Little One is Playing in the Crib/Bed Instead of Sleeping

What To Do When Your Child is Playing in the Crib or Bed Instead of Sleeping. This can affect naps and night sleep.

Toddler playing in a crib

Children will often play in their beds rather than going to sleep.

They talk, they play. The have a great time.

Meanwhile, mom stresses out. Mom knows how important sleep is and she is worried what this missed nap will mean.

So what can you do in this situation?

Method To Get Kiddo to Go to Sleep

Here is my method I used to get my kiddos to go to sleep when they were playing instead of sleeping.

  • First, I wait to see if they will just go to sleep on their own. I give them about 10-15 minutes to go to sleep before I try anything.
  • If they don’t go to sleep in that time period, I go in, lay them down, and tell them firmly that it is time to go to sleep. We can play after the nap, but right now it is time to sleep.

That honestly usually solves it.

If your child is accustomed to following your voice commands, this should solve the problem.

With a baby, there is a good chance they will cry for a minute or two after you leave the room.

Also with a baby, you might need to redo your bedtime routine or nap routine rather than just putting her down and telling her to sleep. Experiment with that and see how it goes.

A toddler or preschooler knows what he should be doing and will likely concede and go to sleep. If not, repeat the first two steps.

I also practice this method if the child wakes early from a nap.

If you have some constant playing instead of sleep, you will need to go further into the problem-solving process.

Let’s talk about how to handle this situation for different ages of kiddos.

Baby Plays Instead of Sleep

The day will come when your baby will decide to play in the crib rather than sleep in the crib. This can happen for nap time, bedtime, or both.

With any problem you need to solve, your first step is to figure out why the problem is happening.

The how will vary depending on the why, and if you try to fix an issue with the wrong how, you cannot solve the why. So let’s discuss some common reasons babies play in the crib instead of sleep.

Baby Needs a Schedule Change

One common cause for this is that your baby needs a schedule change. Your little one might need to move to a 4 hour schedule. You might find longer feeding intervals are the answer here.

>>>Read: When and How to Move Baby to 4 Hour Schedule

You might need to drop a nap. Be aware of when naps are dropped and the signs baby is ready for this. Read all about that here: Dropping Naps: A Quick Reference If baby needs less daytime sleep, then it stands to reason baby will not sleep at nap or at bedtime.

Closely related to expanding the schedule or dropping a nap is changing up wake time length. As you expand the schedule and move to 4 hour feeding cycles or when you drop a nap, you get longer wake time lengths in the day.

Wake time length is the time awake between sleep (naps or bedtime) and includes feedings time.

Sometimes adding just five minutes makes the difference. Read more at When and How to Extend Baby’s Wake Time Length.

Baby is Learning a New Skill

It is very, very common for a baby to not sleep well when working on a new skill. As baby learns to crawl, roll, speak, stand, etc., baby will be excited and interested in practicing at instead of sleeping.

Sometimes something as simple a sleep sack can allow your baby to sleep at night or nap time rather than practice new skills.

This sleep issue is so common that I have an entire post dedicated to solving this issue. If you think this is your baby’s why, be sure to read How to Stop New Skills from Disrupting Naps and Sleep.

Baby is Sick or Teething

A baby who is more easy going might be sick or teething and play instead of sleep. Most babies will cry in this situation, but some will simply just stay awake rather than sleep.

If this is the case for your little one, you want to treat the sickness or pain. Read up on ideas here: How To Maintain a Schedule When Your Little One is Sick

Child in crib

Toddler Plays Instead of Sleep

Even more common than a baby playing instead of sleeping is a toddler playing in the crib instead of sleeping.

Sleep Regression

It is very common for a toddler to not sleep well and just play. Toddlers will chat away in bed or play with toys.

A regression is something you can’t really change. It is a developmental phase that all babies and toddlers go through.

But there are some things you can do, and some things you should not do.

Read about those here: How To Deal with the 2 Year Old Sleep Regression

Stimulation Levels Need to Change

A child of any age needs enough mental and physical stimulation to sleep well. If your toddler is playing instead of sleeping, consider the stimulation levels.

Make sure he has physical activities to help him be tired for nap time. Make sure he has some things that challenge his brain so he is ready for sleeping.

Toddler Needs to Move to Bed and Out of Crib

If your toddler is still in a crib, you might find sleep is improved if she is moved to a bed.

This is a big change, so be sure your kiddo is ready for it before switching over. Read more at Transitioning from a Crib to a Bed.

Toddler Needs Alone Time

As your child learns new skills, there will be times he just needs to practice those skills and milestones.

A two year old has a huge explosion of language acquisition, and that is just one skill your toddler will need time to work on.

If naptime or bedtime is the only time your little one is really alone, then you will find a lot of sleep is disrupted.

If you have Independent Playtime each day, it will give your toddler a chance to practice those skills alone at a time other than nap time.

>>>Read: How To Start Independent Playtime Late

Toddler Needs to Drop the Morning Nap

Your toddler might simply need to drop the morning nap. If any sleep is struggling, you might need to drop the first nap of the day.

Most toddlers will sleep well for the morning nap but not the afternoon nap when they are ready to make the change.

Read Dropping the Morning Nap Full Guide for everything you need to know about how to go about it as well as tips to see if your toddler is ready to drop it.

Too Many Toys

Perhaps your toddler has toys in the bed or crib to play with and those are keeping your toddler awake.

Experiment with this. You might find some books and stuffed animals actually help your child sleep better and more often, or you might find these things can disrupt even an excellent sleeper.

Playing in bed and not sleeping graphic

Preschooler Plays in Bed Instead of Sleep

I remember when Brayden was nearly three years old. He decided his bed was a train that he loved to drive.

Imagination is a whole new ballgame.

You can control toys in the bed, but all things imaginary are controlled by your child.

So what do you do in that situation?

I grew up with horses, and the phrase, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink” is so true.

You can force the head into the water bucket, and still no drinking unless the horse wants to.

I believe this is true with children and sleep. You create the environment, you direct them, you can give them the opportunity to sleep, but ultimately they will only sleep if they want to.

Have Rules for Sleep Time

You can have rules and expectations. Rules would be that they must be in bed and they must down. You expect that they will take a nap. In the end, sleep will come when they let it.

I do allow preschoolers to have books in bed. This can actually be helpful because they can lie down, read a book, and fall asleep.

If you give a preschooler nothing, the imagination will take over in a big way.

Expect Your Preschooler Won’t Nap Every Day

As your child gets older, he won’t even sleep for every nap. When Brayden was three, he usually skipped about one nap a week, especially when the weather didn’t allow for running around outside.

You can do an early bed time if that happens. Try to take things in stride.

Watch Stimulation Levels

Stimulation levels continue to be vitally important for naps. Make sure your kiddo is getting the mental and physical stimulation needed each day. Make sure toys are age appropriate.

As my kids became preschoolers, I would start to have them walk during our walks instead of sit in a stroller. Our walks took way longer and the distance was shorter, but it helped them get some good physical exercise.

Respect the Sleep Schedule

It is easy as your child gets older to think the sleep schedule and bedtime routine do not matter. Parents might find your nap times are no longer consistent.

You might find you rarely get your preschooler to bed on time.

Do your best to maintain consistency. Consistency is best even for adults; your preschooler is no different.


Try to not stress if one nap goes bad every so often. It happens.

I understand the stressing; I have been there. But naps will be disrupted. It is bound to happen. Move on and do what you can to prevent it from happening often. Address the why and you will get the sleep your kiddo needs.

Related Posts

This post originally appeared on this blog April 2008

Playing in crib and not napping