How to Manage Your Child’s Cat Nap Schedule Like a Pro


peaceful baby napping on a bed

Whoever coined the term “sleeping like a baby” obviously didn’t have newborns in mind. Or my kids up till about 2 years of age, really. Because my kids slept like a baby – cat, that is. They were on a cat nap schedule for way too long. That’s just how they happened to take naps.

It wasn’t the best option – but it was our reality. The only great and amazing thing about it? I know a dang lot about how to get those babies out of a cat nap – and into a regular, long, glorious nap schedule. That’s some #winning, right?

Why is my baby on a cat nap schedule?

If you’re wondering if your baby is “broken” or “abnormal” – nope. They aren’t. Lots of babies (newborns included) haven’t consolidated their sleep enough to nap more than a few minutes at a time.

It’ll be okay. This is fixable, I promise! Yes, it sucks. But it’s something that you can change.

That being said, there’s a few considerations as to how fast you’ll be able to do this.

  • If your baby is already sleeping through the night, this goes a whole lot faster because they’re getting quality sleep at night already.
  • If your baby has a poor sleep schedule at night, too, this can take a little bit longer – because trust me. I’ll explain later.

So here’s why your baby is on the crazy-cat-kid napping schedule: as a newborn, they’re not used to anything else yet. They just spent months in utero napping at their leisure.

Or if they’re a little bit older, they haven’t learned to do otherwise yet.

It’s up to us to help them learn the amazing, beautiful ways of napping, y’all. So let’s do this.

How do I get my baby on a regular nap schedule?

Okay, so let’s get your baby’s nap schedule transformed from those 20-minute naps into a sustainable, couple-hour thing where they sleep in a crib. Why? Because your sanity needs the break, right? Right.

Here’s how you do it: focus on one small change at a time. If your kiddo isn’t sleeping well at night, start there. Start by focusing on a bedtime routine – and getting them to self-soothe themselves to sleep.

Why? Because they need to know that skill for naps, too. Unfortunately, just because they learn that skill at bedtime doesn’t mean they’ll have that epiphany and automatically do it at naptime, too.

Nope.

They’re just enough different that your baby probably won’t make that association without some help.

To make nap sleep training easier, make naps as similar to bedtime as possible – just a shorter version. That way, you can tap into all of those bedtime sleep cues to make nap times easier.

So once you’ve sleep trained at night, then you can focus on naps during the day.

I mean, you can try to do both at the same time, if you want. I’ve tried it. It was quite miserable, which is why I recommend doing things one at a time.

Ever wonder how many naps your child needs? Answers here.

What should my baby’s sleep schedule look like?

So while you’re trying to get those cat naps changed into a regular nap and sleep schedule, things are probably going to look pretty crazy.

With my oldest, morning naps were the hardest. He wanted to cat nap in my arms – so we compromised. Sometimes he would get to nap in a carrier while I tidied the house. You better believe I added some soft music and danced while I cleaned – to help him learn to sleep longer. And you know what? It worked.

Where can your baby nap? Here are all of the best places for your kids to nap.

For other naps, I’d grab the dog, strap my son in his stroller, and go for long, long walks. The added benefit was that my dog was exhausted, I got in a decent workout, and my son got quality rest and nap time. And his naps got longer.

Even with two kids, these tips still work. And with three kids they still work, too. And with baby number four? Yup. They still work. I’ve gardened through naps while baby wearing, graduated from a single to a double jogging stroller for family walks (or bike rides) with napping babies, and even gone hiking while toting a napping baby.

Why? Because sometimes kids need the rhythmic movement to sleep better. After all, they just spent 9+ months napping that way. So if they need one or two naps each day like that? I did it. And it made their naps longer, better, and more amazing.

I did do one other thing, though. Because I was willing to negotiate on other naps, the main afternoon nap became a non-negotiable. For that one nap each day, I would try to put my baby in the crib to rest.

Are you wondering How to Get Your Child to Sleep in Their Own Crib?

I followed my usual sleep patterns, kept the room dark and had a white noise machine on, and nursed and rocked that baby until they were sleepy. Then, I put the baby into their crib at varying states of sleepiness.

It takes some time, but do you know what? That afternoon nap quickly became long, restful, and amazing. I’d like to think it’s because my powers of negotiation are amazing – but honestly, it’s because I was willing to let them get quality sleep earlier in the day that they were able to adjust faster to the longer naps.

So yes. While nap training, your schedule will look crazy. But once you get into the pattern, your sleep schedules will look more “normal”. Or at least more like mine.

Want to see the exact sleep schedules I used with my kids?

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Need more nap help? Join the 30-day sleep training challenge for more tips.

Kimberly C. Starr

I'm a ginger who loves reading, eating, being a nurse, spending time with my family, and writing about it all. I believe humor is the best medicine, followed very closely by chocolate and tacos. To read more about me, click here.

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