When Your Little One Refuses to Nap: A Comprehensive Guide

As an experienced baby sleep consultant, I’ve seen many parents feel at their wit’s end when their baby won’t nap, no matter what tricks they’ve tried. Whether your child has never been a great napper or their nap times have recently become challenging, I assure you, you’re not alone in this journey. Let’s delve into the possible reasons for this and discuss strategies to promote healthy nap routines.

Why Might My Baby Refuse to Nap?

Nap refusal in babies is a common concern among parents. It can stem from various factors, each presenting its own challenges. Let’s break them down for a clearer understanding:

Sickness – A baby feeling under the weather might find it challenging to sleep due to discomfort, pain, or general irritability.

Teething – The process of new teeth emerging can cause discomfort and restlessness, which can disrupt nap routines.

Sleep Regressions – These are periods when your baby’s sleep pattern changes, often suddenly and for seemingly no reason. It’s a normal part of your baby’s development but can interfere with naps.

Room Environment – Factors like room temperature, lighting, and noise levels can significantly impact your baby’s ability to fall asleep and stay asleep.

Beyond these factors, one crucial aspect often overlooked is the concept of ‘sleep pressure’, a metaphorical ‘tired tank’ that fills up as your baby stays awake and empties when they sleep. Here’s how it works:

Overfilled Tired Tank

If your baby stays awake for too long, their tired tank overflows, leading to a surge in stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. This surge can make your baby hyper-alert, causing them to resist sleep.

Underfilled Tired Tank

If your baby hasn’t been awake long enough, their tired tank isn’t full enough, making it harder for them to fall asleep. This scenario often results in short, less restorative naps.

Understanding and responding to your baby’s individual sleep cues and maintaining appropriate ‘wake windows’ (periods when your baby stays awake between naps) becomes crucial to manage their ‘tired tank’ effectively. By doing so, you can help facilitate smoother, more restorative naps.

Where Should My Baby Nap?

The safest place for a baby to nap is in a crib, bassinet, or play yard, where the surface is firm and flat with no loose blankets. For the best sleep, aim for a cool, dark room accompanied by the hum of a sound machine. 

What Should a Good Nap Time Routine Look Like?

Much like a bedtime routine helps prepare your baby for nighttime sleep, a predictable naptime routine can do wonders for daytime sleep. Here are some sample nap time routines to give you an idea:

Routine 1: Diaper change, sleep sack, turn on the sound machine, lights off, sleeping words, comfort object, into crib awake.

Routine 2: Diaper change, sleep sack, read a book, sound machine on, lights out, sleeping words, comfort object, into crib awake.

Remember, a good naptime routine doesn’t need to be long or elaborate. A few minutes should be enough.

My Baby Still Won’t Nap, What Should I Do?

If your baby continues to resist naps, consider these tips:

1. Evaluate Your Wake Windows

Wake windows are the periods when your baby is awake between naps. The goal here is to ensure your baby’s ‘tired tank’ is adequately filled, but not overflowing. To strike the right balance, set an age-appropriate sleep schedule. For example, a 3-month-old baby typically has a wake window of 1-1.5 hours, while a 9-month-old may stay awake for 2.5-3 hours. Ensure your baby engages in stimulating activities during these periods to build up sufficient sleep pressure.

2. Establish a Nap Time Routine 

Consistency is key when it comes to sleep routines. A quick, repeatable series of steps can signal to your baby’s brain that it’s time to wind down. For instance, your routine could include a diaper change, putting on a sleep sack, dimming the lights, turning on a soft lullaby, and then laying your baby down in the crib.

3. Comfort is Crucial 

Make sure your baby is dressed comfortably for sleep. Avoid restrictive clothing, remove any accessories, and consider using a familiar sleep sack. The temperature of the room should be kept between 68-72°F (20-22°C) for optimal comfort.

4. Optimize the Room Environment

A dark room can be a significant aid to your baby’s sleep quality. Blackout curtains or blinds can keep out distracting light. A nightlight with a soft, red or orange glow can provide enough illumination for you without disturbing your baby’s sleep.

5. Leverage a Sound Machine 

A sound machine that produces consistent white noise can mask disruptive external noises. The sound of a heartbeat, soft rain, or gentle waves can often soothe babies to sleep.

6. Lay Your Baby Down Awake 

Contrary to intuitive thought, it’s beneficial to lay your baby down while they’re still awake. If they’re fed or rocked to sleep, they might associate these actions with sleep and find it difficult to self-soothe. So, after a calming routine, place your baby in the crib while they’re still awake but drowsy.

7. Use Sleep Words

Words have the power to condition our behavior, and this applies to babies as well. These ‘sleep words’ or phrases are consistently used signals that indicate it’s time to sleep. For instance, you might tell your baby, “It’s sleepy time,” or sing a particular lullaby just before laying them down for a nap. Over time, your baby begins to associate these words or sounds with sleep. The primary advantage of sleep words is that they serve as a gentle, non-disruptive way to create sleep associations. This method can be especially helpful if your child struggles with naptime, as it adds an extra layer of consistency to your routine. The goal is to make the process of going to sleep as soothing and predictable as possible for your baby.

With the above strategies, and a sprinkle of patience, you can help guide your baby into a consistent, healthier nap pattern.  If nap times continue to be a challenge, it’s always a good idea to consult a pediatrician and a baby sleep consultant to rule out any potential underlying issues.


Mindell, J. A., Li, A. M., Sadeh, A., Kwon, R., & Goh, D. Y. (2015). Bedtime routines for young children: a dose-dependent association with sleep outcomes. Sleep, 38(5), 717-722. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25325483/

Hiscock, H., & Wake, M. (2001). Infant sleep problems and postnatal depression: a community-based study. Pediatrics, 107(6), 1317–1322. https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.107.6.1317

Moon, R. Y., & Task Force on Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. (2016). SIDS and other sleep-related infant deaths: Updated 2016 recommendations for a safe infant sleeping environment. Pediatrics, 138(5), e20162938. https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/138/5/e20162938

Mindell, J. A., Kuhn, B., Lewin, D. S., Meltzer, L. J., & Sadeh, A. (2006). Behavioral treatment of bedtime problems and night wakings in infants and young children. Sleep, 29(10), 1263-1276. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17068979/

Lam, P., Hiscock, H., & Wake, M. (2003). Outcomes of infant sleep problems: a longitudinal study of sleep, behavior, and maternal well-being. Pediatrics, 111(3), e203-e207. https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/111/3/e203.short

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