Napping on the Go
Why it’s Not Such a Great Idea, and How to Make it Work

I’ll never forget the time I saw an ad by a company that makes baby gear. The top read “take your little one for a midnight drive…”, accompanied by a picture of a mom driving at night, with her baby in a carseat. On the bottom was this company’s infant-seat-on-crib contraption, with the caption “…in the comfort of your own home.”


Why? Well, because all sleep is not created equal.


The Problem

Here’s a quick rundown

We have four stages of non-REM sleep (two light stages, and two deep stages) as well as REM sleep (that stands for Rapid Eye Movement – that’s when we dream), and our brains do different things in each stage.

That rich, yummy, invigorating sleep, comes in Stage 4 – you have to be sleeping for a while to get to it. The problem with motion sleep (any kind of sleep that you get while you’re moving) is that your body stays in the lighter stages of sleep and doesn’t move into Stage 4.

But motion sleep gets even trickier.

And that’s because motion lulls.

I’m sure you’ve seen it (or done it!) baby’s not sleeping, so you pick him up and rock him, or toss her in the stroller and go for a walk, or maybe you’ve got to resort to a car ride. And then *presto magic-o* she falls asleep! Yay! Mission accomplished!

Or is it?

How about when your baby wakes up during a partial awakening? In the middle of the night?

For some reason… I don’t think you want to be driving around the block with her…

Because motion is the #2 prop that I’ve seen babies become dependent -whether a swing, a carrier, a stroller, car or any other kind of motion, it’s an easy trap to fall into. (I even had a client who had to physically rock her nearly-1-year-old to sleep – while she was 8 month pregnant!)

So, while motion will lull your baby to sleep, it’s not the same quality sleep she would get if she was laying still in her crib – and that will be reflected in her alertness and temperament while she’s awake.

Motion sleep is “junk sleep”; it may seem fine in the moment, but in the long run it won’t teach your child the skills to fall asleep on her own, and won’t give her the rest she needs, either. And really, the same way you wouldn’t feed your kid junk food all day, it’s not healthy for her to get motion sleep either.

The Solution

Ok, so it’s all nice and dandy that motion sleep is junk sleep and you shouldn’t use it and blah blah blah, but let’s talk about real life. You know, I mean like doctor appointments, grocery shopping or having more than one kid at home that you’re focusing on.

How do you juggle real life AND maintain superstar sleep skills?

First, try to maintain your normal routine as much as possible.

If you can fit the doctor visit in between naps, that’s ideal (for you, your baby, AND the doctor! I don’t think he’ll want to have to examine a kvetchy baby!).

Any errands that you can run without your baby, try to make those happen during her nap or in the evening so you can do them calmly without a kvetchy baby yelling down the store, or bring your baby with you between naps.

But, when do you do have to go out with your baby, and it will have to happen during a nap (like, for example, when you have a younger baby who doesn’t have a long enough awake time┬áto go, be there and come back), try to make it later in the day.

The earlier naps are the most important – by the time your child hits about 6 months old, his later naps will have fallen off the wagon and all you’ll be left with is those first two. About 8 months later, only the first one will remain. We want to encourage those naps to be stationary, and nice and long.

So you’ve got at least that first nap, but preferably the first two naps at home, in the crib. For your other one or two naps of the day, independent stationary sleep is still ideal, but it’s OK to have those out and about as well.

Keep in mind, though, that the great outdoors (or, really, anywhere outside of your child’s sleep sanctuary) are super stimulating.

To set yourself up for success for napping on the go, grab something to cover the stroller or carseat and something to mask the noise (Marpac’s Hushh sound machine is great for on the go, and is super well-priced, too!). For younger babies, babywearing and draping something over your baby’s head to block out the light is a great option, if you’re going to the park or somewhere that you don’t have to get in a car.


So what do you think? Sound doable?

Let me know if you have any questions in the comments section below!

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Comments (4)
  1. Blima Orgel

    My 1 year old gets to nap at the babysitter in his stroller which reclines all the way. This has been going on for close to a year now. He does not sleep very long, maybe an hour.
    How can i/the babysitter encourage him to sleep longer? A crib is not available…

    • Hi Blima,

      Sound so frustrating! I’m presuming, based on your question (and correct me if I’m wrong), that he takes longer naps at home, in his crib. Would a pack’n’play be an option at the babysitter?

      I also wonder what happens at the end of that hour – does he wake talking? Crying? Does your babysitter go to him right away? Sometimes children need some time to readjust between cycles, and up to 15 minutes of protest is not abnormal – I’ve seen many babies resettle in that amount of time (or less), but just need to be given the opportunity to do so.

      Getting your babysitter on board by opening up conversation with her about it and brainstorming it together may help you come up with more ideas as well.

      Hope that helps!

      Chaya Shifra

  2. Miri S

    My husband and I are going on vacation next week and taking along our 6 month old. Being that we will go around to attractions all day, how can I work it out best so that my baby should get the most out of her naps? I will have a carriage that reclines.

    • Hi Miri,

      I usually aim for first nap to be stationary when you’re on the go. Life has to happen, but your baby also needs to sleep! Aim to allow for that first naps to be in a crib wherever you’re staying, and then, once she’s up dash out the door and let her sleep in her stroller for the other naps.

      Hope that helps!