How many parents out there have dealt, or are currently dealing, with the dreaded catnap? In the first few months of a newborn’s little life, their sleeping patterns are quite irregular, they can sleep for long periods of time any time of the day or night and we really don’t worry so much about “catnaps” because we generally feed them, burp them and change a diaper and then they are just about ready to go back to sleep.
At around 3 or 4 months of age, a baby’s daytime sleep starts becoming more regular and around the 4-month mark, they start to lengthen their naps. This is also around the time that some people see the dreaded catnap appear, although it can happen later, so don’t worry if your baby is older and you are struggling with catnaps. My son struggled with catnapping at exactly 4 months of age. He went from sleeping anytime, anywhere, to waking up after 45 minutes on the dot EVERY naptime. I problem solved the issue myself, and I’ll tell you what I did that worked well, but first I’ll explain why babies can experience the catnapping issue.
Generally, catnapping is the inability to transition from one sleep cycle to another. This means that a catnap is usually a nap that was 45 minutes or less. Catnaps are an issue because it means your baby hasn’t had enough restorative sleep to wake feeling well rested. As a sleep consultant, I generally advise my clients that a nap less than 1 hour just isn’t enough.
If the catnapping issue isn’t addressed parents can find that it leads to night sleep issues. This is because a baby who isn’t sleeping enough at nap times can become so overtired that it disrupts their ability to sleep well at night. The earlier we address catnapping the more likely we will prevent it from becoming a night sleep problem too.
Catnapping often happens for babies who haven’t learned to self soothe. A baby who can self soothe to sleep will be able to return themselves to sleep when they have a brief awakening between sleep cycles. Whereas babies that need help to fall asleep can wake up expecting that help after each sleep cycle or brief awakening overnight.
Another reason why babies may catnap is because they are put down to sleep when they are already overtired or outside their natural sleep windows. A baby who is put down in line with their biological sleep waves will sleep better and for longer. It is important for parents to have one eye on their baby (watching for sleepy/overtired cues) and one eye on the clock, to make sure they hit their babies sleep waves.
Some babies who use pacifiers to sleep can have an issue with catnapping if their pacifier falls out of their mouth, as they don’t have them to soothe them into their next sleep cycle. Another cause of catnapping can be a room that is too bright as the light shining in the window can disturb them.
Now that we’ve gone over why a baby can start having an issue with catnapping and why it is a problem that needs to be addressed, I will explain some ways that this can be addressed. If you have identified the reason why your little one is catnapping then you are one step ahead. Is it because your baby can’t self soothe? Providing them the opportunity to learn that skill will help. Is it because you are not hitting their biological sleep waves? Then moving nap time may provide a quick solution.
As for my son, when he started struggling with catnapping I problem solved it by giving him opportunities to re-settle after a sleep cycle. Instead of going into him when he woke up after 45 minutes I told myself I would give him at least 10 minutes to return to sleep on his own, even if he did a little bit of crying, and that worked! It wasn’t instant as it took days, but providing the opportunity to learn how to connect sleep cycles on his own was immensely beneficial to him as he was then able to sleep for at least 1.5 (and sometimes even 2 hrs) each nap!
I hope this information helps you identify why your baby might be catnapping and give you some ideas on how to address it. If you still need help, please do not hesitate to reach out. I offer packages to suit all needs and budgets. Have you had a chance to join my free community where parents come together to discuss child sleep issues? Join here!