(Revised and updated from an earlier version.)
Just about every child has nap issues from time to time, but being stuck inside leads to a spike in nap challenges. Naps are also harder to stabilize than night sleep, so they are more vulnerable to regression during changes in routine. There are many reasons that naps can regress even without a big change in routine. Your child’s overall nap needs change with time, so a pattern that worked fine a few weeks ago may become erratic and unpredictable (see our other posts in this nap series). As if that wasn’t enough, your child will probably go through bouts of nap regression during motor-skill development and cognitive milestones such as separation anxiety. When you combine all of that with normal day-to-day variation that happens when your child gets varying amounts of stimulation, it can make for a very challenging naptime. If you think that your child is not getting the sleep that he or she needs during the day, then this troubleshooting guide is for you.
Need a little inspiration on how to keep your child active during prolonged periods of time inside? Scroll to the bottom for our crowd-sourced list of activities to do in the house.
First, you need to figure out what your child should be doing. Many parents think that their children need more or less sleep than they actually do, and that often leads to trouble. Check out our age-by-stage sleep chart and our blog on when nap transitions happen to figure out if your child should be following a new schedule.
Next, if your child is not able to sleep in a location other than your arms, a swing, stroller or car seat, then review our post on how to get your baby to nap in the crib to learn how to make that happen.
Need More Help?
We offer several options for optimizing your child's sleep:
SLEEP TRAINING CLASS (for well babies 6-15 months)
PHONE CONSULTATIONS (with one of our sleep experts)
THE SECRET TO NAPS (downloadable e-book)
If your child is in a crib but won’t sleep there for more than 30–45 minutes, then review our post on how to get your child to nap for more than one sleep cycle.
Figure out if your child’s nap issues stem from a developmental sleep regression. During the four-month regression, 30–45 minute naps are normal and generally don’t get longer until your baby is close to 6 months old. During the nine-ish month regression, your baby may temporarily drop down to 30–45 minute naps again for a few days. During the 18-ish month regression your toddler may drop from a two-hour nap to an hour nap, or she may even skip a nap for a few days. During motor skill transitions your baby may practice her new skills during sleep, causing her to wake prematurely from a nap.
Finally, there are other subtle issues that can lead to nap trouble. For example, an imbalance between day and night sleep can get you caught in a cycle of poor napping, like what happens during a split night.
Similarly, too much daytime activity has been shown to be associated with short sleep in at least one study, but we suspect too little activity can also be to blame for poor naps sometimes. Although there isn’t a scientific study that directly correlates poor napping to lack of activity, we often see a connection between low activity and poor napping in the families that we work with. We always see a surge of nap disruption during winter months when daylight hours are shorter, and babies and toddlers tend to spend lots and lots of time inside looking at the same scenery and playing with the same toys. This lack of stimulation likely contributes to poorer outcomes during nap training and long-lasting sleep regressions during the winter. We surveyed our Facebook followers to find out what activities they do when the weather doesn't cooperate to stimulate their little ones during inside play. We hope the list below inspires you with some new activities that will help your little one nap better.
Indoor Activities to Help Stimulate Babies and Toddlers Between Naps
Dancing! Find some new and interesting music, and dance around the house with your baby in your arms or teach your toddler some new moves. They'll love watching your air guitar solo!
Start a band. Use toy instruments (or real ones) to make music with your little one. An upside-down box, storage bin or bowl can quickly become a drum, with or without the spoon "drumstick," a whisk or hairbrush makes a great microphone, and a cardboard tube (from your empty paper towel or wrapping paper roll) easily tra