September 8, 2015
Car Seat Naps - What to do and how to avoid them

Studies show that 98% of car naps happen within 500 metres of arriving at your destination.*

(*Made up fact from a non-existent study.  Unless the study was observed by me, from my mini-van, as we’re turning onto our street.)

That same study* indicates 10 minutes of snoozing in the car will replace a 2 hour nap in the crib.

The accidental nap.  The unintentional snooze on-the-go.  Whoops-sleep.  Napcident. Whatever you decide to call it, each car (or stroller) nap presents you with a few options:

1. Continue driving  The earthy (and busy) part of me says forget it. You’re probably a parent who needs to hustle, just like the rest of us.  I need my kids nap times for clean up, meal prep, checking in with clients, etc… not driving aimlessly.

It’s worth noting that not all sleep is created equal.  Motion filled sleep in a car/stroller/carrier is not nearly as restful as quiet, dark, non-moving crib sleep.  Think of the last time you fell asleep in a moving vehicle and how well rested you felt when you awoke?! Quality suffers with naps on-the-go.

2. Park it  Assuming there’s not extreme weather in the winter or summer which would make this inappropriate, you might try parking your vehicle and trying to sustain the nap.  This it isn’t going to work if you have other awake children who need your attention, and it still isn’t going to allow you do much else but wait for your sleeping beauty to awaken (see number 1).

3. Transfer to their crib  This almost never works, except with the soundest of sleepers.

4. Nap Drill  Gently waking the child, any trying for a crib nap again later.

“But what’s a nap drill?”

If the snooze in the stroller or car seat has been under 20 minutes, gently wake your child.  Have lunch or snack if the timing is appropriate, and then play for at least 30 minutes, trusting you’re still within an hour of when your child would usually begin their nap.  Then move along to their room to go through your usual sleep routine.  We’re trying to build back that “sleep pressure” or fatigue by staying awake for that half hour.

If the nap has been longer than 20 minutes, you may find this little car snooze is a replacement for the nap they were supposed to have in their crib.  Very likely a nap drill will fail.  Simply move up the next nap or ensure bedtime is earlier.

Avoiding Car or Stroller Sleep

No matter how you look at it, this scenario is challenging to manage. Avoid car naps if possible by:

  1. Timing – Avoid trips around nap times, especially within the 30 minutes before nap time.
  2. Engagement – Chat with your baby or child, sing songs, turn up the radio and sing along or make like a tour guide and point out the scenery. Give a small toy or a book  as you’re buckling them in.  A small, minimally messy snack is a great option too.
  3. Automatic Windows – They let in fresh air and wind, but the mysterious opening and closing windows are interesting enough to stay awake.
  4. One more stop – If you notice someone nodding off, do a safe, quick pull over, or see if you can add one more brief errand or stop to your outing. Getting in and out of the car seat might be just enough to encourage more wakeful time.

Are car, stroller or carrier naps occurring every time you head out for a trip?  A child who is fairly well rested and getting an adequate amount of sleep doesn’t nod off in the car or stroller very easily. If your child is prone to unintentional naps-on-the-go, evaluate ways to get more quality sleep into your child’s schedule.



About the author:

KristaGuenther Krista is a mother of 3 (+1 dog who believes she’s people), a wife to a wonderful husband, and the owner and founder of Sleeperific.  Even though she’s been in the sleep consulting biz for 4 years, she still feels excited and honoured when she’s hired by a sleepy family.