Staying sane when your baby won’t nap is honestly a massive challenge. From the age of four months old to six months old, my son slept in 30-minute increments — day and night. Getting him down for naptime and bedtime was a struggle, to say the least. When I was trying to get back into the swing of things with working from home, I would have to drive him around for two hours to get him to nap for 30 minutes. When he fell asleep, I’d use my iPhone hotspot as an internet connection to write articles in parking lots until he woke up. Sometimes this would only be 20 minutes later. Before having a child, I had no idea how many naps infants take a day. I definitely didn’t know anything about awake windows, babies being overtired, and making sure you get them to sleep before you miss their sleep window.
Feeling Like You’re Going Insane
I truly did feel like I was going insane. How could I stay sane when my baby wouldn’t nap? My husband and I were sleep deprived from him waking every 30 minutes at night. For hours, I tried by myself to get him to go to sleep during the day. All this produced was a 30-minute short nap for him. It was more than I could take. I remember leaving my son in his nursery so I could go outside on the back deck and scream and scream into a pillow. I texted my friend, who had an older kid and one kid the same age as my son, begging her for advice.
When he was screaming, I had to walk away because I was scared I would hurt him or myself out of pure exhaustion, frustration, and anxiety. I really wished I knew how to stay sane when my baby wouldn’t nap. We all would’ve been a happier and healthier family at that time.
My son had a medical issue we couldn’t address until he was six months old. My husband and I were also diagnosed with postpartum anxiety and postpartum depression. Fortunately, the sleep problem finally resolved itself when he turned six months old and had the needed surgery.
Before you get to your breaking point with your baby — and even if your situation isn’t as extreme as ours was — there are tips and tricks to keep you from losing your mind. Here are some things that will help you be mentally healthy for your baby, family, and yourself.
Ways to Stay Sane When Your Baby Won’t Nap
“When your baby won’t seem to fall asleep, it can be very triggering for parents because it threatens to take away the VERY little time they may have to themselves. It can also lead to unhelpful thoughts and beliefs around their ability to parent effectively,” says Kaitlin Soule, LMFT. Thankfully for us, Soule has a cheat sheet up her sleeve for ways to stay sane when your baby won’t nap.
1. Take deep breaths.
When I was in the throes of my son refusing to nap and crying nonstop, it lasted days on end, no matter what I did. I remember slowly walking out of his room, quietly shutting his door, and walking outside to take some deep breaths. I followed the 4-7-8 anxiety breathing technique. You breathe in for four counts, hold for seven counts, then release the breath slowly for eight counts. Its creator described it as a “natural tranquilizer for the nervous system.”1
Soule says, “I know it sounds cliche, but it is one of the most effective things you can do.” She says that when you’re flooded with big feelings like frustration, anger, and anxiety, it’s important to take a few deep breaths to calm down. “Even just one or two deep breaths can help send the message to our body, and then our brains, that we are safe and all is okay,” she says.
2. Give yourself permission to throw out the rule book.
Everyone seems to be a parenting expert; people on social media, extended family members, and even friends. It’s important to remember that every child and every situation is different. I remember going through mom pages on Facebook and seeing moms shamed for trying different sleep training methods or even shamed for not trying sleep training methods. You can’t win. I also became resentful of the moms who would post sweet photos of their baby sleeping calmly while mine would never become relaxed enough to nap.
There are so many different sources of information these days. Some of them can be helpful. However, some are riddled with misinformation. Aside from this information potentially causing confusion, it can also cause us to steer away from our mama instincts and ignore our intuition. So throw out the rule book. Try things that work for you.
3. Name your feelings and allow yourself to feel them.
One of the most difficult things people can do is allow themselves to have uncomfortable feelings and name them. Moms can be notorious for putting many of their needs and feelings aside when the situation calls for immediate action. Sometimes, if you just allow yourself to feel angry, frustrated, and helpless, that alone can help you calm down. Don’t run from those emotions. Embrace them and feel what you need to feel. You deserve to be heard and supported, especially during challenging times.
4. Come up with mantras to keep you grounded.
When my son wouldn’t nap, and I felt like I had tried everything, I would whisper mantras to myself, “You’re a good mom. You’re trying your best. He’s going to be okay. You’re going to be okay,” over and over again to keep myself grounded.
This, too, shall pass, I promise.
5. Do something.
I put on some noise-cancellation headphones and set a timer for three minutes. I did some downward-facing dog (here) and child’s poses (here) on my yoga mat to clear my head. My son was safely lying in his crib, of course. And on days when I didn’t have it in me to be zen, getting the kettle ready for a cup of tea did wonders. I could focus on another task I had control over, and the tea was relaxing. Even if it’s something as simple as letting the shower run over your shoulders, engaging in self-care and establishing some grounding techniques can work wonders when your mind is too frazzled and overwhelmed.
6. Get real.
My best friend received many frantic texts during those two months of my son not sleeping. I revealed some very real feelings of being so depressed and frustrated that I was thinking about running away from home and not coming back, or worse, ending my life. I’m glad I told her these things because she always reassured me things would be okay and he’d sleep eventually. She offered tips she had tried with her two kids and told me it was normal for many kids not to nap. I felt like I wasn’t alone because of her help.
Talking through the difficult situations in your life with a close friend or family member can be truly life-altering. Knowing that you aren’t crazy and are not alone in your struggles can be extremely comforting during an emotionally exhausting time. Don’t be afraid to open up. Chances are, you have someone in your circle who understands what you’re going through or can even just be a shoulder to cry on when you need one.
7. Remember the golden rule of sleep.
“You can’t force your child to go to sleep any more than you can force yourself,” Soule says. You can create the perfect environment and perfect conditions. Or you can have the perfect crib and the perfect swaddle. Sometimes, they just won’t sleep. And that’s okay. Everything will be okay. If all of these fail and you’re hitting your breaking point, it’s important to recognize this and respond accordingly.
When Do You Know You’ve Reached Your Breaking Point Mentally? What Do You Do?
You may have reached your breaking point if you find yourself angry, resentful, or lashing out at your baby or loved ones — i.e., raising your voice. “When you’re at your breaking point, it’s important to ask for help,” Soule says. “In the immediate sense, you can ask your partner, a babysitter, or any trusted person in your life to come and give you a break so you can rest or have some time to yourself. If you find this happening often, it may be a good sign that you need help balancing the load of parenthood.”
“Reaching out to a therapist who specializes in maternal mental health and/or early parenthood can provide you with the support and tools you need to get through the challenging season you find yourself facing,” Soule adds. And continuing to have these issues could be a sign of postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety, which could add to the stress of an already stressful situation where your baby won’t nap.2
What Are Signs of Postpartum Depression and Anxiety?
If you’re having feelings of dread, persistent worry, intense overwhelm, irritability, sadness, shame, intrusive thoughts, loss of appetite, thoughts of suicide, and inability to sleep, you may be dealing with postpartum depression and anxiety, according to Soule.3 “The most important thing for people to know is that PPD and PPA are common, treatable via medication and therapy, and are not signs that you are somehow inept or failing as a parent,” Soule says.4
And men can experience postpartum depression and anxiety as well.5 “While it’s not as common for men as it is for women6, it often goes undiagnosed or unnoticed by family members, friends, and the medical community,” she says. “Men can experience postpartum mood disorders because their lives have also shifted and changed in big, unpredictable ways when they became parents,” Soule adds.
Unfortunately, in general, men getting help for mental health (especially around the topic of postpartum) is still highly stigmatized. We must work to change the social/cultural messages that make men feel “bad” or “weak” for getting help.
“The truth is, getting help doesn’t make you weak . . . it makes you strong, aware, and capable of weathering the many storms that come with life and parenthood.” And that goes for both parents. If you’re struggling to get your baby to nap, and it’s causing you to feel some signs of PPD and PPA, please reach out to a trusted friend and mental health provider. Additionally, working through these tips can help you stay sane when your baby won’t nap. You’re not alone; many of us have been there in the beginning. I promise it does get better. They will eventually sleep.