Short Naps: A Summary
Before I had my son, I was under the illusion that he would just sleep and sleep and sleep. Because isn’t that what babies were supposed to do? Boy was I wrong. I remember getting to a point where I would spend the entire day trying to get my baby to nap for more than 20 minutes. It almost became an obsession. And god forbid he would have one long 2 hr nap! What had I done that day that resulted in a 2 hr nap? I would spend days trying to figure out how to recreate that with no success. Sound familiar?
Short naps is one of the most common sleep problems that parents come to me with. Short naps results in an overtired baby that sleeps badly at night and that in turn feeds into the short naps. It’s a vicious cycle. It also makes it incredibly difficult to leave the house since you are always fighting with naps or a cranky baby. It also doesn’t allow mom to get a break and that can make for an exhausting, frustrating situation. You might even admit defeat and just assume that your baby doesn’t need that much sleep. While that is true in some situations, it’s very rare.
Why do short naps happen?
As newborns, short, unpredictable naps are expected as baby’s circadian rhythms haven’t fully developed. By 4 months of age, those circadian rhythms have matured to a point where we can expect some longer, more predictable naps. Ideally a nap should be 1.5-2 hrs in length with the exception of the third nap (if your baby is still taking it) as that nap is expected to be a short nap. We worry mostly about naps 1 and 2 as they are mentally and physically restorative. Short naps occur when a baby wakes after one sleep cycle (20-45minutes) and can’t get into the next sleep cycle. Parents often assume at this point that baby’s nap is over and will get them out of bed.
What can I do about it?
So what can you do about short naps? Here are some tips:
- Put baby down awake: babies expect to remain in the position in which they fell asleep. So if your baby fell asleep at the breast/bottle, in your arms, being rocked, etc and then wakes up in their crib, they’re not just going to roll over and fall back asleep. By encouraging baby to fall asleep independently, they will be able to transition into that next sleep cycle by themselves. This also applies to bedtime and night wakes.
- Make sure baby isn’t overtired: An overtired baby will sleep horribly. Remember, sleep begets sleep. A lot of parents think their baby will fall asleep when they’re tired. What usually results is a 5 month old who hasn’t napped all day. Finding that sweet spot comes down to baby’s age and how much awake time they should be having. Too much awake time and too little awake time will result in short naps. Confused? Here’s a guide to your baby’s sleep in the first 12 months.
- Sleep environment: An ideal sleep environment for baby is at home, in his own sleeping space. The room should be dark and cool. That means it’s time to let go of naps in the swing or on the go.
- Leave them: If baby wakes up after only 20-45 minutes, don’t assume that nap is over (because it isn’t). Leave them for a bit to give them the chance to fall back asleep.
- Have a routine: Having a pre nap routine is just as important as having a bedtime routine. It signals to the body that it’s time for sleep. The pre nap routine doesn’t have to be long or complicated.
- Regressions: Are they in a regression? Any regressions or ‘leaps’ can result in some short naps. The good news is that these don’t usually last long and you should get through it if you don’t introduce any new habits.
- Consistency: How consistent have you been with naps? Babies love consistency and predictability so make sure you keep doing things the same way so baby knows what to expect.
Short naps don’t have to be your reality. It IS possible for your baby to have nice, long naps. Make sure you are following the suggestions above and your should see some improvement. Hang in there mama!