Sleep Training for Naps: a Complete Guide (with Q&A)


As we sleep trained each of our children, I quickly realized that sleep training at night is very different than sleep training for naps.

Sleep training for naps can be a completely different process than sleep training at night for many children. However, it can be done with the exact same methodology, patience, and process – provided it’s adjusted for naps and nap transitions. On average, naptime sleep training may take 2-3 weeks.

Ready to get regular, reliable, and restful naps for your child? Keep reading for all the best tips in this complete, naptime sleep training guide.

Sleep Training During Naps is Different than at Nighttime

Sleep training during naps will, for many children, be a separate event than sleep training at night. However, some children can have a single sleep training session – and naps and sleep will all settle into place.

So how will you know which category your child falls into? Well, that’s the hard part. There’s not a great way to know in advance. Instead, you’ll find out by trying sleep training for nights – and evaluating how things go at nap time.

  • If naptimes improve on their own, then your child may not need a dedicated naptime sleep training. That or you’re naturally (and/or subconsciously) using sleep training skills that are impacting naptime sleep.
  • If naptimes don’t improve on their own, then your child may need a dedicated sleep training plan for naptimes.

But let’s take a step back and think about why sleep training during naps is different than nighttime sleep training for some children. In my experience and after extensive research, it seems to be due to how our sleep patterns naturally develop.

Until about four months old, a baby’s sleep patterns can be pretty irregular and unreliable. That’s normal. But by about 4-6 months of age, a baby’s sleep pattern matures into a more adult-like one – with sleep cycles and stages and sleep schedules.

At that age, sleep begins to “clump up” and become longer, more restful, and more restorative. In other words, sleep sessions become longer. Naps begin to emerge. And nighttime sleep becomes better for everyone.

However, the pace at which these schedules emerge differs from child to child.

Some babies will have great sleep schedules right away – and others won’t. Some babies manage their sleep schedules naturally… others are influenced by the parental intervention (like sleep training). And some babies manage to have a solid, reliable sleep schedule well before 4-6 months of age – and others take much longer to achieve anything resembling a schedule.

All that to say there’s a huge range in the potential for your child’s sleep schedule – and not all of it is in your control. Some of it is simply they’re still developing at their own pace and it will just take time for things to settle down.

However, using sleep training can help (to varying degrees) to speed this process up. But now we’re back to the part where some children will react well to nighttime sleep training (and still have massive issues with naptimes) while other babies get both day and night sleep under control on the first go.

Our children required separate sleep training for nighttime and naps. And naptimes sometimes took several months to become regular and reliable – just in time for a nap transition and more dedicated naptime sleep training.

In our case, we also found that we had to use a completely different sleep training methodology than we did at night. So if you’re in the same boat, you have my sympathies.

Having a completely separate sleep training plan for nights and days is hard. But, as someone who’s survived it, let me assure you that it is possible. And seeing success makes the hard work worth it – as does having a full night’s sleep again!

When to Sleep Train for Naps

Because sleep training at naptime can be a totally different experience for most children, it’s important to know when to sleep train them at naptime.

Thankfully, it’s an easy answer. For most children, their naps will do better (both on their own and with sleep training assistance) once nighttime sleep has seen some measure of improvement. Here are the order and guidelines that work best (based on my research, experience, and talking to other parents).

  1. Sleep train for bedtime and the first few hours of sleep.
  2. Everything else in the order of the biggest problem to the smallest problem. This includes:
    1. Naptimes
    2. Middle of the night wakings
    3. Early morning wake-ups

In other words, work on nighttime sleep first. Once you’ve seen some success with bedtimes, then you can focus on naptimes and middle of the night issues and whatever else.

That being said, I’ve talked to families who needed to address naptimes first – and they found great success by focusing on their family’s needs.

Focus on the biggest problem first – and then once things are addressed to your satisfaction, work on the next issue. One step at a time, friends.

Expect Sleep Training for Naps to Take up to Several Weeks

So how long will a naptime sleep training session take? Well, it’s going to depend on several factors.

  • Your baby’s age.
  • Their developmental progress.
  • Their personality.
  • Where they’re at in their sleep development.
  • The sleep training method you choose.
  • Your daytime sleep goals for your child.

On average, though, most babies can master daytime sleep within 2-3 weeks. They may even see significant progress along the way. However, some babies will take much longer to settle into a regular and reliable nap routine, especially if they’re already in an overtired state.

With our kids, it felt like daytime and nap sleep training took several months to reach our end goals of reliable naps. And that was just in time to see our child reach a nap transition – meaning they needed fewer naps. In some instances, that meant an adjustment and more sleep training.

Transitioning from a mindset of sleep training being a “one-and-done event” to a process was a huge help for me in surviving how long it seemed to take for naps. To read more about that mindset transition and/or sleep training routines, click here.

How to Sleep Train Your Baby During Naps

In order to help sleep train your baby for naptimes, the process is going to be very similar to how you created your sleep training plan (or routine) for nights. It’s just going to be nap-focused. Here’s how to do it.

Step 1: Create a Plan A

Yes, we’re going to start with Plan A and see how it goes. For Plan A, though, let’s make it easy: use your exact nighttime sleep training plan but adjust it for naps.

If you still have questions about sleep training guidelines for nights, be sure to read this article here – it will walk you through every answer you’ve ever wanted.

To set the baseline routine, let’s first look at the age and needs of your child. Here are some of the most popular sleep training routines you can pick, based on age.

Age of ChildRoutine SuggestionsRationale
Newborn to 4 MonthsEat, Play Sleep (also known as Eat, Wake, Sleep)This model works great with newborn sleep patterns and is easy to remember. At about 4 months old, this may evolve into the baby wake window method.
Newborn to 18 MonthsSleep/Wake WindowsThis model uses prescribed (by age) windows of wakefulness as a guide to your daily routine. This can get more complicated but is still a very popular method.
Toddler+A/B Days or Set SchedulesSome toddlers do well with having a set schedule, including set nap times. Sometimes these set schedules involve A/B style days, especially during a nap transition.

From there, think of everything that can possibly go wrong (at night or during naps). Then, think of a pre-determined response so you’ll know what to do.

Abnormal SituationExample Solutions (based on our experiences)
What will you do when your child is ill?For minor illnesses (colds, coughs), naps became “rest time” and cuddles during the day. Some of these turned into naps on the couch.
How will you address naptime wake-ups with an ill child?We planned on going in and comforting our child while ill. We gave age and situation appropriate medicines if needed.
Will you pause the naptime sleep training routine for illness?We used fading methods for naps – it’s still usable when sick, even if it requires a few steps back.
How will you manage missed or low-quality naps?Earlier bedtimes for the win.
How will you manage too-early wake-up times from naps?We let our children play quietly in their rooms until the end of the nap – or until it became all-too-clear that going back to sleep wasn’t happening.
What will you do if your child falls asleep in the wrong place or at the wrong time?If our child falls asleep, we let them sleep. Odds are this means “in the car” – and we’ll try to transfer them to their bedroom/bed.

Step 2: Implement the Plan – and Adjust as Needed

Now it’s time to put the plan into action. But sticking to a plan that isn’t working is an awful idea. So keep track of what works. Keep using that. Get rid of what doesn’t work and try something else.

Our inital Plan A for naptime sleep training was a modified cry-it-out (just like we’d used at night). It failed miserably – largely because we’d all had our fill of crying at night. We switched to a gradual, no-tears method (fading) and that worked much better.

Sometimes a huge change (like we did to a Plan B) may be necessary. That’s okay.

However, minor changes are far more likely to be what you need. Make those adjustments as needed – and build them into your adjusted naptime sleep training plan.

Step 3: Be Prepared for Common Nap Concerns

Building your naptime schedule to your goal is great. But, depending on how long it takes you to get there, please know that (once you get there) you may not stay there long. You may need a new goal – or to at least be prepared to handle common nap concerns.

Just remember that not every child will experience all of these concerns. Even so, being prepared for any of them will give you more peace and calm – which will help your child feel that peace and calm. So it’s a win-win situation to be prepared.

Common Naptime Sleep ConcernsAdjustment Recommendations for Naptime Sleep TrainingRationale or Examples
Nap TransitionsAs children age, they naturally need fewer naps. Your schedule may need adjusting.Please see the next table that details the average nap requirements by age.
Sickness or IllnessesYou can continue to nap-sleep train through sickness or you can take a step back, depending on your methodology.Using a gentle sleep training method may let you continue to sleep train for naps through illness.
Teething and NaptimesYour baby may need more physical reassurance while teething, so use more cuddling during the daytime and around naps to comfort them.You may also want to use age and weight appropriate medicines to help manage pain symptoms. Be sure to consult your pediatrician about any medicine dosages or use.
Developmental Milestone Related Sleep Regressions and NapsContinue with sleep training – just know that there will be a rough few days. Use an earlier bedtime to your advantage.Consider using A/B days for naps and bedtimes as needed.
Anxiety, Worry, or Big Changes at NaptimeThis is more of an issue as children get older or if there’s a big change. Talk to your child about things and give them time to adjust. Consider “falling back” to a gentler method or a “rest time”.Napping in a new or unusual environment can be hugely disruptive to sleep. Keep trying, but evaluate your methodology and consider a “rest time” if the nap fails.
Nightmares, Night TerrorsThese are most usually related to being overtired or exhausted. They may happen after a nap in some cases. Getting better (and more) sleep for a few nights should resolve the issue.Use an earlier bedtime for several nights and consider an A/B style schedule for a few days.
Travel or Vacation and NapsThis may be a combination of “big changes” and time changes. As such, plan for a few days of rough sleep. Know that there will probably be an adjustment period during travel and another upon returning home.Consider changing to the time zone of where you’ll be as soon as possible to minimize the effects of jet lag.
Time Changes (Daylight Savings)If possible, start adjusting your daily overall and nap schedule a week before the time change – in small, 10-minute increments to minimize disruptions.Or expect a few difficult days after the time change. Use early bedtimes to get back on schedule.

One of the most common nap concerns is nap transitions. So let’s talk about that next.

Step 4: Know about Nap Transitions

As your baby grows up, they’ll naturally need fewer naps. The period of time while your child is adjusting from taking more naps to fewer each day is usually called a nap transition.

Here’s how many naps (and how much sleep) your baby will probably need – by age. Keep in mind that these are averages.

AgeNumber of NapsAverage Nap LengthWake Time Between NapsBedtimeNighttime Sleep RequirementsSleep Required Each 24 Hours
Birth to 6 weeks4-815 minutes to 4 hours45 minutes to an hourBetween 9-11 PM8-14 hours14-18 hours
6 weeks to 3 months3-430 minutes to 2 hours1 to 2 hoursBetween 8-11 PM8-13 hours11-15 hours
3-6 months31-2 hoursabout 2 hours8-10 PM9-12 hours12-16 hours
6-9 months31-2 hours2-3 hours8-10 PM9-12 hours12-14 hours
12-18 months1-21-2 hours3 hours7-8 PM10-12 hours12-14 hours
18 months to 3 years11-2 hoursN/A7-8 PM10-12 hours11-14 hours
Preschoolers0N/AN/A7-8 PM10-13 hours10-13 hours
Grade schoolers0N/AN/A7-8 PM9-12 hours9-12 hours
Teenagers0N/AN/A8-10 hours8-10 hours

During a nap transition, your baby may still take either more or fewer naps – and things will be in flux (and all sorts of crazy cranky) for a few weeks. During this time period, using an A/B day style schedule was our saving grace.

Step 5: Use an A/B Day Style Schedule as Needed

If you’ve ever attended classes at a place that didn’t have the same schedule every day, you may be familiar with A/B style schedules already. However, an A/B day style schedule with naps doesn’t have to be nearly as complicated.

For naps, an “A” day could simply mean days when your child takes more naps. “B” days could be days with fewer naps.

Example: your child’s had a busy, fun day – and so they’re taking their usual “A” day – 2 naps that day. The next day, they fight naps and only take 1 nap, so it’s a “B” day.

Now, for an optimal effect, you may also want to use an A/B style bedtime to go with the naps. That way, you can stay on top of sleep easily.

  • “A” days, with normal (or more) naps have a normal bedtime.
  • “B” days, with fewer naps, have a slightly earlier bedtime.

You don’t have to combine them – but having this A/B style naptime combined with bedtimes helped our kids get on track faster – by making sure they stayed rested, even if they weren’t taking enough naps.

Step 6: Consider Naptime Temporary Changes with Illness

Babies get sick. It’s a sad reality – but one that needs to be anticipated. Because when your baby does get sick, naps (and sleep in general) take a hit.

Sometimes, sick kids sleep more. Sometimes, they sleep less. Either way, it’s going to impact naps somehow.

Based on research, surveys, and my personal experience, here’s what I’ve found about sleep training and nap times.

No-Tears Sleep Training Methods at NaptimeCry-it-Out Sleep Training Methods at Naptime
You can continue to sleep train through sickness.Take a step back from sleep training during sickness. Everyone will need a break.
Your baby may need more physical reassurance during sickness, so use more cuddling to comfort your child.You can fall back to a no-crying, comforting-focused sleep training method like fading. Doing so should prevent losing all of your existing progress.
Don’t count the time when your baby is sick in the total time it takes to sleep train.Resume your preferred cry-it-out method once the sickness has resolved.

In other words, you may need to take some steps backward while your child is ill. If you’re using a no-tears method (like fading) you can continue working towards your naptime goals – just more slowly. Doing so should help you prevent losing too much ground.

When our kids get sick, we found that naps become very unreliable. Our go-to plan for naps became “rest times” where we watched a movie or a show – with me cuddling and holding them in a recliner. If they so happened to fall asleep? Great. If not? No big deal – we were watching a movie.

As with any illness, though, if you’re ever concerned please consult your pediatrician. Even if the illness is a relatively minor one, they can at least give you age and weight appropriate doses for medicines that may help your child weather the illness easier.

Sleep Training Naps Q&A

Here are real-life naptime sleep training questions by parents just like you. And even better, here are real-life answers – based on way too much research, experience, and talking to thousands of parents – parents just like you.

Got a question you want to be added to the Q&A? Be sure to contact us with your question so we can get it added here, answered in a new post (or YouTube video), or address it privately. Just be forewarned that the type of response you get will depend on the situation.

Does “Cry it Out” work for naps?

Using a cry it out method can definitely work at naptime! It’s worked for many parents and children. It works best with a solid, well-thought-out plan that accounts for any possibility.

Going through this post should have you on the right path!

In my experience and opinion, it doesn’t work as well as it does at nighttime, though. This was mainly my issue, though, as I drew a line at letting my child cry for multiple sessions and naps each day. We found better success with a short-term cry-it-out method at night and a fading method at naptime.

If you can handle the crying, though, it will definitely work – and fast.

Can I start sleep training with naps (instead of at bedtime)?

Generally speaking, it’s better to start sleep training with bedtimes than naps. However, if naps are the bigger issue, then it’s totally fine to start sleep training with naps first.

Most families will see better, faster, and more lasting success by focusing on bedtimes first. However, I’ve talked to many families who definitely showed that to be a guideline rather than a rule.

What do I do if my baby wakes up early from a nap?

If your baby wakes up too early from a nap, give them a few minutes and see what they do.

  • Some babies may not be truly awake – they might just have ended one sleep cycle and are headed into another. They’ll fall back into a deeper sleep in a few minutes.
  • Some children are waking up early – and there’s a handful of reasons as to why that may be. Giving your baby a few minutes won’t hurt them – and they’ll let you know that it’s time to get them up already.

We’ll talk about the most common reasons for early nap wake up times next.

Common reasons naps are too short

Naps can be “too short” for one of several reasons. Here are common reasons – and solutions.

RationalePopular Solution
Paradoxical exhaustion is waking your child up at a normal sleep cycle end. (Your kid is exhausted so it’s too hard to stay asleep.)Use an early bedtime for several days to get sleep (and naps) back on track.
The nap time is the wrong length. Your child is waking up at the end of a normal sleep cycle but they need some more time to fall back asleep.Try moving the naptime start 15 minutes earlier to help your child fall back asleep between sleep cycles.
Physical needs have changed.Go do a sniff check. Poopy diapers can be a common cause of early wake-ups at naptime.
They’re done sleeping. (This one is particularly difficult!)Some kids don’t need long naps. Use those early bedtimes!

How do I sleep train longer naps?

It’s possible to help your child sleep train and take longer naps. But in order to do that, you need to figure out why your child’s naps are too short or not restful enough.

Once you know why the naps are too short, address the problem. Then, brainstorm some ways for going forward. Odds are, you may not be able to salvage the current nap. After all, your child is awake, so naptime’s over.

However, you can keep things on track and set the next nap (whether it’s today or tomorrow) up for success.

In fact, the very best thing you can do (especially if you don’t know the problem yet) is to keep sleep on track. It will help solve most problems, even if you can’t properly identify them. The way to keep sleep on track will be by using a slightly earlier bedtime – even if it’s just by 15-30 minutes or so.

To read more about the importance of bedtimes and managing sleep disturbances, read my article on it here (over on SleepRegression.com).

I wasn’t able to get my children to take longer naps – they nap for a single sleep cycle and that’s it. That’s okay – we adjusted our schedule to protect nighttime sleep to make sure they get the sleep they need.

Do you start sleep training with naps or bedtime?

On average, most parents will see faster and better success with sleep training by starting with bedtime rather than naps. However, there are some families that start with naptime sleep training. And they’ve seen great success, too.

We started with bedtime because it was a quick win – and a way to get more sleep at once, especially when compared to the short amount of time our kids slept at naptime.

Which sleep training method should I use for naptime?

You can see success with any method of sleep training at naptime. Pick the method that most appeals to your parenting style and family needs – and make a plan for how to implement it.

We started with a modified cry-it-out – allowing our oldest boy up to 10 minutes to self-soothe before falling asleep. As we tested it over about a week, it quickly became apparent that 10 minutes was A. more than I could handle and B. not going to work for him. So we adjusted to a more gradual approach that worked for us.

Is a 3-hour nap too long?

Depending on your child’s age and health, a 3-hour nap may be totally appropriate. For children between the ages of 6-18 months, a 3-hour after-lunch or afternoon nap may be totally normal.

For our children, a 1.5-2 hour afternoon nap was more normal. A 3-hour nap was only normal when they were ill, teething, catching some extra sleep while growing, or on rare occasions.

How do I get my baby to nap without being held?

Getting your baby to sleep without being held will require dedicated sleep training. The method to get there is up to you.

Some parents will see quick success with a cry-it-out method. Other parents see gradual success with a gradual sleep training method. And some of us see success with a hybrid method – and lots of compromises.

There’s no wrong answer – just what works for your family and parenting style.

Our kids did better overall as we transitioned to naps in the crib slowly – by focusing on one nap at a time. We started with the longest nap – the afternoon nap. We tried to keep that one scheduled and focused and in the crib. For other naps, my kids were held or allowed to nap wherever they would.

Just know that whichever way you choose, it may take some time to see lasting success. And know that as your baby experiences illness or teething, they may experience some regression and need to be held.

You can decide to allow it or not – just be sure to take into account your baby’s emotional, psychological, and physical needs at all times.

Using earlier bedtimes (to offset days during nap transitions with fewer naps) makes me feel like I never get to see my child. How do I fix this?

Feeling like you don’t get to see your child is difficult. This is especially true if you’re working – and really not having much time with your children. From here, there are two main options.

  1. Try shifting your child’s overall schedule so that they still get the sleep that they need – and everyone gets the quality time together that they want.
  2. Accept that early bedtimes are a temporary but necessary part of your child’s schedule so that they can grow and develop and be happy. It will mean less time with your child now, but a happier child overall.

There’s not a wrong answer – so go ahead and try shifting the schedule and see what works for your family.

While working long hours at the hospital, I hated not seeing our kids. However, attempts at shifting their sleep schedules backfired dramatically (and caused major problems!). So, their schedule went back to what worked and I adjusted – I’d check on them sleeping when I got home or spent extra time with them on my days off.

No matter which route you go, it’s not an easy one. There are pros and cons to both choices that are hard to swallow. But remember that it is a temporary stage in your children’s growth and development. Make the most of what time you do have together. It’s never enough but it will be sufficient.

Hang in there, friend. Things will get better – so keep at it. Take things one day (and one nap) at a time.

Kimberly C. Starr, RN BSN

I’m a ginger-haired nurse (RN, BSN) who loves getting enough sleep to be a functional parent to my four wonderful kids - who are even more wonderful when they’ve gotten enough sleep, too. To read more about me, click here.

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