I know it may seem counter-intuitive for a sleep expert to be talking about ways to stop your baby from falling asleep, but bear with me here.

You probably recognize the scenario; you’ve got some errands to run, so you put your child in the car seat and off you go. “Two hours ‘til naptime,” you think to yourself. “Plenty of time.”

You pick up your dry cleaning, grab a few things at the pharmacy, get your oil changed, and all with time to spare. Everything is going according to plan.

And then, minutes away from your house, as you glance into the rearview mirror, you see your little one’s eyes starting to close.

For those of you with very young kids, you might not understand what’s so concerning about this scene, but you will. Oh trust me, you will.

As many of us know, this is the dreaded 10-minute car nap. Your baby falls asleep in the car for a few minutes and wakes up when you try to move him. He figures naptime has come and gone, which means his regular three-hour nap is out the window, which subsequently means he’s going to be an absolute beast for the rest of the day, and probably won’t sleep well that night.

Once you’ve experienced it a few times, you’ll find yourself putting ambulance drivers to shame with the high-speed maneuvers you’ll use to get home before those eyes close.

I can’t believe I never had an accident for all the times I was hollering, poking, jabbing, and handing my kids snacks, all in an attempt to keep them awake so we could make it home in time for a proper nap. (For the record, I’m not condoning this behavior. Drive safely.)

Seriously though, these mini naps in cars and strollers can sabotage your baby’s actual naps and should be avoided whenever possible. If you see your little one drifting off while you’re still in transit, try using a few of these techniques to keep them conscious until you get them home and into bed.

  • Turn up the radio or sing some fun, energetic songs. No lullabies!
    • Play a game that keeps them moving and talking to you. (I Spy, Rock/Paper/Scissors and the Alphabet Game work fairly well.)
    • Offer some snacks or a drink.
    • Tickling works well, but remember to keep your eyes on the road.
    • Roll the windows up and down, or turn up the air conditioning.
    • If your child uses a sleep prop, avoid bringing it along when you leave the house.
    • If baby does fall asleep in car, and they don’t transfer well (and really, very few babies do) then just keep driving, or park in the driveway, and call it naptime.

If all else fails, and your little one ends up falling asleep and waking up just before naptime, wait about 45 minutes before attempting to put them back to bed. With a little luck, they’ll start to fade off again in the meantime.

One last thought; I know life with kids keeps us on the move, and we’re always pressed for time, but your best bet when it comes to preventing nap sabotage and that dreaded second wind is to plan your outings so that you’re home with some time to spare before your baby’s scheduled nap.

It’ll save you plenty of time in the long run.

Sleep can be a challenge and we are always here to help with great free training, downloads, and resources. Join my free Slumber Made Simple Facebook Group, I host monthly free training on Newborn Sleep and for children from 4 months through 5 years in my Save Your Sanity Sleep Bootcamp, and share my secrets to sleep in my 7 Tips for Restful Sleep Guide, which you can access here and start changing your sleep today! Also, check out my Instagram where you can get even more tips and tricks for successful sleep!
My name is Courtney Zentz, a Pediatric Sleep Consultant from Philadelphia, PA, Postpartum Doula, Lactation Counselor and founder of Tiny Transitions. As an award-winning sleep consultant, I help exhausted parents teach their infants & toddlers to sleep well every night with gentle, customized solutions and both group and private coaching options, so your family can all be at their best. Based in Philadelphia, I work in-home and virtually to provide the support families around the globe that need to all be at their best. Join me in my Slumber Made Simple Facebook group, where you can ‘meet’ me in my live weekly Q&As, get valuable free content and build a healthy sleeper for life!