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6 Tips to Improve Naps at Daycare

I hear this scenario a lot:

My baby got on a great nap schedule while I was on maternity leave. And then he started daycare. He’s off schedule, coming home crabby, and the few hours I get to spend with him after work are miserable. I can get him kind of back on track over the weekend, but then the cycle repeats on Monday!

Totally frustrating. I know.

It took a lot of hard work to get him on schedule and it feels like all that whole experience of teaching him to fall asleep was all for nothing!

It’s hard enough going back to work. You don’t want to have to re-teach him every week.

So to help avoid this scenario and prevent a crazy nap schedule at daycare, here are 6 tips to help optimize those daycare naps so that you get to bring home a happy and well-rested baby after a long day at the office!

1. Choose a daycare that values sleep

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Photo Credit:

In talking with hundreds of families across the country, I know there are dramatic differences in how each facility values sleep. Some are much more interested in keeping all the kids on the same schedule and not worrying about individual needs. Others are much more accommodating. It seems a little crazy for them not to try and adapt to your child’s best nap schedule… after all, a well-rested baby will be much happier, which makes their job easier?!

So when you’re checking out your options, ask them if they are willing to put your child down when he’s tired and ready for a nap. If they look at you with a blank expression, chances are pretty good they are more interested in keeping everyone on the same schedule than adapting to individual needs. If there are other options in towns, you may want to check into one of those!

2. If there are limited daycare options, get your child on their schedule
I know in some cases, you may live in a small town and don’t have too many choices. If you’re in that situation, the easiest thing to do is get your child on their nap schedule (assuming it isn’t vastly different from the one he’s on now). If it’s only a 30 minute difference than his current schedule, you can likely adjust things at home to get him on their schedule.

But if your child is taking 3 naps and babies his age at this daycare are on 2 (and you KNOW he’s not ready to give up that 3rd nap), make an appointment to talk with the administrator. Ask her to brainstorm with you about how to make this situation work. Remember that they want happy families…and remind her that when he’s gotten enough sleep he’s EASIER to take care of! Win-win.

3. Make their job easier
Is your baby still working on a consistent nap schedule? Assuming you found a daycare that wants to work with you to improve naps, my best advice is to tell them what time first nap should be (based on what time she woke up that day) and how long she should be awake between naps. That will give them a time frame and take the guess work out of the equation.

If you find yourself putting sticky notes on her diaper bag with times and feeling like this mode of communication is lacking, make an quick log sheet in Excel (with wakeup time, and columns for naps and notes), put it on a clipboard and see if they can place it near her crib. Not only will this help them keep track of times better, but you’ll have black and white info on her day!

4. Give them the short list
Has your daughter figured out the nap routine at home and does well with it? Give your daycare teachers a list of do’s and don’ts, keeping in mind her old sleep props (i.e. feeding to sleep or rocking to sleep) and asking them not to go back down that road. Things to include:

  • order of her mini nap routine
  • how she should be falling asleep (preferably being put into her crib awake and falling asleep independently)
  • pacifier or no pacifier?
  • swaddle or sleep sack?
  • what to do if she has a short nap and is still tired

5. Replicate the home sleeping environment
Does your child have a favorite lovey or blanket? Get a duplicate for daycare and leave it there. Is your baby swaddled or using a sleep sack? Get one for daycare and leave it there. Does your baby sleep with white noise? I know many daycares either already have one (to drown out the music in the other room or the other babies crying), or they are willing to purchase one for the crib room. (Or you can always buy one to use there too.)

6. Ask for the crib in Siberia
I’ve seen so many layouts for the crib room in daycares. Some have the cribs lined up single file, others have 2 rows. Some have them along the perimeter and others have cribs freestanding in the middle of the room.

When you’re touring, ask if babies sleep in a consistent crib every day and if you can request a certain crib. If they say yes, choose a crib in the darkest corner away from the classroom lights and sounds and/or away from the loudest baby!


Remember that even taking these tips into consideration, there will be a learning curve in the beginning. Your child will take a week or two to adjust to the new environment, routine and people. But consistency and offering him sleep before he gets overtired will be the key to a successful daycare napping experience!


Know someone who’s got daycare in their future? Please share!


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