Why does my baby take short naps?
Are short naps the norm at your house and feel like we can’t get out of the pattern? Is baby doing longer stretches at night and during the day we see a 30 to 45 minute nap on repeat? As a parent we all have experienced this and it can be frustrating so let’s look at what is considered a short nap, why it may be happening, when can they start elongating and tips on how to help.
What is a short nap?
If baby is a newborn , 30 to 45 minute naps are developmentally normal. If baby is between 4 to 5 months, morning and afternoon nap should be closer to one hour (or more) with the last nap being short (it’s a bridge to bedtime and not typically long). As baby hits 6 months plus, first two naps are one hour plus and last nap is a bridge to bedtime (30 to 45 minutes). The first year we also may see short naps pop up again during times of leaps and development and the foundation laid will help guide them as they grow on the sleep front.
Naps from newborns to toddlers:
From birth to 3 months, our children's sleep is in its infancy and 30 to 45 minute naps are biologically normal naps for this age. A longer nap can happen and if it does, we want to cap it at 2 hours to help with not getting to much day sleep as well as we want to make sure they are getting enough calories in during the day. At this age, focus on creating a solid sleep rhythm using age-appropriate wake windows and sleep cues to keep them rested which will help with the building sleep pressure to help fall asleep and optimal sleep environment.
Between 3 to 4 months, we see at least one nap a day be an hour (or close to it). At 4 to 5 months, we should start to see more consistent 1 hour naps for the morning and afternoon nap (with an occasional short one happen as they are working on elongating). As baby hit 6 months plus, morning and afternoon nap are at least one hour or more with the last nap being short (its a cat nap and is meant to be a bridge to bedtime). Once baby is transitioned to 1 nap, that nap should be closer to 2 hours.
What can be contributing factors to short naps:
The biggest contributing factors to short naps (over four months) is going into crib drowsy, needing a sleep association to fall asleep at beginning of nap and sleep environment.
Going into Crib Drowsy: Imagine falling asleep on your couch, while you are sleeping someone decided to put your outside on your front porch and then you woke up…you would scream bloody murder! The last thing you remember is being in your house. This is like what your baby is experiencing. Baby fell asleep in caretakers’ arms, then rouses a bit to transition to the next cycle and they notice they are no longer in your arms. Instead of cresting at the cycle and going back down into it, they immediately get pulled out of the cycle fully awake.
Association to fall asleep: Sleep associations are rocking, feeding or a pacifier to fall asleep for nap. If the association isn’t needed to connect to the next cycle, it is perfectly fine to keep it. If baby (4 months plus) wakes though at the transition point of 30-45 minutes and the only way to get baby back to sleep is with the association, then would focus on falling asleep aware and awake at the onset of sleep to help at the transition to next cycle.
Sleep Environment: If it is too light during the day, it makes it harder for the brain/body to get into a sleepy state and fall asleep. A dark sleep environment is a must for day sleep to progress.
Tips For Elongating Naps:
1) Sleep Environment:
The most underutilized tool in the nap toolbox is having a sleep conducive nap environment. We want to ensure sleep space is cool and dark (think dark like a cave). The reason being is that our bodies don’t make Melatonin during the day and having a solid dark sleep environment helps bring on the onset of sleep. If your baby is a newborn, we don’t need complete darkness and aim for naps in the light during the day and night sleep in the dark until day/night confusion is sorted out.
2) Wake Windows:
To help baby fall asleep easier and start extending naps is to be mindful of wake windows with sleep cues. If under or overtired, it will reinforce the short nap pattern. We want the baby to fall asleep around the wake window and not starting the routine. If we notice they are taking a long time to fall asleep, check the wake window and tweak as necessary for them to fall asleep.
3) Crib Hour:
Now that we have the sleep environment, wake windows in line and falling asleep on their own, how do we start extending naps? Daytime sleep cycles are 30-45 minutes and giving time after they wake to practice connecting to the next cycle is our next step in practicing. How do we do that? Enter Crib Hour! This where we give 60 minutes (4 months plus) from when they fell asleep to try to connect to the next cycle. We use our chosen sleep training method/intervention when they wake from a short nap to help guide them to the next cycle.
For example, baby went into crib at 9:00am, fell asleep at 9:10am and woke at 9:50am, we give an additional 20 minutes to try to connect to the next cycle using our sleep intervention method. If baby doesn’t fall asleep within the remaining part of crib hour, then we would move to the next nap. For the next nap, keep an eye on sleep cues to see if we need to shorten the wake window so they don’t get overtired. If we aren’t seeing consistent sleep cues, then go ahead and do their regular wake window for next nap. If they do connect the sleep cycle during Crib Hour, go ahead and let them sleep (max nap duration of 2 hours when on 2 naps plus).
How long do we practice crib hour?
Recommend consistently practicing crib hour for two weeks to help establish the pattern of connection of sleep cycles and/or we start seeing the first two naps be at least 1 hour. If your child is on 3 naps a day, do crib hour with the morning and afternoon nap as the last nap is meant to be a short since it is a bridge to bedtime. If on two naps or less, then practice crib hour for all naps.
If you would like support to help with naps, let’s set up a Discovery Call so that you can ask questions on how I serve families and I can get more information on what is happening sleep wise.