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How to Avoid the Car Seat Nap Trap

Are car rides interfering with your child's usual nap schedule? Here's what to do

Malia Jacobson

Published on: April 30, 2019

sleeping boy in carseat

How can I keep my 9-month-old from catnapping in his car seat? He falls asleep 10 minutes before we get home, then refuses his regular nap and melts down by dinner.

Past the age of 6 months, small bits of sleep can impact your child’s entire 24-hour sleep cycle, so it’s worth paying attention to car seat sleep if you can. And summer travel and road trips mean your child might be grabbing naps on the go more often. Sometimes that’s cool, but there are times when you’d rather your child not swap a 10-minute car nap for a longer, more restful nap at home. Or maybe your older toddler or preschooler has outgrown naps, in which case even a few moments of stolen car seat sleep can seriously derail bedtime.

If you’ve got some flexibility in your day, you can plan ahead to avoid the car seat nap trap. At 9 months old, most children can stay awake for three to four hours at a stretch, so plan your errands and outings when your baby is freshly awake, either first thing in the a.m. or right after a nap. Avoid car trips during the “tired zone” that happens 30–45 minutes before the next nap is due. If you miss the window of happily awake time — generally an hour to an hour and a half after awakening — consider shortening your car trip or shelving it until later, if possible.

Of course, some journeys can’t be put off. To keep your child engaged and awake during a car trip, stash some interesting, age-appropriate toys in the car. Providing something “new” to play with for each trip may create enough of a diversion to ward off sleep for a bit. Loud music, singing, even cracking the car window to create a breeze can help keep tiny eyes open, too.

If you manage to delay the nap until the car trip is over, your child is probably cranky, understandably. And if your little one does fall asleep in the car more often than you’d like, don’t sweat it. Skip the painstaking car-seat-to-crib transfer or the lengthy unplanned detour (unless that’s your jam!) and simply accept a mini-nap this go-around and try again tomorrow.

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