Q&A: no naps in car and short nap problem

I get plenty of questions that stump me. Here are two of them for today.

Sarah writes:

"I've searched everywhere for help with this but as it's unusual, I'm at a loss. My 10 month old son is unable, or rather just doesn't know how, to sleep in the car. Due to his colic, we were so careful in his early months to get him home by naptime that he now just fusses and rubs his eyes but won't sleep unless he's in a crib in a dark room. So, my husband and I have resigned ourselves to very short outings so that we're home before Nate is too sleepy.

Will he ever just learn to sleep in the car? Is there a gentle way to teach him? We're beginning to feel trapped and want to be able to go on vacation or visit relatives without a miserable experience."

It seems a little ironic to me that so many colicky babies can only sleep in a moving car, but Nate can't sleep in one at all. At least you've been saving on gas all these months.

I wonder if you could do some kind of step-down program. Stay with the darkened room, but work on getting him to sleep in his carseat inside the crib. Then move on to the carseat instead of the crib. Then move on to the carseat in a room that's not darkened. Then try the carseat on a short trip at exactly nap time (to maximize the likelihood that he'll fall asleep then). It won't be a fast method of getting him to sleep in the car, but it should cause him less trauma than going cold-turkey and doing a 7-hour trip at night would.

Other than that, I've got nothing. Has anyone else transitioned a bad carseat sleeper to a good carseat sleeper?

And Jennifer writes:

"Help, please! My now 9 ½ month old boy only naps 40 minutes at a time. He’s been doing this since birth, and I keep thinking he’ll grow out of it, but still hasn’t. Every now and then he takes a 1 hour 15 minute nap, but I never know when that will be. It’s so hard to have any schedule with him, it’s driving our family crazy. Thoughts?"

I'm surprised he hasn't grown out of it yet either. (40-minute naps are very common for babies in the 2-5 month age range, but most grow into longer naps around 4-5 months on their own.) Is it possible there's something bothering him physically?

I'd try propping the head of his crib, just in case he's got silent reflux (although you'd probably see problems in his night sleep if he had it). Could he be too cold? Too hot? Is there noise in his room that could be waking him up? Anything he could be allergic to? Does he sleep in the car or the stroller?

I hope it's something physical that can be resolved easily, because there's also the possibility that he's just a short nap-taker. Apparently, extremely intelligent people do not need as much sleep as the rest of us do, so maybe your consolation for all this time of having to wade through this nap mess will be appearing in a fancy dress when he receives the MacArthur "Genius" Fellowship.

Does anyone have any other things to check that I didn't think of?