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6-Step Recipe for a Successful Car Nap

Despite the fact that they magically slipped into slumber at preschool, neither of my kids would nap at home when they were toddlers.

When I accidentally discovered that my son would fall asleep in the car and usually transfer to his bed, our lives changed. I was pregnant with my daughter at the time, which left me exhausted, irritable and desperately in need of an afternoon break from my wild toddler.

Since that magical day, I've logged hundreds of successful car naps.

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While pediatricians or sleep experts would surely disagree, most parents desperately need a little downtime and will fight for a nap at any cost—including the price of gasoline.

Here is my recipe for a successful car nap:

Prep work

Remove your toddler's coat and shoes before buckling them into the car seat. Pack your coffee or tea with you—my recipe works so well that you'll want to make sure you don't fall prey to it yourself.

Step 1: Carb load

A full belly is a sleepy belly. If your kids have figured out you're trying to lure them into a nap, pick a tasty treat to entice them into their car seat. I recommend something soft yet salty—too much sugar and they'll be bright-eyed for hours to come. Goldfish or French fries worked for my kids.

Step 2: Heat

A nice cozy warm car is a crucial step in getting your toddler to sleep. In the summertime, keep the A/C on low. Ignore their pleas to roll down their windows—the fresh air will invigorate them, foiling your afternoon plans to surf Facebook/nap/watch season three of "Orange Is the New Black."

Step 3: Boring landscape

Make lazy loops through a beige, boring subdivision where all the houses look alike, or pick a soothing country road. Don't make the fatal mistake of driving somewhere where your kids recognize landmarks, or passed schools where they might get inspired by other kids who are not napping.

Step 4: Ride it out

Most kids have a nap "tell"—something they'll do just before falling asleep. Both of my kids start to sound like tiny lunatics just before they succumb to sweet, silent sleep. When my son was 3, he'd bellow, "Pull over the car right now! I want to drive!" That became a sure sign that I just needed to hold out for just a few more minutes of crazytalk.

Step 5: Nap marination

Once your child is asleep, things get time-sensitive. For a successful transfer from their car seat to a crib or bed, my kids each had a 6 to 8-minute window. Anything below or above that time frame, and they'd wake up when I attempted to transfer them, causing mass mayhem and tantrums for me and for them. Your kids may have their own timeline for "seasoning," where they fall into a nice, deep sleep cycle. Experiment to find their sleepy sweet spot.

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Step 6: The unloading

At this delicate stage of the recipe, make sure the door to your home is open and that you have a clear path to their bedroom before removing your child from the car. Pause after you unfasten each buckle on their car seat and extricate each of their little limbs—these are major turning points where the recipe could go terribly awry. Once you have your kiddo nestled on your shoulder, make haste for their bed. Optional: Include the nap prayer of your choice. I prefer to simply whisper please repeatedly, under my breath while rushing them to bed.

Enjoy!

Image via Twenty20/cynthiasstringham

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