As babies grow and develop, their sleep schedules change. Many parents find their once great napper starts resisting sleep or having trouble settling down. Crying at naptime can be frustrating and stressful. Should you let your baby cry it out? And if so, how long is too long when sleep training for naps? This comprehensive guide covers everything parents need to know about using the cry it out method for naptime.
- Cry it out can be an effective approach to sleep train babies for naps between 4-12 months old. But it is not right for every family.
- Experts typically recommend waiting 10-15 minutes before responding to crying during nap training to allow baby time to settle independently.
- Have an age-appropriate naptime routine and put baby down awake but drowsy to set them up for success.
- Stay consistent with training. It may get worse before it gets better. Most babies show improvement within 3-5 days.
- Consider your baby’s developmental stage, temperament and needs. Customize your approach as needed. Check in if crying escalates.
- Offer comfort after the nap when needed. Don’t let baby cry too long. Keep an eye on sleep debt.
Understanding the Cry It Out Method for Naps
The cry it out method, also known as controlled crying or Ferberizing, involves letting your baby cry or fuss for set intervals before offering comfort. The goal is to teach baby to self-soothe and fall asleep independently. Unlike at bedtime, naps have added challenges. They are lighter sleep cycles and can be affected by timing, environment and habits. Successfully implementing cry it out depends on several factors.
When Can You Start Cry It Out for Naps?
Most experts recommend waiting until 4-6 months when sleep cycles mature. Some say to start after night sleep training is well established, around 5-7 months. Cry it out may not work for younger babies who feed frequently or lack self-soothing skills. Watch for developmental readiness signs like dropping night feeds.
Setting Realistic Nap Expectations
Around 6 months, babies transition from three naps to two naps per day. The morning nap lengthens while the afternoon nap decreases. Total nap time is typically 2-3 hours. Expect naps to shorten further around 9 months as toddlers transition to one long nap. Set age-appropriate nap length goals to avoid undertiredness or over fatigue.
Consistent, Independent Sleep Associations are Key
A consistent pre-nap routine helps signal sleep time. Use the same cue words like “time to sleep”. Put baby down awake but drowsy in their crib. Try not to nurse, rock or hold to sleep, so baby learns to self-soothe. Blackout curtains, white noise, and proper room temperature help create an ideal sleep environment.
Developmental Factors That Impact Naps
Regressions, teething, milestones, growth spurts can all affect nap habits. Stay flexible. Independent sleep association skills also ebb and flow. Wait until baby is mastering new skills before implementing cry it out. Some babies adapt faster than others.
Watching for Overtiredness
Missing sleep cues and undertimed naps can lead to overtiredness quickly. An over-tired baby will have a harder time falling asleep. Adjust schedule or duration to prevent this. Track total daily sleep. Keep an eye on sleep debt over multiple days.
Navigating Separation Anxiety
Around 8-10 months, babies develop separation anxiety. They cry when away from caregiver even if sleepy. Have a predictable, soothing routine. Use transitional objects. Stay calm and consistent. Pay attention to their unique temperament.
Ensuring Baby’s Needs Are Met
Rule out hunger, diapering needs, overheating, teething, illness or discomfort first. Offer a dream feed if waking early from nap. Keep communicating and comforting. Check in if crying continues 20+ minutes. Temporary contact naps may help at times.
Step-by-Step Cry It Out Guide for Naps
Once you decide to try cry it out for naps, follow these tips to help your baby learn to sleep independently.
Pick Your Approach
Main methods are:
- Full extinction (Full CIO): Do not respond to any crying until the desired wake time.
- Graduated extinction (Modified CIO): Set timed intervals to allow some crying, respond briefly, then leave again. Intervals increase until baby falls asleep.
- Positive routines (Gentle CIO): Focus on consistent schedule and routines. Reinforce self-soothing skills. Use minimal crying.
Consider your baby’s temperament and needs. Younger infants may need a more gradual approach.
Establish Solid Sleep Cues
Use the same sleep cues (songs, phrases, routines) for every nap:
- Avoid screens before naptime.
- Keep playtime calm and avoid overstimulation.
- Draw the curtains, turn on white noise 30 minutes before nap.
- Dim the lights, swaddle or wear PJs to cue sleepy time.
- Rock or read a story then put baby down awake but drowsy.
- Say consistent phrases “Time to sleep, night night”.
- Make the last feed ending 30 minutes before nap.
- Set the stage for positive associations.
When first implementing cry it out, follow these tips:
- Commit to at least 2 weeks consistency. Extend if needed.
- Explain to older siblings baby is learning a new skill. Model calm and patience.
- Stick to appropriate nap times. Do not delay or skip.
- Do not let baby fall fully asleep while feeding right before nap.
- After putting baby down awake, immediately leave room.
- For graduated approach, wait initial interval (5-10 min), respond briefly, repeat.
- Try not to pick up or feed baby when responding or negative associations can form.
- Increase response intervals by 5-10 minutes until baby falls asleep, usually within 45 min total.
Troubleshooting Tricky Situations
Certain situations can derail nap training. Here are some common scenarios and tips.
- False starts: If baby falls asleep then wakes shortly after, allow a 5-10 minute reset then re-attempt nap.
- Early waking: Add 15-30 mins to next nap. Gradually adjust time as needed. Consider a dream feed.
- Nursing association: Try feeding 30 minutes before nap for a week, then gradually reduce time to break association.
- Overtired/undertired: Adjust nap routine and duration to align with sleep needs. Watch for sleep debt.
- Illness: Take a training break and offer comfort. Meet needs and resume when recovered.
- Teething: May need analgesic before nap. Offer comfort object.
Supporting Your Baby Through Change
Change is hard! Your baby will need extra support while learning this new skill.
- Prepare for initial increase in crying the first few days – it may get worse before it improves! Stay strong and stick it out.
- Offer soothing after each nap with contact, feeding, comfort object. Reassure baby you are still there.
- Avoid training when baby is sick, teething severely or during disruptive life events.
- If crying escalates or baby is extremely distraught, stop training and provide contact comfort.
- Be mindful of sleep debt over multiple days. Adjust as needed.
- Stay patient! Most babies show significant improvement within 3-5 days. But change takes time.
- Focus on progress, not perfection. Some bad days are normal. Get back on track the next nap or day.
- Trust your instincts. You know your baby best. Modify approach if needed, stop if you are uncomfortable.
Common Questions and Concerns About Cry It Out for Naps
Many parents considering cry it out still have lingering questions and concerns. Here are answers to some common nap training FAQs.
How long can I let my baby cry when sleep training naps?
Experts generally recommend allowing 10-15 minutes of uninterrupted crying for nap training babies under 12 months old. Allow this initial period for protest crying to see if baby settles independently. However, if crying continues or escalates, most experts advise responding with brief comfort checks every 10-15 minutes. Maximum total crying time should not exceed 45-60 minutes for young babies before intervening. Always respond if baby is in distress.
Won’t letting my baby cry make sleep worse?
The first day or two of training, crying may increase as baby protests change. But if you remain consistent, most babies will show significant improvement within 3-5 days, crying less at naps as they learn new skills. Crying levels typically peak on day two. Stay consistent and know regression is normal and not a sign of failure if you get off track. Get back on the horse!
Is it ok to let my baby cry for an hour?
Letting a baby under 12 months cry intensely for longer than 45 minutes to an hour can cause extreme distress. If baby is still escalating after 30-45 minutes it may be time to stop training for the day and intervene. Watch for signs of exhaustion like hiccuping or falling asleep while worked up. Over-tiredness can work against training. Build in contact naps when needed and try again the next day.
What if my baby won’t stop crying?
If the crying continues 20+ minutes without calming, baby may be too worked up to settle. Respond and provide comfort. Try again next nap starting with a 15 minute limit. If crying remains intense or escalates quickly on multiple attempts, your baby may not be ready for full extinction training. Move to a more gradual approach.
Can I pick up/feed baby during training check-ins?
Though well-intentioned, feeding or rocking baby to sleep during check-ins can reinforce undesired associations. Keep check-ins brief and neutral. Comfort with words, pats or presence, but avoid physical sleep props during training. Feed after if needed.
When does sleep training stop working?
Expect phases of regression until 18-24 months when naps consolidate. Teething, illness, developmental milestones or routine disruptions can throw baby off. Be flexible and consistent. Revisit training every 4-6 weeks as needed until desired skills solidify. Customize techniques as baby grows.
Conclusion: Finding the Right Nap Sleep Training Approach for Your Family
Help your baby learn to self-soothe and sleep independently for naps through these tips. But remember, you know your child best. Not all babies adapt to full extinction training. Be responsive to their unique needs. Move slowly, assess progress and adjust approaches as required. With time, consistency and compassion, sleep training can help babies and parents get much-needed naptime rest.