Every parent has a breaking point when it comes to sleep. For some, it’s overnight wake-ups. For others, it’s hour-long bedtime battles. For me, it was my son’s two-week nap strike just after his first birthday. As a new parent, I didn’t know that nap strikes were a thing… but, unfortunately, they are.
If you haven’t yet experienced this phenomenon, you may be wondering: what’s a nap strike!? Well, it’s just what it sounds like. One day, for no apparent reason, your baby starts to refuse one or both naps. He may cry through his entire nap period, or he may just never fall asleep. Either way, it’s no fun for him or for you.
I didn’t know it at the time, but it’s quite common for babies to launch nap strikes around 12 months (and, just to make it more fun for us, again at 24 months). Even if I had known, I’m not sure it would have reduced the frustration of my toddler suddenly refusing both naps and becoming an overtired, hot mess by early evening.
If your child about to hit his first or second birthday? Below is my cheat sheet to sailing through these two nap stikes – or at least minimizing your frustration.
Why is the nap strike happening?
At 12 months. A lot is happening in your baby’s life, around 12 months. He may be cruising or already walking. He’s probably starting to say a few words (and, behind the scenes, there’s a lot of language acquisition going on). And he’s definitely becoming more independent.
As a result of this craziness, your baby may temporarily stop taking one or both of her naps. Your natural reaction will likely be that she’s ready to drop to one nap. Hooray! No more staying home for the morning nap while all the other moms are at Baby Hip Hop class! Not so fast, mama. Almost all babies need two naps until they’re closer to 14-16 months, as they’re both developmentally important.
At 24 months. If the 12-month nap strike was rough, just think of the extra stamina your toddler now has! The Terrible Twos have arrived, and you may have a long year ahead of you.
Again, you will likely assume that your little one is ready to stop napping, but I’m going to stop you right there -- that’s a big N-O. Hold on to that nap for dear life; she needs it and you probably do too.
What can you do about the nap strike?
No matter the reason, nap strikes can be the bane of a parent’s existence. But this too shall pass, and there are a few things you can do to get your little one back on track.
1. Stay the course, and almost always, your child will start to take naps again. Instead of prematurely dropping to one nap, continue to offer two naps around 9 am and 1 pm. The same goes at the 24-month mark: continue to offer the nap at the same time every day (I recommend between 12.30/1pm at this age).
2. Consider on-the-go naps. If your child (like mine) refuses both naps, then you may need to resort to a few on-the-go late afternoon naps to see if he’ll pass out in the stroller for a few minutes. It’s not a long-term solution but will keep him slightly more well-rested while the nap strike resolves itself.
3. Put sleep boundaries in place. At 24 months, you may be able to create and enforce more boundaries around sleep. Let your little one know that nap time is not optional and leave him or her in the crib for a defined period of time, even if he or she is not sleeping.
4. Offer early bedtime. For any nap strike, the key to avoiding a sleep regression is to offer an early bedtime on days where your child isn’t napping well (or at all). An earlier bedtime will allow your child to catch up on missed sleep and will help avoid accumulating sleep debt. (If you’re worried that your child won’t be tired earlier, trust me, she or he will be).
5. Revisit your baby's sleep schedule. If you've had a busy week or have had visitors, you may find that your baby's internal clock is out of whack. If that's the case, figure out a routine that works and stick to it as much as possible.