we got room darkening curtains for him.
That is a bit of a crutch because it’s not always easy to make a room darker when you’re elsewhere. It was worth it for us to darken his room at home, and just deal with not-as-good naps when we were out and the room was bright. That was a pretty rare occasion.
2 of my best nighttime sleep tips!
If your baby is awake all day long and happy, then great!! But I usually hear from moms who feel like their baby is super cranky and won’t sleep and they just are kind of at their wits end.
That’s where I would say – your baby is probably over tired. And rather than keeping them up longer because they don’t take good naps as it is, try putting them to bed sooner and see if that helps with naps.
The top 2 sleep training principles are the first two chapters in my free sleep training guide. You can snag the guide by clicking the button below!
Between those 2 principles via email, putting baby down for a nap sooner, and all the other baby nap tips in this post, hopefully you’re well on your way to a happily napping babe!!
It all gets easier!!
When we had our first baby, I (like every other mom on the planet) had NO IDEA what I was doing!! I was overwhelmed all the time and felt so stressed.
By the time the second baby came around, I was much more confident and comfortable as a mom. And I knew when to put my baby down for a nap.
Our 2nd, 3rd, and 4th babies slept AMAZINGLY during the day, and that’s one of the major reasons I feel like we were able to survive having 4 babies in 5 years (and still have a tad bit of sanity left in tact… haha)
You can do this!! Good luck & feel free to reach out via email or in the comments with questions or sleep training tips of your own!