Once your child is falling asleep at bedtime for a few weeks, they may start to take longer naps. However, if they continue to struggle, try whatever sleep-training technique you used at bedtime. For some, that means letting them fuss for 30 minutes before getting them up and waiting for either the next nap or bedtime. This allows their sleep drive to help them fall asleep more easily at the next opportunity.
Don’t let them nap too late or your child may struggle to fall asleep at night. Generally children need three or four hours from the end of their last nap until bedtime. Thus, babies taking three naps often go to bed at 9 or 10 p.m. If you would like your child asleep by 8 p.m. their nap must end by 4 p.m.
Replicate your bedtime routine as much as possible
As much as you might want to dump your child in their crib and walk away, a short nap-time routine is a powerful way to help your child wind down and prepare for sleep. You don’t have to replicate your whole bedtime routine. Skip the bath. If you do two stories and two songs at bedtime, go down to one story and one song. Keep it under 15 minutes.
And don’t forget the sleep environment. Blackout shades are useful for daytime sleep, as well as for preventing early morning awakenings. Sleep in motion — walking your child in a stroller or driving in a car — is fine in the first few months, but after three or four months it becomes a crutch.
[Read more on the peril of using swings and sleepers for sleep.]
Don’t panic during a nap strike
One mother came to my clinic for advice for her 18-month-old son and called me months later in a panic. “He’s been sleeping well for several months, but he just skipped his naps for the last few days. What do I do?” she said.
A nap strike is when a child suddenly starts fighting back against an age-appropriate nap. It’s sometimes triggered by developmental changes, like learning to walk, potty training or teething, or by a cold. Often the cause is unclear. Continue to put your child down at the appointed time for 30 minutes. If this doesn’t work, try for a nap when you notice your child rubbing their eyes, acting cranky or otherwise showing signs of drowsiness.
Know when your child is ready to give up a nap
If your child keeps fighting a nap, they may be giving it up. When going from three to two naps, cut the last one. When going from two naps to one, cut the morning nap. When giving up the last nap, well, just expect a lot of whining and arguing after lunch.