The Third Nap Battle
First time writer, long time reader – spent my nights of pregnancy insomnia reading your back issues on infants!
Because of you, my son is in a good place. He is 5 months old and can go down drowsy but awake, use his sleep associations (pacifier, white noise, blackout curtains) and sense his routine for bedtime and naps (diaper change, massage, quick song, same goodnight and I love you, and a quick exit from the room by Mom). We follow an Sleep-Eat-Play routine. He sleeps about 11 hours at night. Thank you!
But we still struggle. Up until 2.5 weeks ago he had a solid 4 nap routine. However, I think he’s trying to drop down to three naps due to him fighting the third nap. I have tried to adjust by introducing a 2-3-4 routine. The first and second nap are a dream.
The third is a nightmare. The struggle is real. We’re talking 2 hours of struggle. Nothing is different from naps #1 and #2. I have even tried going back to 4 naps, and he just won’t nap between 12-4 PM.
So what can I do? (Other than silently scream into the void?) Spending 3 hours a day trying to get a baby to nap is quickly wearing me out, and I can see he is miserable as well.
It’s actually pretty common for babies to start dropping a nap before they are technically 100% fully ready to actually drop the nap. Which leads to a messy “transition” period of a week or two (or three, or a month) where they fight fight fight sleep during the day and then wind up fitful and overtired and EVERYTHING IS TERRIBLE.
Eventually, typically, most of the time they adjust, and a more predictable nap schedule re-emerges. But oh, I hear you on the struggle in the meantime. My youngest (ha ha, my THIRD, aka the baby I should have known what I was doing by then) had the messiest schedule in the world around this age, all due to him fighting sleep all afternoon SO HARD and for SO LONG…we weren’t even sure if his final nap really was a “nap” or just him going to bed for the night. He’d fuss and fuss and then conk out around dinnertime, and then sleep for too long, only to wake up hours later ready to party, thus screwing up our plans for bedtime.
We tried waking him up (no), moving bedtime ridiculously early (bad), changing the timing of his morning naps (why), and nothing worked. He needed a third nap. He would not take that third nap, at least not when that third nap should happen, when it would do the most good.
I didn’t technically “solve” the problem so much as eventually stumble onto a temporary fix. In the mid-afternoon (where that third nap “should” happen, more or less), I’d put him in my Ergo carrier on my back and go for a short walk. Usually just around the corner to meet his brother at the bus stop, but he would fall asleep. If the weather wasn’t permitting, a drive around the neighborhood in the carseat also did the trick. If I tried a proper nap at home using the routine that worked for his other naps? Or bedtime? No. No thank you, he would not fall asleep, but would cry and scream and wail for hours. But by moving the location of the nap to a carrier or carseat? Sure, okay, I guess I’ll drift off for a bit.
Would that work for your son? I have absolutely no idea. It just ended up being our afternoon stopgap for awhile: I could get him to sleep on my back for 30 minutes or an hour while I did other stuff. He got that little bit of extra sleep he needed without fighting it, and since he wasn’t in his crib he didn’t oversleep and then screw up our bedtime routine. I don’t think he ever regularly took his third nap in his crib ever again — he eventually dropped from three naps to two after a month or two of this, and both of those naps always happened in the crib.
If he fell asleep in the car I didn’t keep driving the whole time, by the way. He was still in the bucket/carrier infant seat so I’d just wait for him to fall asleep and then quietly and cautiously bring the whole seat inside. Luckily once he was out he was [still is!] a really sound sleeper. I also discovered he was more likely to grab some afternoon zzzz’s in his bouncer or exersaucer — he’d jump and bounce and play and then just fall asleep with his head on the tray. While I am usually a big stickler for proper sleep habits, viewing his third nap as more of a thing I had to trick him into taking, be it anywhere else but the crib, was a big sanity saver.
So maybe instead of spending hours inside trying to do a full proper nap and pre-nap routine that he’s bound and determined to fight, try taking him out somewhere in the 12-4 block of time, with the hope of tiring him out enough that he’ll nod off in the car on the way home, or sleep in a sling/carrier for a bit. Or try for just a catnap in a doorway bouncer or other exercise toy. If he fights the nap routine, fine. Get rid of the routine and set him up to fall asleep somewhere else. Sometimes this can be a case of a routine and sleep associations that work too well — your baby knows what you’re setting him up to do and he doesn’t WANT to, he wants to keep playing and exploring and being awake and no no no.
Or this truly is just an awkward transition that will solve itself with a little more time! Some babies drop from three naps to two around six months, so you’re not that far off from another potential shift in his nap schedule. For now, since he’s miserable without at least a little more afternoon sleep, try a change of scenery, or a shorter/different routine that he won’t be so quick to fight.
Good luck! Tricking babies into doing things they need to not be miserable is always a fun challenge, isn’t it?