The Nap-Resister: When Your Child Needs a Nap but WonŐt Take One

By Elizabeth Pantley, Author of The No-Cry Nap Solution


Daytime naps might last just a few short hours, but they can affect all twenty-four hours of a childŐs day. Naps can improve a childŐs mood and reduce fussiness, crying, whining, and tantrums. Studies show that children who nap daily get sick less often, grow taller, and are less likely to be obese when they grow up. Naps enhance attention span and brain development. Naps can also help make up for any shortage in nighttime sleep. Even a one hour shortage in overall sleep hours can have a negative effect on a child Đ compromising alertness and brain function, and increasing fussiness and fatigue. 

There are many ideas for helping a child to take a nap, but the best idea in the world may not work for you if the solution doesnŐt address the reason that your child wonŐt nap. There is not just one reason that babies and young children refuse to nap Đ there are hundreds of different reasons. Before you decide on a solution you need to understand your childŐs motivation. Once you figure out the cause of your childŐs ŇnonnappingnessÓ you can put together a plan to overcome her resistance. Here are a few typical reasons kids wonŐt nap Đ and suggestions to solve each problem:


Problem: Has outgrown the current nap schedule

Solutions: Think about any changes in your childŐs life, growth or development. Has he learned to crawl, begun to eat solid food or started daycare? Any change can also affect sleep patterns. Watch your child for signs of tiredness between naps and adjust your schedule to meet his new needs.


Problem: Nap schedule doesnŐt match your childŐs biological clock

Solutions: Naptime, bedtime, mealtime, exposure to light and darkness, and activity all can affect your childŐs biological clock. Look at your childŐs schedule to be sure these things occur at reasonable times every day. The improper order of things (such as active, brightly lit playtime just before bed) can affect your childŐs rhythm.


Problem: Nap schedule isnŐt consistent from day to day

Solutions: If on weekdays nap times, bedtime and wakeup time are specific, but on weekends theyŐre hit and miss, then your child will be functioning with a constant bout of jetlag. Other inconsistencies can also affect this, such as when your child naps at a certain time at daycare, but a different time at home, or if he takes a nice long nap on days when you are at home but takes a short one in the car (or skips a nap entirely) when you are on the go. Set up a possible nap schedule for your child and do your best to stay within a half hour of the nap times that you have set up.


Problem: Child is overtired and over-wired by nap time

Solutions: If you miss your childŐs signs of fatigue he can quickly move past his tired spell, past overtired, and into a second wind Đ that state of artificial energy which often brings with it more crying, fussing, whining and tantrums. When you miss your childŐs tired signs it also means he wonŐt be able to fall asleep when you do finally put him in bed.

To learn your childŐs sleepy signs it can help to watch him in the hour after he first wakes up in the morning, when he is well rested. Compare this to his behavior during the time from dinner to bedtime, when most children show signs of fatigue. As his usual bedtime draws near, make note of how his behavior and body language differs from when he is alert and refreshed. Aim to put your child for a nap as soon as he shows signs of fatigue. A tired child will fall asleep easily and sleep longer and better.


Problem: Reliance on a specific sleep aid

Solutions: 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 childŐs association needs are to examine them from your own viewpoint. ItŐs possible that you sleep well in your own bed but struggle to sleep at a hotel or someone elseŐs home. Some childrenŐs 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 Đ but when they become necessary for sleep then itŐs likely to cause a problem for the parent who must provide naptime services. These associations are usually so necessary to your childŐs sleep that they override every other reason or solution. Because these are complicated issues each of these associations has its own chapter of information and solutions in other parts of this book. 


Problem: Sneaky micro-naps

Solutions: The very first stage of sleep can last as little as five minutes and can reduce feelings of sleepinessĐ it lifts the lid and letŐs 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 doesnŐt 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 heŐs likely to need a nap, unless you can leave him for a full long nap.

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 childŐs health matters and look to find the best solutions for your child.


Tips for encouraging naptime

No matter why your child wonŐt 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:




From The No-Cry Nap Solution: Guaranteed Gentle Ways to Solve All Your Naptime Problems by Elizabeth Pantley (McGraw-Hill, January 2009). Here is the link for information and more excerpts: