What To Do When Your Child Needs a Nap But Won’t Take One

Here are some more typical reasons kids won’t nap-and suggestions to solve each problem:

Problem: Reliance on a specific sleep aid

Solution: A child who is accustomed to falling asleep in one very specific way can easily become so used to this one method that if you try to have him nap under any other condition he would be physically unable to do so. The best way to understand a child’s association needs are to examine them from your own viewpoint. It’s possible that you sleep well in your own bed but struggle to sleep at a hotel or someone else’s home. Some children’s sleep associations are so strong it can only be compared to asking you to sleep on a roller coaster!

The most common nap-preventing associations are breastfeeding or bottlefeeding to sleep, being held by loving arms or sleeping in a swing, bouncer or car seat. These are wonderfully comforting places for a child to nap, but when they become necessary for sleep then it’s likely to cause a problem for the parent who must provide naptime services.

These associations are usually so necessary to your child’s sleep that they override every other reason or solution.

Problem: Sneaky micro-naps

Solution: The very first stage of sleep can last as little as five minutes and can reduce feelings of sleepiness – it lifts the lid and lets the steam out just enough. If your child hits a tired zone and is lying on the sofa, sitting in a swing, or going for a ride in the car, he may nod off for five or ten minutes. This micro-nap doesn’t give your child the full benefit of a real nap, but can be just enough to rejuvenate him and prevent him from being able to sleep when you put him in bed later for a nap.

To circumvent this problem, avoid putting your child in a nap-inducing environment, like a ride in the car, or time in his swing, at a time when he’s likely to need a nap, unless you can leave him for a full long nap.

Problem: Health troubles

Solutions: If any health issue is bothering your child it can definitely affect his sleep. Allergies and asthma are two of the most common childhood diseases. Both of these conditions can make it difficult for your child to breathe comfortably when lying down. Colic, reflux, ear infections and difficult bouts of teething are other conditions that can prevent a child from napping well.

If your child suffers from any medical issues good naps are especially important for his health. If this is the case with your child it will be helpful if you are very flexible and open to finding any solution that helps him sleep. Put aside any notion that your child must sleep in a certain place or a certain way, and open yourself to the concept that any nap is better than no nap at all.

At the same time, talk with various medical experts about your child’s health matters and look to find the best solutions for your child.

Tips for encouraging nap time

No matter why your child won’t nap, there are a few specifics that can be helpful as you encourage any child to take regular naps. Keep these basic principles in mind:

Maintain a consistent daily schedule that works with your child’s natural body clock. Create a predictable pattern to the day – with meals and naptime happening at reliable times.

Modify your schedule according to your child’s sleepy signs. No matter what the clock says, it’s nap time when your child becomes quieter, loses interest in toys or playtime, fusses, stares off into the distance, rubs his eyes or ears, and of course: if he begins to yawn.

Have a relaxing pre-nap routine to cue your child that naptime is here and help him wind down and relax.

Set up a sleeping place that is cozy and that sets the stage for sleep. Dress your child comfortably for sleep.

Keep mornings bright and active, and the half hour before each nap session quiet, dimly lit and calm.

Keep in mind that you cannot force a child to sleep, but you can follow the basic rules of biology, gauge your child’s sleepy signals and create a setting that is inductive to sleep and relaxation.


From The No-Cry Nap Solution: Guaranteed Gentle Ways to Solve All Your Naptime Problems by Elizabeth Pantley (McGraw-Hill, January 2009).


Parenting educator Elizabeth Pantley is the author of twelve popular parenting books, including the best-selling No-Cry Solution series, and the international bestseller, The No-Cry Sleep Solution. For more information, excerpts and parenting articles visit the author’s website at http://www.nocrysolution.com or her blog at http://elizabethpantley.com/, or follow her on Facebook

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