How to handle naps on Sunday mornings when families go to church is a question I get A LOT. And it’s something we’ve navigated with both of our girls in each sleep stage (newborn, baby, and toddler), so let’s talk about it!
I was in a young mom’s Bible study a few years ago and we were talking about our little ones’ sleep, and one of our mentors told us a story about someone who had attended her church, but after having a baby, she didn’t come for an entire year. Why? Because church interfered with her child’s nap time.
And I get it! Especially when my girls are on one and two nap schedules, I do everything I can to try to be home for their naps whenever possible, because their sleep is really important and directly impacts the rest of our day and night!
BUT there’s also life, and some days a nap will just have to be on the go. And yes, some days your child may even miss a nap altogether. Is it ideal? No. But is it part of life? Yes! And especially when it’s for a good reason (i.e. church), it’s 100% worth the off day!
I know naps at church seems pretty specific, but these tips will be helpful whether it’s for church every Sunday, or a play group every Wednesday morning, or older brother’s soccer practice every Tuesday afternoon… how do we navigate naps when there’s some other activity “in the way”?
Maybe don’t schedule activities every afternoon at 2 pm. Or don’t sign up for a basketball team with a 7 pm practice or game schedule. And if you have a choice between a weekly play group during nap time and one that’s not, choose the time that won’t interfere. But if you have a weekly church service, book club, counseling session, mom’s group, etc., where there’s not a choice in timing, don’t sacrifice those great activities in fear of an off nap day!
Tips for Handling Sunday Morning Church for Babies on a Multiple Nap Schedule
Carrier Naps at Church
When my girls were on a multiple nap schedule, carrier naps in the back of the sanctuary were our go to. I always expected it to take them longer to fall asleep than usual and I knew they’d likely take a shorter nap than ideal, but any nap is better than no nap! So as their awake window was ending, or shortly after their normal nap time usually started, I’d tuck them into my carrier and stand in the back of the church, swaying and bouncing, trying to shush or sing in their ear, and I’d stay standing back there for the duration of their nap.
We could never count on car naps to happen but sometimes got lucky, and both of the following options worked for us time to time…
Car Naps on the Way to Church
Depending on the timing of the church service and when your baby is due to nap, you can also try to fit a nap in on the way to or from church. For example, if you usually leave your house around 9:30 am and your baby is due to take a nap around 9:15 am, I’d actually suggest just leaving even earlier, around 9 am, give your baby extra time to fall asleep, and if they do fall asleep, keep driving around until they wake up/it’s time to go in to church, or sit in the parking lot until it’s time to go in.
And if the nap just doesn’t happen in the car, I’d still bring the carrier as a back up!
Car Naps on the Way Home From Church
Your baby can also nap on the way home from church! Once again, if they do fall asleep, you can drive around or sit in your driveway until they wake up. Depending on the age of your little one, they may even be able to transfer from the car seat to their crib once you get home, but know that the transfer will not always work…some babies seem to smoothly transfer while others just won’t do it!
Final Car Nap Pointers
As a general rule of thumb, if your baby sleeps for more than 10-15 minutes in the car, just consider that their nap and reset their schedule. They’ll likely need to take their next nap a bit earlier than usual due to a shorter nap, but even that short of a nap will help them reset.
If your baby sleeps for less than 10 minutes, however, there’s still a good chance they’ll nap! Rather than trying to transfer them straight to the crib (unless they stay asleep!), give them around 30-45 more minutes of awake time to build some of that sleep pressure back up, and then try that crib nap.
Tips for Handling Sunday Morning Church on a One Nap Schedule
On a one nap schedule, we always try really hard to get home for that nap, because a 20 minute carrier or car nap is going to make for a rough rest of the day. So here are two tips we follow to keep our girls awake on the drive home to preserve that nap as much as possible…
Snacks/Lunch in the Car
Our church service usually ends around 12:30 pm, and our girls usually nap around 12/12:30 when on a one nap schedule – so Sunday naps are always later than usual.
Both to avoid them falling asleep in the car and to also ensure we can go straight to nap time when we get home, we always pack lots of snacks or even lunch in the car. It keeps the girls focused on something other than being sleepy, and it fills their bellies so we don’t have to set more time aside for lunch when we get home.
[If you’re not comfortable giving your little one food in the car, we’ve also given our girls their lunch toward the end of church so their bellies are still full when we get home.]
Socialize More Before Church
Although it’s fun to hang out after church for a while to meet new people and catch up with friends, we try to leave fairly quickly after the service is over to get home for nap time. One way we have tried to make up for this is by getting to church earlier than normal so we still have time to socialize. I will say this is hard with two kiddos because arriving on time is a feat in and of itself, but arriving early is one option for making up for the quick departure after church!
With this, however, on the Sundays we do end up staying longer to chat…it’s worth it! We always expect Sunday to be an off day, so it’s okay.
Tips for Bedtime on Sunday Night After an Off Day of Naps
If you have a newborn or a young baby, bedtime likely varies night to night anyway, so Sundays won’t feel much different at bedtime – keep following your little one’s awake windows until you reach bedtime. If your baby is on a two nap schedule, however, or you have a toddler who is on a one nap schedule, you are likely used to more of a consistent bedtime.
Know that on Sunday nights bedtime will likely need to be 30-60 minutes earlier than usual because naps that day were earlier or shorter than usual, and that’s to be expected! An early bedtime does not mean your child will then have a much earlier morning the following day, they will very likely take whatever sleep they missed that day and tag it onto their overnight sleep, and you’ll be able to pick up your regular schedule on Monday morning.
If you have an evening church service…
If your church does not meet on Sunday mornings but rather on Sunday nights, a carrier or car nap might still be helpful to you, depending on your schedule. Bedtime, however, will likely be the bigger challenge.
If your church service or community group ends right around bedtime, consider doing part of the bedtime routine on the way home! That might look like feeding your baby at church and getting them in their jammies before you hop in the car, so once you get home you simply read a book, sing a song, and lay them down. Or that might mean getting your toddler into their jammies before you leave, read one book in the car, another book at home, and kiss them goodnight.
When you have regularly schedule events, such as church on Sundays, that happen during your little one’s nap time, accept that it’s likely going to be an off day and THAT’S OKAY! Plan ahead by bringing your carrier or spending more time than usual in the car to catch some cat naps, and simply enjoy the event.
We don’t want to have scheduled events every day during nap time, as that lack of sleep will eventually build up, but having off days here and there is okay and it’s worth it for the community building and learning that will come from it.