Are you stuck in a cycle of short naps with your baby and can’t see how to get them taking longer naps? It is so common to worry about your baby’s nap length. I get it, I’ve been there. Short naps are the worst because they can leave your baby tired and needing a nap way sooner than normal. And because your baby is getting overtired it becomes a vicious cycle you can’t seem to get out of.
When I talk about short naps I am meaning anything under 1 hour. A 1-hour long nap, although still on the shorter side, is deemed restorative because your baby has been able to sleep over one full sleep cycle. Younger babies, who are 4 months old, and sometimes even 5 months, may still be learning how to lengthen their naps. But if your baby is over 6 months of age and still struggling with those dreaded short naps you should definitely be working on how to improve them.
The first thing to do to help extend your baby’s naps, if you are living in the land of short naps, is to go through a checklist of many different reasons they can happen and fix the ones you think could be causing your baby’s short naps.
This is one of the most common reasons a baby has short naps. Nap routines are important, but I often find short nappers have something in their nap routine that is causing them to fall asleep before being put in the crib. If they aren’t falling asleep independently at the end of their bedtime routine, they wake up wanting the same thing that helped them fall asleep at the start of nap time. What this means is they will have a hard time connecting sleep cycles themselves.
This is why I mention a vicious cycle! Overtiredness can definitely contribute to the dreaded short nap. A baby who is not getting enough sleep will feel wired – which makes it harder to fall asleep initially, but also to stay asleep for a decent amount of time. This means it is important to make sure their awake windows aren’t too long. Think of it this way, have you ever struggled to get to sleep till the early hours of the morning only to wake up before your normal wake time? This is because the same thing is happening to you.
Well-rested babies will fall asleep easily and stay asleep better. So, if your baby is taking short naps it can be important to put them down earlier for the next nap and to have an earlier bedtime that day to help fill up their sleep tank. Sleep begets sleep, so how well they sleep at nap time and night time really go together.
Inappropriate nap schedule
This one somewhat feeds into overtiredness as well. If your baby is being put down for their nap at a time that is not in line with their circadian rhythms, this can affect their ability to fall asleep and stay asleep and have a nice long restorative sleep. Make sure their sleep schedule is appropriate for their age, that your baby’s wake windows aren’t too long. As an example, a 6 month baby really can’t stay awake longer than 2.5 hours before a nap. You can balance your knowledge of a baby’s general wake windows with sleepy cues, to put them down at their sweet spot. A short napper can often become a longer one when on the right sleep schedule.
Hint: A nap 30 minutes or less is likely due to overtiredness. A nap of around 40-45 minutes is only one sleep cycle. This means it is more likely to be due to your baby being unable to connect sleep cycles and not having the required self-soothing skills to nap well.
The bedroom environment is incredibly important to ensure your baby sleeps well. It is important to have a dark room because if the room isn’t dark enough (think blackout curtains) then the bright light in the room could be disturbing your baby and making it harder for them to return to sleep when they wake briefly. If there are a lot of outside noises e.g. from a noisy toddler or traffic on the street, this can sometimes have an effect, especially for a more sensitive sleeper. Investing in a white noise machine can help with this.
Once you have looked at all these suggestions and taken action you could get your baby to do a 1.5 hour nap, but you may even be lucky and get a 2-hour nap!
If you have tried to fix the suggestions above and saw no improvement, or have determined that a sleep association is the culprit, then deciding on a sleep training method is likely in your future. If you feel like nap training, or sleep training overall, is the best thing for your family, please feel free to reach out and I can help by customizing a sleep plan that works for your family and your baby’s sleep. I have packages to suit all needs and budgets. If you are unsure whether hiring a Child Sleep Consultant is the right move for you, check this article out. Good luck!