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With so many different reasons for why a baby might not want to nap, getting to know some of the main issues might help your little one to stay asleep for longer stretches, and get into a nap routine that works for you.
We've made the guide quick and easy for busy parents, by splitting it into different age groups, so you can find out what might be causing your little one's sleep problems. Learn more about your baby's sleep associations, how to make your sleep schedule work for your child, and how to make daytime sleep more regular and easy to navigate.
So if you are wondering why your baby won't nap at daycare, why your baby won't nap during the day or why your baby sleeps at night but won't nap for more than 45 minutes in the daytime, read on!
For more, check out our handy tips on what to do when your [baby has climbed out of their crib] or if your [baby is fussy while nursing].
Newborn - 3 Months
Newborns should be sleeping for roughly between 14 and 17 hours a day, split between their night time and daytime. It might feel like your baby isn't sleeping because they seem to take a nap for such short amounts of time.
It might also just be that your baby hasn't learned a rhythm of night and daytime yet, as this is usually something they learn after 12 weeks. Especially if they have no problem with daytime sleep, but nighttime seems to be the time they want to be awake, then they may just be getting used to the day-night cycle. You can usually speed up this adjustment by making sure you open your baby's curtains in the morning and expose them to daylight, and try to stay away from blue-toned lights in the evening so that they get a sense of night and day.
One of the common reasons your baby might not want to fall asleep at this age is because they don't like being on their back. Babies at this age must sleep on their backs at all times, you might want to try swaddling your little one to help your baby feel more comfortable on their back.
If your baby naps during the day easily, but point blank refuses to sleep at night, then there are a few things we recommend to correct their nap schedule to fit your routine. Try to avoid bright lights in your baby's room at night time, and switch off the TV when you're giving your nighttime feed, as this can put your baby into a more energetic mood.
At this age, you'll probably hear myths of babies who sleep for hours on end, but in reality, newborn babies need to eat once or twice in the night time at the very least. This isn't something that will last forever, so try to go with the flow while your baby is young, and nap whenever you can while they are sleeping.
3 - 6 Months
If you've been boasting to your parent friends about your little one sleeping like a dream, but suddenly its as if a switch has flipped, your baby seems like they just don't need to nap ever again, and their night time routine involves shouting, laughing and staying wide awake for hours on end. You are probably experiencing sleep regression.
Sleep regression is a very natural stage that almost every baby will go through. Typically this will begin happening at four months but it can be a problem for your bedtime routine at any point. All that is happening is that your baby is starting to get excited by all of the new experiences they are having, and there just isn't time for sleep when the world is so full of things to see and do. All we can recommend is to keep your nap schedule firm and add extra daytime naps for your little one to sleep during the day. This will hopefully help an overtired and overstimulated baby to nap.
Your baby might start becoming overstimulated by things in their sleeping area when they are around this age, which can lead to them fighting naps. If they can see toys or hear other sounds, this can stop them from being able to nap. We suggest creating a calm space for your baby's naps and turning on some white noise to create a calm sound for your baby to focus on.
6 - 12 Months
Have you established a strong nap schedule for your baby? If you haven't then this might be causing their sleeping problems. A warm bath at night time followed by some gentle stories and singing can help signal to your child that it is time for them to fall asleep, and a scheduled nap routine will help babies to know what is expected each day and night. Without a good structure, children can get distressed and overtired, and seem to sleep less than they should.
When babies hit six months, you might begin to see signs of teething, which can cause a disruption in their sleep schedule. If you notice that your baby won't nap for more than 30 minutes at a time, and they are touching their mouth or ears, and drooling more than usual, then it is probably a sign that they have started teething. There are many ways we can help our babies deal with the pain of teething, and giving them a teething ring, a chilled wet muslin, or a cold pureed fruit before nap time can sometimes soothe the pain enough for them to fall asleep.
If your baby won't nap unless held or rocked while falling asleep, then this can mean added stress for already exhausted parents. If you tend to always go to your little one and pick them up when they cry during the night because you think it will help them get back to sleep, then this will often become one of their sleep habits that they depend on every nap time. You might want to try switching up your nap schedule so that you feed your baby 30 minutes earlier than you usually would, and then leave them in their crib. Once babies learn to self-soothe they should need less rocking and picking up during the night, and will often fall asleep on their own.
A change of routine can often cause your child to refuse to sleep. If there has been a change to their daily activities, like a new preschool or someone new looking after them, it is perfectly normal for babies to react with a change in their sleep patterns. As your child gets used to their new routine, they should settle down and get back into their normal sleeping pattern.
At any age, illness can be a cause for babies not napping or sleeping, especially if your child is acting more fussy than usual during the day. Sometimes babies can nap more frequently or for longer periods of time when they are feeling unwell, but it can also mean that they struggle to sleep too. Unfortunately, this is a sleeping problem that we can't do much about until our little one is fully recovered, so it's best to not stress out too much about keeping to your planned nap schedule and to always visit a doctor or check with a medical professional if you are worried.
You might be making things too exciting for your baby when they wake in the night. Especially at younger ages, if you are talking to them and entertaining them while they have their nighttime feed, it might mean that you struggle to get them to go back to sleeping after they eat. Try to keep things soothing, and maintain a structured routine that lulls your baby gently back into a sleeping state so you can go back to bed.
It can be tempting to use screens like iPads and TV shows to distract your baby so you can get on with other things, but research has shown that every hour spent looking at a screen will decrease the amount of time your baby will sleep for at night.
It's a good idea to make sure you have a calming nighttime routine for your little one, for at least three hours before you want them to go to sleep. If your baby is overexcited in the time leading up to nap time, then they will be less likely to want to sleep because they are so stimulated. This can cause little ones to fight their naps, and you might end up with a grumpy overtired baby who refuses to sleep, and that's not fun for anyone.
Your baby might not be napping regularly because they are feeling hungry when they are put down to nap. Especially in younger babies, you probably will experience what feels like too many wake-ups in the nighttime where your baby is requesting another feed. We can't really change the fact that our little ones do need regular feedings, but we can try to sync it with our own sleep schedule so that our baby sleeps at the same time we do. Try to feed your baby a big meal before you have a nap, and you should be able to get the longest possible sleep. You might also want to take a little break before feeding your baby during the night, to stop them associating waking up with feeding, by changing their diaper or talking to them for a few minutes before they get to eat.
Babies sleeping for 45 minutes at a time and waking up like clockwork can feel frustratingly short for parents who could do with the rest. The reason your little one sleeps for this specific amount of time and barely ever more is that 30 - 45 minutes makes up a full sleeping cycle. After that amount of time, they will reach a lighter sleep period, as they try to move into the second sleep cycle. Especially if you tend to rock your baby to sleep and then move them to their cot, babies will tend to wake up in this light sleeping stage confused and cry out for someone to come to them. Putting your baby down for a nap while they are still awake, so they can get used to self-soothing to sleep might help them to move from one sleep cycle to the next without crying in between.
Do you rush to your baby's side when they wake up in the middle of the night, desperate for them to stop crying and get back to sleep? If so, you might be making things worse. Sometimes your baby will start talking or crying while still asleep and will be able to resettle themself without your intervention, from as young as five weeks old. Try waiting a minute or two to make sure your baby is definitely awake before picking them up, to allow for them to get back to sleep if they can.
If you found this article about what to do when baby won't nap helpful, then why not take a look at our guide to why your [baby hates tummy time] or why your [baby won't sleep in a crib] and what to do about it too?
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