One of the questions I get most often is about short naps. Why do they happen? How can I stop them? I’m here to answer all of your burning questions. This might be a bit of a longer read, but I’ll try to break it up into smaller sections that are easier to read and find what you’re looking for.
WHAT MAKES A SHORT NAP SHORT?
Under 5 months, 30-45 minute naps are actually pretty typical and normal. The sleep cycle for an infant that age only lasts about 40-50 minutes, so it is very normal to expect them to wake, not knowing how to put themselves back to sleep after that. There are ways that you can work with your little one to get them falling back asleep to lengthen the naps. Most of these ways include some form of sleep training and supporting your little one through that process.
If your little one is over 5 months, having naps under 45 minutes, and it’s affecting their night time sleep, then it’s probably time to look into some form of sleep training. Many times though, babies will continue to have short naps, but their nighttime sleep is unaffected. At this point, I’d leave them alone. Yes, they are frustrating, but I’d wait until baby goes down to two naps to really start working on them.
WHY DO THEY HAPPEN?
Wake windows are too short
You might have heard the term “sleep pressure” by now if you’ve been googling a lot about sleep. Sleep pressure is what builds up in the day and carries them through naps and night time sleep. When the wake window is too short, simply put, baby is not tired enough to take a full nap. Imagine that you normally go to bed at 8pm, and you fell asleep on the couch after dinner. You would have a little harder time going to sleep that night, so you’d get less sleep. The best way to tell if this is what is causing your little one’s short naps is to check their demeanor. Is your little one playing when you put them down? Do they wake up happy? Do they just not seem tired? You probably need to extend the wake windows a little bit more. I’d only move them a little bit at a time (maybe by 15-20 minutes), and see how your little one reacts to it.
2. Wake windows are too long
On the opposite end of the spectrum, having wake windows that are too long will cause short naps. It’s almost like their bodies go into overdrive and begin using up all their energy reserves when they become overtired. When a child is overtired, they can become hyperactive and wild. Many parents get caught in this trap thinking that all this energy means that they aren’t tired. When you go to put your little one down, they will get SO upset. They might start crying, screaming, throwing a fit, etc. When they finally do go to sleep, they wake up upset. If you find yourself in this position, try shortening the wake windows by 15-20 minutes to see how that helps.
3. Lack of white noise
White noise (in my opinion) is one of the non-negotiables when it comes to sleep. I have to have it. My daughter has to have it. Everyone just gets better sleep with it. A big problem I see with short naps is a lack of white noise. There are so many things going on in the house during the day especially if you have older children. Having some form of white noise to drown it out will help your little one sleep through those interruptions. There is science behind having white (or pink or brown) noise instead of a lullaby, ocean, etc. The tones of white, pink, and brown noise block out different types of sounds. I’ll have a post on this coming up in the next few weeks because it is truly intriguing.
Let me preface this by saying that adding cereal to your baby’s bottle will not help them sleep longer. There is however some tweaking that you can do to your little one’s feeding schedule to help them stay fuller through the nap. There is a common misconception that you can not nurse or feed your little one too close to when they go to sleep because it’s a “bad habit”. This is simply not true. There is no sense in putting your baby down hungry. If nap time is 30 minutes or more before nap time, I’d try feeding before putting your little one down. If you worry or struggle with your baby falling asleep while eating, try it at the beginning of the routine, or at least do a diaper change before you put them down.
5. Too much light in the room
Another non negotiable for our family is blackout curtains. If we don’t have a blackout solution of some sort, we are up as soon as the sun comes up. Studies have shown that when exposed to light (natural light or blue/white light), the brain stops producing melatonin which keeps you asleep. When your baby is still a newborn, it is important to offer naps in the daylight so that the day/night associations can be developed. There are a few options or budget friendly black out solutions. One of my favorites (and what we currently use) is black plastic table cloths and painters tape. These tablecloths are super cheap at the dollar store or grocery store. Grab a couple as well as some painters tape. I usually double them up to block out the most light. Simply cut them to size and tape them up. Another great option is paper blackout blinds. These are very cheap blinds that you can buy at Walmart, Lowe’s, or Home Depot. They just stick to the window sill and hang in the window. You can cut them to size, and stick them in your windows.
6. Lack of nap routine
We always talk about how important a bedtime routine is, but having a short nap routine is equally important. Since naps are in the day and sleep pressure is not built up enough yet, having a good nap routine can help your little one realize that it is time to relax and wind down. This routine should just look like a shortened bedtime routine. For us, our nap routine is diaper change, book, sound machine on, lights off, sing a sing, and down in the bed. It takes 15 minutes max, and it is just enough to let my daughter know that it’s time for bed.
Short naps are one of the biggest struggles I see parents facing because they are so tricky and can be any one of these issues, a combination of them, or even a completely different issue. These are the most common reasons I have seen for short naps, so I hope this helps you some.
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