Car Naps: Why They Totally Suck & What You Can Do About It

by | Jun 25, 2019

Anyone with children has had this happen: you’re in the car driving along and you happen to peer into your rearview mirror to see your baby SLEEPING…when he shouldn’t be! You tried your hardest to strategically plan you trip around his normal nap schedule, and it’s still an hour away! Now what?

Though there are some kiddos who absolutely despise being in their carseat (and will be sure to let you know just how much they hate it), car rides can be pretty comforting for babies. They are all snuggled in nicely to their car seat, maybe with their lovey or a favorite toy, and the motion and vibration of the car puts them in a relaxed state – one that is reminiscent of the womb. This environment often calms babies to the point of slumber so they often fall asleep easily.

What Do I Do If My Baby Falls Asleep In The Car?

If your baby falls asleep in the car, he is unfortunately relieving himself of any sleep pressure that he has built up. This is true even if this “nap” lasts for only 5 minutes. This means that your little one is not going to be able to fall asleep easily unless he has the opportunity to rebuild that sleep pressure over time. If your little one falls asleep for under 15-20 minutes, he’s likely going to need some awake time before he’s able to sleep again. Plan to move his nap 60-90 minutes later to let that fatigue build.

For example, if your 11-month-old baby was supposed to nap at 2:00 p.m. but falls asleep in the car at 12:45 p.m. for only 10 minutes, the scheduled 2:00 p.m. nap should get moved to 3:00 p.m.

If your baby falls asleep in the car and has surpassed the 20-minute mark, you will likely need to call this period of sleep your baby’s nap. The goal then becomes to extend it as long as possible – ideally at least an hour. Drive around the block a few times, hit up the Chik-Fil-A drive through, or park in your driveway and catch up with us on Instagram. Just keep your babe sleeping and call that his nap!

How to Prevent Car Snoozes

While it’s impossible to control when your baby is going to nod off in their car seat, there are some strategies you can try if you are adamant about avoiding a car nap.

  • Don’t offer your baby his favorite sleepy item (a lovey, pacifier, blanket, etc.) while in the car.

  • Provide him with some entertainment or distraction that he can do safely on his own while you focus on the road.

  • Have someone in the backseat with him to keep him entertained and stimulated.

  • Roll down the windows.

  • Avoid being in the car one hour before nap time.

The most important thing to remember here is drive safely! It is better for your little one to take an unplanned nap in the car than to risk everyone’s safety trying to keep him awake. If you are adamant about not letting your little one fall asleep in the car, then pull over and tend to him. Sleep is important, but your safety wins all day.

Safety note: The safest way for baby to sleep is on their backs on a firm mattress in a crib or bassinet. Sleeping in car seats (swings, strollers, or other apparatuses not specifically designed for sleep) is not recommended by the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics). Babies must always be supervised while sleeping in a car seat. Never allow baby to be in a car seat with their straps not buckled or loose even when the car is not moving. Make sure that your car seats are safely installed in your vehicle, are at the approprate angle, and that baby fits properly inside. Do not use car seats that have expired, are an incorrect size for your baby, or do not properly fit your vehicle.

If you’re exhausted, totally overwhelmed by your child’s sleep habits, or looking for answers to the sleep questions that keep you up at night (literally), then you’ve come to the right place. I’m Jamie, founder of Oh Baby Consulting, and my goal is to help your family get the sleep you need to not just survive, but thrive!