How to Avoid Car Naps

So you’re out doing your grocery shop and you can’t help but notice that naptime is drawing near. You hustle to get through your list, strap your little one into their car seat and cross your fingers that you make it home before they pass out. Checking the rearview mirror you see the slow blink starting to happen and the next thing you know, heads bobbing and they’re out. No! Now what? Why does this always happen when we’re driving?

Baby sleep in a carCar naps can be a problem for a few reasons: they can throw your child’s and your schedule off for the day, they aren’t as restful and restorative for your child causing overtiredness and crankiness, they are often short (the length of one sleep cycle) and if you try to transfer them, more often than not they wake up leading to an even shorter nap with no hope of getting them back down in their crib. So how do you keep this from happening and what can you do if it does? Here are my Top 5 Tips to avoid car naps and my advice on how to handle them when they happen by accident.


Tip #1: Avoid taking your child out when they’re overtired. If your child falls asleep every time they are strapped into their car seat or their stroller they are more than likely living every day in an overtired state. Ensuring that your child is getting all the sleep they need within a 24 hour period is the best way to avoid this by allowing for early bedtimes and ample napping opportunities in their bed during the day. Refer to this chart for how much sleep your child should be getting based on their age.

age nighttime sleep daytime sleep              (# of naps) total sleep awake window
0-3 mths 8-10 8 (3-5) 16-18 45 min – 1 hr
3-6 mths 11-12 4-5 (3) 15-17 1.5 – 2.5 hrs
6-12 mths 11-12 3-4 (2) 14-16 2.5 – 3.5 hrs
12-18 mths 11-12 2-3 (1-2) 13-15 3.5 – 6 hrs
18-24 mths 11-12 1.5-2.5 (1) 12.5-14.5 4 – 6 hrs
2-3 yrs 11-12 1.5-2 (1) 12.5-14 4 – 6 hrs
3-5 yrs 11-12 0-1.5 (0-1) 11.5-13.5 4 – 6 hrs


Tip #2: Avoid motion of any kind 30-45 minutes prior to naptime. It can be very tempting for the motion of a car, stroller or swing to lull your baby to sleep if they are nearing naptime. Plan outings for when they wake from naps and do your best to be home a minimum of 30 minutes prior to naptime. Children can become very reliant on motion and it can be a strong sleep prop for them which can difficult to break. You don’t want to find yourself in a situation where they only way you can get your baby to sleep is by taking them for a walk or a drive in the car.

Tip #3: Don’t give your baby a bottle or pacifier while driving in the car. Sucking can be a very soothing action for a tired baby and again can aid them in falling asleep more easily when tired. This is especially true when your baby has possibly used this as a method for falling asleep in past or currently uses it as a way to fall asleep. Need help breaking them of this habit? Let me know, I can help!

Tip #4: Use distraction to get them home in an awake state. Give them a favourite toy or book when buckling them in. What about a snack or their favourite children’s songs CD playing? Turn it up and don’t be afraid to sing along loudly despite the looks you may be getting from other drivers…9 times out of 10 you will probably make them laugh J Rolling down the window and letting some fresh air in can help as well if all else fails. Of course, while driving safety should be your main priority, so if there is someone else in the car with you give them the job, especially if it’s an older sibling, they will love having this task!

Tip #5: Add a quick stop on your drive home. If you’ve tried everything and the long blinks are still threatening a nap, don’t hesitate to simply pull over for a few minutes at the park or get another quick errand in. Getting out of the car seat for a few minutes and having a change of scenery may do the trick and be the only option if you still have a ways to go before arriving at home.

But what do you do if they fall asleep despite your best efforts? If your baby is younger than 6 months you can try to transfer them into their crib and hope for the best, if they wake they most likely won’t go back down for you right away so push naptime a little later than normal and know that your day will be a bit off. If they are older than 6 months I would suggest letting them sleep under your supervision while keeping an eye on their head and neck position to ensure that their airways aren’t restricted. They will probably only sleep one sleep cycle (30-45 minutes) so just call that their nap. The next naptime or bedtime will need to come sooner that it would have so keep that in mind when planning the rest of your day.

In my opinion naps are equally important to parents; whether it’s simply to have a little break for yourself or you have bigger tasks to accomplish that you just can’t get done when they’re awake. These days will obviously happen from time to time and it’s not the end of the world, you can always get back on track tomorrow. I would just suggest doing your best to ensure that it isn’t the norm and that you make nap time a priority and avoid car naps whenever possible. Hopefully these tips will help you accomplish that, good luck!!

Sleep well,


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