5 tips to fix your baby’s short naps

No siesta, no fiesta…🤣

We all go through stages of short naps with our babies and the truth is –  it’s frustrating! not only because we cannot take a break ourselves, but because most times they are not well rested and are more irritable the rest of the day.

Good sleep is made up of many components or “puzzle pieces” and it is important that they are all in place in order to achieve a good rest. After working with many families over the years, I have realized that in most cases, there is always something to improve to lengthen naps!

What is a short nap?

A short nap is a nap that lasts between 30-40 minutes, that is, a sleep cycle.

In newborns (babies under 5 months), it is normal to see short naps as their sleep is still maturing. If you realize there are elements to improve while reading this article, go ahead and work on those changes, but do not stress if you have a newborn with short naps, it is normal and the best thing you can do is help your baby extend their naps to avoid them going to bed overtired.

When babies take 3 naps (approximately 5-7 months), it is also normal to have 2 long naps and one shorter one.

However, when a baby takes 2 or 1 naps a day, we want those naps to be over an hour long. 

Why do short naps happen?

Short naps can happen for many reasons in a baby or toddler, here are some reasons why short naps occur and how to fix the issue:

Sleep environment

As babies get older, their environment becomes more interesting and stimulating, and sleep becomes boring. If a baby wakes up from her nap sleep cycle and sees a lot of cool things around her, like her crib mobile, the toy she likes, it’s going to be harder for her to fall back asleep. I recommend plenty of darkness for naps, as well as a white noise machine and to set the room at a comfortable temperature. 

Hunger

Depending on the feeding schedule your little one has, it is possible for a baby to wake up prematurely from their nap because they are hungry. Although my recommendation is to avoid feeding to sleep, giving a feeding close to the beginning of the nap can help prevent your baby from waking up from a nap too soon. 

Overtiredness

Overtiredness is sleep’s #1 enemy – I know I’m always repeating myself but it’s true. When a child arrives very tired at naptime or bedtime, this usually causes more tears and resistance to sleep and does not allow them to have a pleasant rest.

For example, if the appropriate awake window for an 8-month-old baby is about 3 hours, a baby this age that spends 4 hours awake between naps may be falling asleep too tired for his second nap.

Not enough sleep pressure

On the contrary, low sleep pressure can also cause very short naps. If a baby hasn’t been awake long enough, they may fall asleep easily but wake up from their short nap completely rested because they didn’t have enough “sleep pressure” or built-up tiredness to sleep longer.

For example, if a 10-month-old baby tolerates 3-4 hours awake, but is offered a nap within 2 hours of waking up, they may only sleep for 45 minutes because that is all the time they needed to wake up feeling refreshed. 

To review my awake window recommendations and sleep needs by age, download a copy of my free sleep chart. 

Your child falls asleep with help

The last reason and usually the most common: your baby falls asleep with help at the beginning of nap time. There’s nothing wrong with this, putting a baby to sleep in a rocking chair is an amazing moment, but doing so can make it difficult for your baby to go back to sleep when she’s already completed a sleep cycle. 

When a child learns to fall asleep on his own at the beginning of a nap, longer periods of sleep are usually seen in naps and nights. If you are looking to improve your baby’s naps, start by improving the first elements I mentioned (environment, feeding times & wake windows).

If everything is in place and you still find yourself with short naps, and your baby falls asleep with the help of a caregiver, I recommend you start teaching your baby to fall asleep independently (remember this does not have to mean CIO-there are many ways to do this progressively).

Naps are extremely important for a good night’s rest. If your baby doesn’t take good naps, I always recommend supplementing with an early bedtime so your baby can catch up on sleep at night.

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