BONUS MATERIAL: Download my FREE sleep chart HERE that has ALL my suggested wake windows, sleep totals, and nap totals for babies ages 0 until age 5! This way, you’ll know what wake windows to use for your baby or toddler of any age when nap sleep training, and you’ll also know what your little one’s sleep needs will be next month and next year!
As a parent of a baby or toddler, you’ve probably realized that nap time is crucial for your little one’s growth, development, and overall well-being. However, getting your little one to settle down for restful, regular naps can be a real challenge, even at the best of times. That’s where sleep training comes in, specifically for nap time.
In this comprehensive guide, I’ll explore effective strategies and techniques to help you sleep train your baby and toddler for naps. By following these steps, you can establish a consistent nap routine for your, promote healthy sleep habits, and ensure that both you and your baby get the rest you need.
You can’t put a price tag on that one 🙂
But first- what is sleep training?
Before I can delve into the specifics of nap sleep training, let me first explain what the sleep training process IS on a broader scale.
Sleep training refers to the process of teaching a baby or young child independent sleep skills. This involves establishing a consistent sleep routine and teaching your child how to fall asleep on their own, without relying on external props, crutches, or parental intervention.
The ultimate goal of sleep training is to help your baby or child maximize their sleep so that everyone is well-rested. Sleep training, when done properly, is proven to promote longer, more restful sleep periods and improve the child’s ability to self-soothe and settle themselves back to sleep when they wake up during the night at the end of a sleep cycle.
Various sleep training methods can be used to teach these independent sleep skills, including gradual separation or timed check-ins, depending on your preferences and parenting style and the needs of your baby. There is NO one-size-fits-all way to sleep train your child.
What are the benefits of sleep training for naps?
Nap sleep training is INCREDIBLY beneficial for your little one for a number of reasons:
1) Improves the quality and quantity of daytime sleep. When a baby knows how to fall asleep on their own, it means he’ll know how to put himself back to sleep at the end of a sleep cycle, leading to longer and more restorative naps.
2) Improves nighttime sleep. As the famous saying goes, “sleep begets sleep”. When your little one is overtired from taking short naps during the day, you’re more likely to experience additional night wakings. This is because overtiredness is notorious for causing restlessness and interrupted nighttime sleep. And on the flip side, when your baby can nap for longer periods, she’ll be able to sleep more soundly at night with less night wakings.
3) Assists with healthy development. Good quality naps are a necessity for your little one, not a luxury. 1-2 good quality regular naps each day will help fuel your baby’s brain development and healthy growth.
4) Improved mood. Sleep deprivation from poor quality daytime naps can cause more irritability, crankiness and tantrums throughout the day. It’s no fun- trust me on that one.
5) Improves daytime nutritional intake of solid food. As adults, eating food is fairly effortless for most of us. For babies and toddlers, it’s REAL work! When a baby is overtired from not napping enough during the day, it’ll be harder for him to explore and consume solid food since his energy levels will be lower. As a result, poor sleepers often become poor eaters. When a baby is well-rested and eats more during the day, it’s easier for them to learn how to sleep through the night without any night feeds.
Why is nap training harder than nights?
Nap training can be more challenging than nighttime training for several reasons. Firstly, daytime sleep is influenced by factors such as light exposure, external noises, and distractions, which can make it harder for babies to settle down for naps compared to nighttime sleep. The environment during the day is generally more stimulating, with increased activity and household noises, which can disrupt the nap routine.
Second, homeostatic sleep pressure and the drive to sleep is much weaker during the day than it is at night, despite the fact that it’s equally important as nighttime sleep.
Lastly, nap training often requires more flexibility and adjustment compared to nighttime training. Babies’ sleep needs change as they grow, and their nap schedules evolve. It can be challenging to find the right balance between providing enough daytime sleep to prevent overtiredness while also ensuring that naps don’t interfere with the bedtime routine. Finding the right nap schedule and managing the transition from multiple naps to fewer naps as the baby grows can be a complex process.
**If getting your baby, toddler or preschooler to sleep for nights or naps are a huge struggle for you and you’re STILL dealing with sleepless nights, I’ve got you covered! Watch my FREE masterclass here called “Everything you need to know about getting your little one sleeping through the night and napping like a champ (even if you feel like you’ve tried everything”.**
Tips and best practices for sleep training naps
The good news is that naps don’t have to be a huge source of frustration and exhaustion for you anymore. Your little one CAN learn how to nap soundly during the day with the right tools in place. Here’s a list of my most important nap sleep training tips.
Ensure your little one’s sleep environment is optimal
When teaching your little one to nap well, it’s imperative to make sure there’s nothing in the baby’s room getting in the way of a long nap. Here are some factors to consider:
- Temperature and ventilation: Maintain a comfortable room temperature between 68-72°F (20-22°C). Ensure proper ventilation to keep the air fresh and avoid excessive heat or stuffiness in the nursery.
- Darkness: Use blackout curtains or blinds to block out external light sources that can interfere with your baby’s sleep. A dark room signals to their body that it’s time to rest.
- Noise Level: Minimize disruptive noises in the nursery by using a white noise machine or a fan. These steady, soothing sounds can help drown out external disturbances and create a consistent background noise that promotes sleep.
- Safety and security: Ensure that the crib meets safety standards and is free from hazards. Use a firm and comfortable mattress that fits the crib properly, and avoid placing any loose bedding or pillows in the crib to reduce the risk of suffocation.
- Room decor: Choose soothing, neutral colors for the nursery walls and decorations. Loud or overly stimulating colors can be distracting for your baby and hinder their ability to relax and settle for naps.
- Comfortable sleepwear: Dress your baby in comfortable, breathable sleepwear appropriate for the room temperature. Ensure that their clothing is not too tight or restrictive, allowing for freedom of movement.
- Transition objects: Introduce a transitional object, such as a soft blanket or a favorite stuffed animal, once your baby is old enough. These objects can provide comfort and familiarity during naptime.
Start night sleep training first (or at the same time as nap sleep training)
Beginning sleep training at night can make nap training easier for several reasons.
Firstly, sleep training at nighttime is actually easier for babies to master than sleep training during the day. This is because external sleep pressure is much weaker during the day than it is at nighttime. Think of it like learning how to swim in the shallow end of the pool versus the deep end. If your baby relies on a sleep crutch to fall asleep at night, he’s going to have a VERY hard time learning how to nap independently during the day and “swim in the deep end of the pool” given how much harder it is.
Second, many of the sleep training techniques and strategies learned at night can be applied to nap training as well. The self-soothing skills and routines established during nighttime sleep training can help your baby transition more easily to napping independently during the day. This is because the familiarity of these new techniques and routines can make the nap training process feel more seamless for your baby.
Introduce a naptime routine
A wind-down routine is a valuable tool for signaling to your baby that it’s time to transition from playtime to naptime. A consistent wind-down routine acts as a cue for your baby’s body and mind to begin the relaxation process. When they experience the same sequence of activities before each nap, their brain associates these actions with sleep and starts preparing accordingly.
Babies also thrive on routine and predictability. A wind-down routine establishes a sense of security and familiarity for your baby, helping them feel safe and comfortable as they prepare to settle down for their nap.
When establishing a naptime routine, be sure to select a set number of calming activities that you can consistently include on a regular basis. These activities should be quiet, soothing, and enjoyable for your baby. The entirety of this routine doesn’t need to take longer than 2-3 minutes at the most. Think of this as a condensed version of your consistent bedtime routine.
This wind down routine could include activities like dimming the lights, reading a book, singing a lullaby, or cuddling. Avoid stimulating activities or screen time, as these can hinder the wind-down process.
Know your baby’s proper wake windows and put your little one down for a nap at the right time
Wake windows refer to the duration of time that a baby can comfortably stay awake between sleep periods. They vary depending on the age of the baby and their individual sleep needs.
Understanding and following your baby’s wake windows is extremely important in order to prevent overtiredness. This is important because overtiredness makes it more challenging for babies and toddlers to settle down for sleep, resulting in shorter, fragmented naps. By observing and respecting your baby’s wake windows, you can figure out your little one’s “sweet spot” and ensure they go to sleep at the optimal time, which allows for better quality naps.
Following your baby’s wake windows also makes it MUCH easier for you to eliminate your little one’s reliance on sleep associations or external aids to fall asleep. When babies are put to bed at the appropriate time based on their wake window, they have a better chance of falling asleep independently, without needing to rely on nursing, rocking, or other sleep crutches to fall asleep. This supports the development of self-soothing skills and promotes long-term healthy sleep habits.
**If you need more guidance on figuring out your little one’s wake windows and nap timings, grab a free copy of my sleep chart here!**
Feel free to use your little one’s sleepy cues as a guide to help you figure out your little one’s wake windows.
Establish an eat-play-sleep daily routine
It’s important to ensure that your baby doesn’t become reliant on feeding in order to fall asleep. Otherwise, this can create a sleep association between feeding and falling asleep, making her think that she needs a feed (even a small one) in order to fall asleep. And this sleep association can cause her to wake up at the end of a sleep cycle needing you to help her go back to sleep. In order to avoid this problem, make sure there’s always “play time” happening between your baby’s feeds and her sleep time.
Give your little one an hour to fall asleep
While you’re nap sleep training, you may need to give your little one an entire hour to fall asleep for their nap. Choose a sleep training approach you’re most comfortable with so that you can remain consistent with it through until the end (you don’t need to do cry-it-out if you don’t want to!)
Some babies and toddlers are too distracted by their parents’ presence when in the room with them, making a gradual withdrawal method harder to implement. If you feel like your presence is causing your baby to become energized or overstimulated, or you have another child to take care of, you can always resort to a timed checks system, where you check on him at certain intervals or based on his reaction. Its okay to use a different approach than what you’re using at nighttime.
Remember that developing any new skill is going to require consistency and patience. Don’t underestimate what your little one can do, even if they’re giving you a hard time at first. Stick with your nap sleep training plan consistently so that she has lots of opportunity to practice these new sleep skills and so that she always knows what to expect when nap time comes.
She can do this!
What’s the best age to sleep train for naps?
Most babies are ready for nap training and to connect their sleep cycles by 4 to 6 months of age. Younger babies aren’t usually developmentally ready to connect their sleep cycles just yet.
Note that if your baby was born premature, always go by their corrected age in terms of sleep needs and developmental readiness.
How many days does it take to nap train a baby?
The time it takes to nap train a baby can vary depending on the individual child and their specific sleep habits and temperament. Some babies may respond quickly and adapt to this new nap routine within a few days, while others may require more time and patience and might need a couple of weeks to adapt. Be patient and stay consistent with it.
A quick word about my Sleep Bible program
As a pediatric sleep consultant who’s helped thousands of families to date, I created The Sleep Bible program for any parent who wants REAL solutions for their little one’s sleep challenges: NO one-sized-fits-all approaches, NO cookie-cutter recommendations and NO set sleep schedule. This is the real deal if you’re no longer willing to wait for things to get better and you’re committed to creating a sleep-filled life for yourself and your little one. You can learn more about it here.