Short Naps – a frustration for parents the world over.
Your baby's nap time is supposed to be when you get things done, take a shower, perhaps have a nap yourself, but your little one has other ideas.
You have just spent ages getting them to sleep only to have their eyes pop open 20 – 30 minutes later.
You try to get them back to sleep, but eventually, you give up, get them up and try to get on with your day. But now you have a tired, cranky baby on your hands, and it only gets worse as the day progresses, and by the time bedtime comes, your little one is crying inconsolably, and everyone is exhausted and frustrated.
So why do some little ones take short naps? Is this common, and what, if anything, can you do about it?
Are Short Naps Common?
It is essential to understand that newborn babies have short sleep cycles without trying to over-complicate things, anything from 40 – 50 minutes. Each sleep cycle has two stages, an active stage and a quiet stage.
When babies first go to sleep, they go into the active sleep stage (REM for adults), followed by the quiet stage. Babies spend around 50% of their sleep in the active stage, and it is during this stage, babies are more likely to wake up. These wake-ups mid-sleep cycle is the reason that your baby sometimes wakes up at the 20-minute mark.
At the end of the quiet stage, your baby will either wake up (40 – 50-minute mark) or manage to link two sleep cycles together and sleep for over an hour or more.
The ability to connect sleep cycles together will generally happen as their sleep cycle matures.
The sleep cycle maturing happens around the 4 – 5 month mark; this is when many parents notice changes to their baby's sleep, known as the dreaded 4-month sleep regression. During this maturing stage, sleep cycles start to get longer until they eventually have a sleep cycle that is the same as that of an adult, 90 – 110 minutes.
So, if you have a newborn napping anywhere between 20 to 50 minutes, this is entirely normal and common.
How Long Should my Baby Nap?
The table below illustrates, how long your baby should nap and how many naps they should have. Remember that every baby is different, but this is a general guide.
Also, below are the awake windows by age
0 – 8 weeks
30 – 45 minutes
45 – 60 minutes
75 – 120 minutes
75 – 120 minutes
2 – 2.5 hours
2 – 3 hours
2 – 3 hours
2.5 – 3.5 hours
2.75 – 3.5 hours
10 – 12 months
3.5 – 4 hours
If you have a baby that does not ‘nap’ during the day or is five months and older and still takes the proverbial ‘catnap', do not think they do not need the sleep'. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Your baby does need the sleep. It can be difficult for parents (especially sleep-deprived ones) to comprehend how your baby can continue to fight sleep even when they need it.
The one exception to this is the last nap before bed, this can often be a short nap regardless of age, which is entirely normal.
So, what can you do to ensure your baby gets enough sleep and instil healthy sleep habits in your little one.
Tips for Solving Short Naps
As I said, if your baby is a newborn and taking short naps, this is completely normal and although it is frustrating and tiring, know this phase will pass provided you help your baby create good sleep habits by having a consistent routine and sleep schedule.
If your baby is five months and older and still catnapping, below are some tips to help.
Tip 1 – Have a regular sleep schedule.
Ensure your baby's schedule is age-appropriate with the right amount of day and night-time sleep.
Unsure of what your baby's schedule should look like, then refer to our sleep schedule by age:
Tip 2 – Keep to the appropriate awake windows
Ensure that you are not keeping your baby up too long between naps. It may be tempting to keep your baby up longer and stretch their awake window hoping they will nap longer. However, the opposite is true, and the more tired your baby is, the more difficult they will find it to fall and stay asleep. Keep an eye on your baby’s tired signs and get them to sleep before they become overtired.
Tip 3 – Ditch the sleep props
If you are still rocking, feeding or patting your baby to sleep, you have, in essence, become their sleep prop. This means that your little one has not yet learned how to fall asleep independently. When they do stir or wake between sleep stages and sleep cycles, they are looking for you to help them get back to sleep. If you have not considered sleep training, your baby now may the time to consider this.
You can check out our review of the Sleep Sense program here.
Tip 4 – Keep environmental noise to a minimum
Keeping noise levels down can be a tough one, especially if you have other children in the house and there is lots of hustle and bustle but try to keep the noise level to a minimum. Let's face it; no-one can sleep effectively if there is a whole lot of noise around, babies included.
Tip 5 – Make sure your baby fills up on calories.
If you currently follow an eat, play, sleep routine with your little one, you may consider switching this around so that you first play when your baby wakes up from a nap and then feed them just before their next nap. This will ensure that your baby is not waking up because they are hungry. Although not a common cause of short naps it could be worth trying if you have a catnapper. Just make sure you do not let them fall asleep whilst feeding. If you do, your little one may doze off for a few minutes and then treat that little snooze as their nap.
Tip 6 – Put your baby to sleep in the same place for every nap.
I know this is not always possible, and babies are pretty adaptable when it comes to napping on the go. But whenever possible, put your baby down for their nap in the same place.
Tip 7 – Have a naptime routine.
Just as you have a bedtime routine for your little one, have a shortened version of this for naptime. A routine will help your baby transition from playtime to naptime and signal to your baby that it is time for sleep.
Tip 8 – Keep your baby active between naps.
Ensure your baby has plenty of stimulation and activity between naps, so they are ready to rest when it is naptime. Enjoy some tummy time or go out into the garden for a walk and some fresh air.
Tip 9 – Conquer night-time sleep first.
Most babies only figure out napping after they have conquered night-time sleep. When a baby can sleep through the night, they find it a lot easier to consolidate their naps. Most parents find that once night-time sleep is sorted day-time sleep improves.
So if your baby is taking lots of short naps and is not yet sleeping through the night or at least for longer consolidated stretches, then you are better off tackling that first before trying to accomplish longer naps.
Tip 10 – Keep the sleep environment as dark as possible.
Try to keep your baby’s sleep environment as dark as possible during the day. Consider using blackout blinds if your baby’s room is noticeably light.