Does your baby nod off for 30 minutes only to wake up then refuse to settle back down?
Those short naps can be a killer, because your baby rarely wakes up completely refreshed from them.
These cat naps can continue throughout the day, breaking up your routine in tiny chunks that leave you little room to do anything else.
Then when it comes to bedtime, your baby is overtired, because none of these short naps were restorative enough. Now your baby struggles to get to bed at night, and they are unsettled all night!
It’s a strange thing how being overtired actually leads a baby to much less effective sleep.
I remember both my babies were short cat nappers at first. With my first baby, I got a handle on it by enforcing a strict daytime routine and using a dummy to help her settle to sleep rather than feeding to sleep. This worked a treat and she was great at napping.
My second baby was a much tougher nut to crack. She would only nap on me. She would not take a dummy and so I ended up pinned underneath her 30 minutes every hour. It was exhausting because I could never just lie down and have a rest myself!
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Why do babies need to nap?
Every single baby is different in terms of exactly how much sleep they need. But there is one thing for sure, all babies need sleep!
Sleep is restorative for babies and helps them to process what has happened during the day. It’s essential for their mental health and their physical health.
Sleep helps babies to process what they have learned, which is essential for their cognitive development. It also helps for their growth, as babies have a whole lot of growing to do in the first year.
A short nap is anything underneath 45 minutes. Newborn sleep is very different to older baby’s sleeping patterns.
A newborn will fall asleep easier and stay that way for longer. This tends to lull us parents into a false sense of security in the first few days. However after around a week the sleep spells tend to become shorter, both in the day and at night.
Once a baby hits around two to three months, those naps become harder to enforce as baby needs more help getting to sleep. They are more distracted by the world around them and some can fight sleep a little more at this stage.
At this stage many babies may also have developed an attachment to a sleep prop, such as breastfeeding, being rocked to sleep or movement from the car or buggy.
However at three months you can start to help your baby learn how to self soothe for their naps.
This does not have to involve cry it out!
So this post is for my fellow mamas who are struggling to get their babies to sleep for a decent length of time in the day. These are the tips you need for ditching short naps for good.
How to encourage your baby to take longer naps
Look at your baby’s routine
Some people hate the idea of a strict routine for their baby, but you don’t have to have a rigid structure to your day.
When it comes to helping your baby to take longer naps, first of all you need to identify when they are tired. You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink, and you can’t put a baby in their crib and make them go to sleep!
They need to be tired in order to go along with getting a nap, but they can’t be overtired because that can lead to your baby being frustrated and lots of tears instead of getting some sleep. Confusing right? Don’t panic.
Observe your baby for a couple of days. You’ll need to really look at them for their subtle tired cues. As a baby gets older, they may rub their eyes and be more obvious with their tired signs. A younger baby will get a glassy-eyed look, become less energetic and start to yawn.
When your baby is overtired they will cry. The key is try and get to them before they become overtired.
Try to figure out how it generally takes your baby to become tired from the moment they wake up, For newborns this may be as little as 30 minutes. For a baby of three months, they may cope with 90 minutes of awake time, but this really depends on the baby.
Establish the length of time your baby can cope with being awake and put them down just ahead of that so you have time to wind them down (see the next point).
In terms of the ideal nap length, this may vary throughout the day. A baby will likely have a short-short-fish nap of around 90 minutes in the morning then a longer post-lunch nap of as much as two-and-a-half hours. Some babies may then want one more short nap of around one hour in the late afternoon to keep them going until bedtime.
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Have a wind down routine
You don’t dash around the house tidying up, cleaning, working and then instantly fall into bed and sleep. We all need a little wind down routine, whether it be reading a book or taking a bath.
Babies are the same. A proper winding down time and bedtime routine helps them to recognise it’s time for sleep, which sends them drowsy vibes,
Try to slow down whatever play you are doing with your baby around 20 minutes before you put them down. Keep it quieter and slow down any physical activity you are dong with them.
Put them down to sleep in a room where the lights are down low. Change their nappy and try some white noise or quiet lullabies to signal it’s time for bed.
So how do you actually get your baby to sleep at this point?
Many people talk about the “drowsy but awake” theory. For me personally, I had to get my kids on board with falling asleep without help before they could be put down drowsy but awake.
Before that, they needed to be rocked, fed, cuddled, given a dummy etc. The sleep prop is fine for getting your baby to sleep if they need to be napped. Don’t let people scare you about “making a rod for your own back”.
Sometimes we just need to get our baby to sleep by any means necessary, and that’s totally fine.
The sleep prop only becomes a problem when your baby is waking too quickly from their nap and they have to cry for that sleep prop. For example, you’ve put them down in their cot after rocking them to sleep.
You can gradually wean your baby off sleep props using sleep training. There are loads of tips over on this post, and no you do not have to use cry it out!
More on sleep props further below.
Ensure baby is well fed
A hungry baby will definitely find it difficult to get to sleep. They put hunger above any other need, because that’s survival!
So, make sure your baby has had a good feed if you want them to go down for a long nap. Many parents feed their babies to sleep. There’s nothing wrong about doing this, but you may find as time goes on your baby cannot get themselves to sleep at all, because they expect a boob or bottle in their mouth to do that.
Try to separate feeding from sleeping if you can by feeding, then having a short play or nappy change, before then settling them to sleep.
Make sure they are comfortable
Put your baby down in a room that is darkened with clothes suitable for the room temperature.
Baby sleeping bags are fantastic because your baby cannot kick the covers off, keeping them cosy throughout their sleep!
Most sleeping bags also come with guidance for what to dress your baby in depending on the thickness of the sleeping bag. I also have my own guide to this right here:
Help them get through each sleep cycle
When we go to sleep, adults or babies, we go through cycles. Sometimes you will be in a deep sleep which it is much harder to wake from, and other times you will be in a lighter sleep, like dozing, where you are likely to wake up from any little noise in the room.
So when your baby wakes after 30 minutes, it is often because they are moving into a different sleep cycle.
If your baby relies on a sleep prop to get to sleep, it is at this moment they will need it back.
One way to help your baby through the sleep cycle, and so many parents rely on it, is the buggy because motion helps to rock baby to sleep without you having to carry them all the time.
You could take your baby for a long walk to encourage them to have a nap. Or if you have things to do at home, bring the stroller into your hallway or kitchen, rock baby to sleep and then if they stir at any point you can move the stroller a little to get them back to sleep.
If you want to go hands-free, you can try this fab little gadget, it’s such a brilliant idea!
Try to resettle them
On a similar vein to the above point, it’s important to try and help your baby get to the next sleep cycle so they can move into another deep sleep rather than waking up.
One of the key ways to help your baby resettle is not to rush straight to them the second you hear them cry. Some babies cry in their sleep, it’s unsettling but it’s nothing to worry about.
Many babies may move to a light sleep cycle and start to grizzle, if you pick them up you may wake them fully, so try to leave them alone to see if they will settle back to a deeper sleep.
If your baby is crying, see if picking them up and gently soothing them back to sleep will help.
Adapt to the short naps
Just because people say your baby should be napping for two hours, doesn’t mean that’s gospel truth! Maybe your baby just favours short naps. This may make things harder for you if you have activities through the day, or your baby gets grouchy on days they have shorter naps. But if it is working for you, why change it?
As with all things to do with a baby, nothing lasts forever! Your baby will change so very much in the first year of their life, and those naps will be dropped so rapidly too!
Eventually babies consolidate their naps into one long nap after lunch sometime after they turn one.
If your baby is taking short naps and you’re OK with that, don’t panic!
So putting all of this together, if your baby is taking short naps try taking a step back and observing their patterns. When do they get tired? Give them a good wind down routine ahead of their naps and let them sleep somewhere quiet and comfy.
You may also like to try these posts about baby sleep!
25 tricks for getting baby to sleep
Gentle baby sleep training
The secret to baby sleep training