Baby is suddenly taking short naps? Or maybe baby only ever naps for 20-30 minutes? Here you will find my answers to the most common questions about short naps and the best tools to help your baby sleep longer at nap time.
When a Short Nap is Considered TOO Short?
The length of one sleep cycle is about 50 minutes.
A nap 50 minutes or longer demonstrates your baby’s ability to transition from one sleep cycle to the next. Therefore, anything less than 50 minutes, will be classified as a “short nap.”
So, yes, if your baby only naps for 20 or 30 minutes, that’s too short.
Are Short Naps Really a Problem?
Improve daytime napping is a game changer! Helping your baby get the deep, restorative daytime sleep they need, is so important.
Put simply, babies need sleep in order to function, grow, and develop.
Daily naps also enable babies and children to learn and pay attention more easily when they're awake. That little brain needs downtime to process, restore, and renew.
Short naps can cause babies to wake up throughout the night as well as early in the morning. Say hello to 'The Notorious 5AM Club'!
If baby doesn't know how to connect sleep cycles, baby will not have continuous and uninterrupted nap or night sleep.
Let's be honest, short naps drive parents NUTS! It cause us to obsess about baby sleep, chart every nap, never leave the house in order to fix “the schedule,” and try to replicate that one day, weeks ago, when naps were great.
Why is My Baby Taking Short Naps? And How to Improve Daytime Napping?
Here are the questions I always consider to find the root cause of short naps for babies:
Is your baby under 5 months of age?
Naps only begin to consolidate and lengthen at about 5 months of age. That means normal naps in the first four months of a baby’s life last anywhere from 20 to 120 minutes! Yes, it’s actually normal and developmentally appropriate to have short naps during this time.
However, you can still work on lengthening naps now! Read more about Short Naps and Newborns, here.
Consolidated naps are a developmental process, and longer naps will come!
If you try to improve naps with these younger babies, and you need help, check out my Newborn Sleep Foundations Consultation. My gentle no-cry method helps lay the foundation for healthy sleep and will walk you through age-appropriate strategies to work on those short naps.
Do you Use a Consistent Schedule?
Like adults, children have a body clock that signals when they're hungry and tired. However, they don't have the power or understanding to satisfy or manage these needs on their own. That's why they need you to create and maintain a consistent age appropriate schedule.
Check out my age-specific sleep schedule blogs for sample schedules based on your little one’s age.
Is Your Baby Tired Enough?
During the first 3-4 months of a baby’s life, it is so important to watch sleepy cues (like yawns, eye-rubbing or blank stares), and get your little one down for a nap at the first sign of being tired. After about 4 months of age, we need to balance a yawn with your baby’s wake windows (the time your baby is awake in between sleeps).
As your baby gets older, we must adjust those wake windows. Please make sure you’re keeping your baby awake long enough between naps. Truly, this is one of the biggest causes of short nap struggles: Your daytime schedule is just a bit off.
* Be sure to re-evaluate those wake windows every month.
Also, please make sure you and baby are active in between naps, a bored baby can look like a tired baby. These are the most important things you can do during wake windows to set your baby up for successful sleep:
Feeding (breastmilk, bottle). If developmentally ready: solid food given by a spoon or Baby Led Weaning method.
Tummy time every day from day-one.
Eye contact interaction with songs or story time, or even just making faces and sounds.
Go for a stroll outside the house, if weather permits. Fresh air and sunlight have a big impact on our mood and sleep.
Independent play. Few minutes of free play will do magic on your little one's naps.
Do you Provide a Calm Wind-Down Routine?
Just before each nap, we want to do a little "nap-time ritual". It should take about 5-10 minutes. It should be very similar to your baby's bedtime routine but shorter and without a bath (unless baby is very dirty).
To create this "ritual", do the same things in the same order prior to every nap. So go to your baby room (or wherever baby sleeps), close the curtains, change baby's nappy, slip off that uncomfortable outfit, put on a sleep sack, switch off the light, snuggle together and say your mantra (same sentence before putting baby to sleep like "it's time to sleep now, I love you"). This soothing routine helps your baby’s body prepare and be relaxed for the upcoming nap.
Do you Create a Comfortable and Darker Environment?
According to research, 20-24 Celsius Degrees are optimal for baby's sleep. But my rule of thumb is that if you are comfortable, your baby is comfortable too (if baby is sleeping in a sleep sack, dress him/her the same as you will dress up under a blanket).
Regarding dark environment, I am not a big believer in napping in a pitch black room. Make sure the room environment is darker than play time however, does not need to be pitch black.
Is your Baby 5-7 Months Old and the Short Nap is the Third Nap of the Day?
That is actually perfect! Keep calm and carry on.
Does your Little One Snooze While Feeding, Right Before the Short Nap?
In order for a baby to fall asleep and stay asleep, the sleep pressure (Adenosine hormone) has to build inside the baby’s body.
That short little snooze wipes out baby's drive to sleep and can cause him/her to struggle with short naps.
So what do you do? Simply make sure your baby is wide awake the whole time before bedtime (feeding included) by staying out in a light room rather than the dark nursery.
Is your Baby Hungry?
Our goal is to get adequate caloric intake during the day. Offer a feeding every 2.5 - 3.5 hours, throughout the day, according to your little one’s hunger cues. Some babies will truly wake from hunger if it has been longer than 3 hours since their last feeding.
Does your Baby Falls Asleep ONLY by Rocking, Motion, Feeding or With a Dummy?
Whatever your baby 'needs' to fall asleep at nap time, will be necessary 30-40 minutes later to help baby transition between sleep cycles and lengthen his/her naps.
The Dummy is falling out?
Teach your baby independent dummy replacement. Need help? You can book 'Ask Me Anything' short call with me, and I will explain to you my 4 stages independent dummy replacement method.
Does your baby sleep through the night?
Babies typically sleep through the night prior to consolidating naps. There are exceptions to these rules, of course, but most babies do best by learning night sleep FIRST.
If your baby isn’t sleeping well at night, I can help you with that! Many parents find that as night sleep solidifies, nap sleep naturally improves. My Baby Sleep Consultation will be the perfect fit for you. I’ll teach you everything you need to know to get great sleep for nights, naps, and every bump along your sleep journey from now until your baby turns 5!
You’ve got this! Long, restful naps are close.
Written by Orian Asor Halvorsen, for BABY STEPS PARENTING & SLEEP CONSULTING
www.babysleep.training / @babysteps.sleep.consulting