Why is my baby taking short naps?

Something most of the families I work with struggle with are short naps. In this blog post I will walk you through what I consider a short nap, why they happen, and how to lengthen it.

A little sleep science…

Daytime sleep cycles last 30-45 minutes. It is a little harder to get good sleep during the day because you don’t have biology on your side. There is no melatonin pumping through the body, the natural circadian rhythm has peaks and valleys throughout the day, and you need to find the sweet spot “valley”, and a good nap can be influenced by so many different factors. So, your baby WILL wake up after 30-45 minutes, that is natural, and your aim isn’t to stop that, rather encourage your baby to go back to sleep.

Why does lengthening the nap matter?

It is pretty impossible to follow an appropriate schedule if your child will only sleep in 30-45 minute increments. It causes you to need way more naps during the day than is probably appropriate for your child, they may wake up clearly irritable because they wanted more sleep, and don’t know how to keep napping, and is also incredibly frustrating for a parent to not have more than 45 minutes to get things done or take a break. For any family that likes structure, the short nap can be super annoying.

When is it appropriate for babies to have consistently longer naps?

In the newborn days, it is perfectly normal for naps to be all over the place in lengthen. After the 4 month sleep regression, you can start to see the light, and by 6 months it is absolutely possible for your baby to take consistently long naps every day.

Nap Expectations by Age: 

4-5 months : 3 total naps:  2 naps over 1 hour long, 1 catnap

6-12 months: 2 total naps: each longer than 45 minutes (you can find my 3:2 nap transition blog here)

12 months- 2.5 years: 1 nap that is 90 minutes or more (you can find my 2:1 nap transition blog here)

2.5-4 years: Naps are usually dropped in this big range of time (read about how to drop it)

Now let’s talk about WHAT causes a short nap:

There are 3 main causes-

  1. An inappropriate schedule: Refer to the chart above, you need to find the “just right” schedule for your baby or toddler. Not enough sleep pressure and they won’t be ready to nap and once they fall asleep they will wake quickly, and being awake too long (overtired) may help them fall to sleep quickly, but it will surely wake them up after one sleep cycle due to the cortisol that is released in the brain when a person is overtired (yep, you too, not just babies).
  2. Lack of independent sleep skills: If your baby or toddler fell asleep with help, once they complete the first sleep cycle, they will need that help again to get back to sleep, except usually after 4 months, a parent coming in to try to get their baby or toddler to go back to napping is usually stimulating and rarely successful. So if you are having short naps, think about how your little one is falling asleep at naptime. Are you feeding to sleep? Do they use a pacifier? Are they rocked to sleep? Are you putting them down drowsy after 4 months old? Do you lay down on the floor with your toddler until they fall asleep? All of those things would need to be evaluated, and removed so that when your child wakes after one sleep cycle, they don’t need you, or any other prop, to go back to sleep.
  3. Room environment: If I want to fall asleep during the day, I usually put the blinds down, to help me relax, and I turn my phone off and even turn the sound machine on so that a noise doesn’t wake me up. Same thing for your baby. You want the room environment to be conducive to sleep. It is so much harder to sleep during the day than it is during the night. There are some people that can fall asleep everywhere and aren’t as sensitive to noise and light, but if you are having short naps, which I assume you are or you wouldn’t be reading this, create an environment that will encourage a long nap by using black out curtains and a sound machine.

THE Magic Trick:

IF you have set up the right environment, are working on independent sleep skills (your little one goes to sleep independently), and they are still waking up after one sleep cycle… try this: WAIT 20 MINUTES BEFORE GOING IN TO GET THEM. 

Again this only works if you have set them up for success, BUT waiting those 20 minutes is my magic trick for solving short naps. Sometimes your baby just needs a minute to realize he/she CAN go back to sleep. Often times we go in there immediately when they wake up, ending all possibilities of letting them go back to sleep.

I have had families I work with text me at the 17 minute mark ”Ok he isn’t asleep yet, can I just go get him” … I tell them to wait 3 more anyways, and so many times I have witnessed that in those last 3 minutes, the baby settles down and falls back asleep.

Once a baby or toddler connects sleep cycles ONCE, they will start to realize they are capable of doing this every time! Suddenly you have an additional 45 minute nap cycle and a much happier baby and mama!

Let me know if these tips helped. If you need guidance with teaching your baby independent sleep skills, that is the type of work I do with my 1:1 families, and let me tell you it is a life changing investment so do not hesitate to schedule an evaluation call to learn more.

Happy Napping,