Your baby needs a nap. You know this little pocket of sleep will rejuvenate the body, allowing him or her to learn and grow at maximum potential. More than that, you need him/her to nap. When you’re running after little ones all day, naps represent a much-needed time to catch your breath.
There’s just one problem: your baby won’t nap.
Maybe you’ve tried creating a routine or teaching him to self-soothe. Maybe that even worked for a while. But now it seems like he won’t sleep for anything and you’re starting to wonder what you’re doing wrong.
As a mom of two, I feel your pain! My girls have spent the better part of their lives on a steady sleep routine and we’ve still experienced long, frustrating periods of terrible (and non-existent) naps.
Today we’re going over some common but sneaky nap-busters that your baby could be experiencing. Better yet, we’re going to talk about how you can fix these sleep issues quickly so you both can get the rest you need.
5 Reasons Why Your Baby Won’t Nap (And How to Fix It)
You’d think infants would sleep better when they’re exhausted, but often the opposite is true. In fact, overtiredness is the destroyer of long, restorative naps.
When your baby passes his ideal sleep window, cortisol runs through his body like a shot of espresso. This jolt of energy makes him less likely to fall asleep and much more susceptible to early wakings.
If your baby is extremely cranky before nap time and he only sleeps for about 45 minutes, overtiredness could be the problem.
When your baby’s body is filled with cortisol it will take a while for him to switch gears. Your job is to convince his body to relax, produce melatonin, and go to sleep.
Positive naptime cues are an excellent way to do this. Take him to his sleeping area and dim the lights. Verbalize that it’s naptime. Begin whatever naptime ritual you’d usually do to help calm him down, but expect to spend more time doing it.
The best way to get an overtired baby to sleep is to avoid it altogether. Become familiar with your baby’s sleep cues and get him to bed before he becomes exhausted.
Below are a few of the most common sleep cues (or signs of an overtired baby) to get you started:
- Pulling ears
- Red eyes
- Staring into space
- Jerky movements
- Abnormal clinginess
When your baby is learning a new skill, he’s not interested in sleeping. I mean, why sleep when you can practice rolling over?
If your baby won’t nap all of a sudden, take a moment to think about what he’s doing while he’s awake. Sleep interruptions are especially common for babies that are learning active skills, like sitting up, standing, rolling over, or walking.
Sometimes there’s nothing you can do but wait out these little interruptions. You can try to lay your baby down in his crib, but there’s a good chance that he’ll hop right back up. Once your baby has mastered his new ability, his sleep will naturally get better.
Having said that, you absolutely can help him along by encouraging him to practice during playtime. The quicker he learns, the faster he’ll get back to sleep!
Wait, isn’t swaddling supposed to help your baby sleep? Yes, but hear me out!
According to recent studies, swaddling can help your little one sleep longer and more restfully. It stifles his startle reflex and creates a womb-like environment that makes him feel secure and warm.
Having said that, when a baby is uncomfortable or continuously breaks his swaddle, swaddling can actually interrupt sleep.
Many babies fuss after they’re swaddled, but does yours refuse to settle? If he falls asleep, will his little arm or leg breakthrough? If so, you might want to try a different swaddle.
Like adults, babies have unique preferences.
For example, my first daughter hated any kind of leg movement. I had to invest in a swaddle that weighed down her legs and hands. My second daughter couldn’t care less about her legs, but she’d scream if her arms escaped from her sides.
Alternatively, if your baby is starting to roll, it might be time to ditch the swaddle and try out a sleep sack. Sleepsacks allow for more limb freedom and are much safer for active babies.
Experiment a little and see if a different swaddle helps when your baby won’t nap.
Too Much Light in the Nursery
Some babies require a dark, cozy space to sleep. Others need a pitch-black cave.
If your baby is not taking naps during the afternoon hours (or whenever the sun is at its brightest in the nursery), it might be time to invest in some 100% blackout shades.
This was the case for my youngest. She refused to nap in our room where a sliver of sunshine crept between the blinds. Once she relocated to her blacked-out nursery, her sleep improved dramatically.
The quickest way to determine if the nursery is too bright is “the hand test.” When you’re in your baby’s room, make the space as dark as you possibly can. Raise your hand in front of you. If you can still see your hand, it’s not dark enough.
Trapped Gas or Reflux
If your baby wakes from his nap with a high-pitched scream, sometimes trapped gas or reflux can be the culprit. Reflux is particularly nasty for newborns, who possess underdeveloped esophagus sphincters and have less time between feedings and naps. Reflux can also occur when air bubbles disturb his stomach.
On the other hand, if your baby is waking from his naps with an arched back, clenched fists, and inconsolable screaming, he may be suffering from trapped gas. If your baby won’t burp, try rotating his legs (just like he’s on a bicycle) or administering a dose of infant simethicone drops to minimize the bubbles before bed.
While every baby suffers from gas from time to time, keep in mind that constant gas or reflux can be a sign of an underlying issue. It wouldn’t hurt to check in with your pediatrician to rule out things like GERD, allergies, or breastfeeding issues.
I know it’s easier said than done, but try not to despair when your baby won’t nap. Sometimes babies go through phases where they fight sleep. Even the most experienced moms suffer through awful nap periods!
Still, keep in mind these common nap-busters since they are so easy to overlook. Hopefully, this post illuminated what could possibly be disturbing your baby’s naps and gave you some fresh solutions. Good luck!
Erin loves helping new and expecting moms have the best motherhood experience they possibly can. At her blog, Blunders in Babyland, you’ll find the practical tips, baby gear reviews, and new mom advice you need to raise your baby confidently.
Ana, a mom to three rambunctious little boys, has supported hundreds of thousands of women throughout their pregnancy and motherhood journey since 2012 as a blogger and maternal health advocate at MommysBundle.com.