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25th Aug 2015

The unexpected nap: 4 Tips to nip the nap in the bud

Niamh O'Reilly

If you have read any of my articles here on, you will know that I am all about getting little ones to sleep and for them to sleep well. But sometimes, even when you have a handle on a daytime pattern that works for you in terms of naps and non-chaotic bedtimes, your little one goes and nods off AT THE WRONG TIME! What should you do? If you are in the car and the sleep fairy unexpectedly strikes, what can you do?

This piece is inspired once more by my niece, Sive. She no longer has a daytime nap as she is about to turn four in September. Naps were nipped in the bud the moment she started protesting at bedtime and in general, she manages to get through the day without falling asleep!

But on Saturday, after a marathon visit to the zoo, she was travelling home in the car with her Dad. He was well aware that he would be in big trouble with “the boss” (my sister, his wife) if he let her sleep so he started to call out to her in the manner you would call a puppy – making clicking noises and saying, “Here boy, Here boy”! So insulted that he called her a “boy”, she raged at him the whole way home instead of nodding off! It appears that the fact that he was treating her like a dog went unnoticed!

But, apart from personally insulting your kids in order to keep them awake, what are the alternatives? Usually it’s a case of mastering the art of distraction.

Here are some tips for tackling the untimely tireds:

Blast music

Singing songs and cranking up the radio might help if you are in the car and trying to keep your little ones awake. Get them to join in and distract them from their tiredness. It is definitely worth a shot. The relentless sounds of nursery rhymes and jingles will be worth it for a stress-free and on-schedule bedtime.

Time for a feast

I am known to carry a few boxes of raisins and a handful of breadsticks in my handbag. I’m also known to throw them like confetti into the nieces in the back seats in the hopes that they would land in the right place without me having to go foraging and drive at the same time! Feel free to replace raisins and breadsticks with whatever you like though I wouldn’t recommend a yogurt, for obvious reasons.

Car games

Older children can often be distracted by games while you drive. Not only might it keep them awake but it could also put an end to the inevitable squabbles, particularly on longer car journeys. We used to play “I spy” and “mini pinch” (if you see a mini, you pinch whoever is beside you!).

Let it go

Just that. Do nothing. Let them sleep and deal with the consequences – probably a late bedtime but sure once in a blue moon, what’s the harm?!

While lots of these suggestions are car-centric, buggies can also be tricky place for stolen naps and these suggestions can work while out in the pram also.

As we all know sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do!

What’s your go-to trick for keeping your kids awake?

Niamh O’Reilly is a sleep coach. She’s also a baby and childcare guru, a ‘parent nanny’ and the answer to many a weary parent’s woes. When it comes to baby and child issues, Niamh is your woman. Always on hand to offer a no-nonsense solution, in an approachable way. A regular in the Irish media, (most recently as TV3’s Late Lunch Show’s ‘parent nanny’) over the next while at, Niamh will share some of her experiences, helping you attain that ‘holy grail’ – nights of uninterrupted sleep for all of the family.

Niamh’s book, No Fuss Baby & Toddler Sleep, is now available to buy from all good book stores or online from