Why are naps so hard?

Why are naps so hard?

Is your little one taking short naps? Does it feel like no matter what you do, he/she just won't go down or their nap only lasts 20-30 minutes? Short naps can absolutely be quite tricky, especially if you feel like you're not getting the break you also need as a parent during the day. Let me clarify some questions around naps for you, so you can gain a better understanding as to why your baby's naps are always short.


What is considered a short nap?

A nap is considered short when it is less than one sleep cycle (about 45 minutes). A nap longer than 45 minutes shows that your little one is able to transition from one cycle to the next. When your baby is able to transition from one sleep cycle to the next, they are able to have a more restorative & consolidated sleep.


My baby only naps 30 minutes. Is this a problem?

In short, yes it is a problem because your baby isn't able to get a deep, restorative sleep during the day. This can lead to the following:

  • Your little one is cranky during awake times & is overtired
  • Their overtiredness leads to frequent night wakings & early rising
  • Short naps can make parents feel stuck at home because the baby gets too tired and fussy, and it seems like they'll need another nap in just a few minutes.
  • Short naps can really frustrate and stress parents out. This can then lead to parents obsessing about their little one's sleep & try to fix it by copying exactly what they did that one day, a couple of weeks ago when naps were great!


Is this developmental?

Yes it is! Around the age of 5 months, babies start taking longer and more consolidated naps. This means that in the first four months, it's typical for babies to have short naps lasting anywhere from 20 to 120 minutes. Yes, it's completely normal and expected for newborns to take short naps.


What do I do when my baby takes short naps?

If your little one is younger than 5 months old, it can help to try and resettle them back to sleep if they wake up early from a nap. Please ensure you are not doing this for every nap, as this can cause a lot of stress. Try to extend at least 1-2 naps because this can really make a massive difference. You can extend your child's nap by patting them or rocking them back to sleep or doing the rest of their nap on you (contact nap). Remember, if you've been trying to help your baby go back to sleep for more than 10-15 minutes, it's best to stop and start their next wake window. Don't stress about this becoming a habit or causing issues down the line. We're simply addressing your baby's current developmental needs. Yes, longer, more consolidated naps will happen as your baby grows.

If your baby is 5 months old or older I would highly recommend working on extending short naps through sleep training. This is a very effective way to help your little one get longer naps.

As you work on enhancing your baby's naps, remember that naps progress independently. The first nap of the day usually becomes longer and more regular, followed by the second and then the third. Begin by focusing on improving the first nap of the day! If you need assistance, take a look at my First Four Months Bundle. This gentle, no-cry Sleep Guide establishes the basis for sound sleep and guides you through age-appropriate approaches to tackle those brief naps.

*Expert Tip: If your baby is still taking 3 or more naps a day, that final nap can be the most challenging one! Don't let this last nap stress you out. You can ease the pressure by letting your baby in your arms, in a moving car or pram, or even while babywearing. Ensuring your little one gets this last nap is more important than how or where they sleep. Remember, this last nap may be shorter, and that's perfectly fine.


My top tips on how to improve naps:

  1. Create a nap time routine & a conducive sleep environment: Creating a nap time routine can help wind your baby down, making them relaxed and ready for a sleep. This doesn't have to be complex. It can just be a shortened version of their bedtime routine and can be as simple as, changing nappy, cuddles whilst singing a lullaby, turning the sound machine on & swaddling them. The whole idea of a consistent nap time routine is to cue your baby's brain that it is time for sleep. Did you know that a baby can recognise routine as young as 8 weeks old? Having a routine has been proven to give babies a sense of comfort and security as they are aware of what is about to happen next. 

    Creating a conducive sleep environment can also help babies have better naps. So this means, dark room (use a blackout blind from 8 weeks old), white noise (this helps to soothe babies and block out any external noise that could wake them up) and cool temperature (when our body temperature goes down a bit, we tend to sleep more soundly).
  2. Have an age-appropriate wake window: Watching your baby's wake windows along with their sleepy cues can help prevent overtiredness. When a baby is overtired, they have had too much awake time that their body has started to produce cortisol (stress or wake-up hormone). This then dysregulates them and is harder to settle them to sleep. Having an age-appropriate wake window can help your little one build the right amount of sleep pressure that they need in order to prepare their little body for a good sleep. On the other hand, if your little one hasn't had enough awake time, they haven't been able to build enough sleep pressure to help them stay asleep, so they wake early from their nap.
  3. Work on co-regulation: When your little one has hit overtiredness or they are just dysregulated (fussy, stressed & upset), instead of pushing for sleep, work on co-regulation. Babies are not mature enough to self-regulate, so they need the help from their carer/s to co-regulate. This is the process where a child learns to manage their emotions and behaviours with the help of a parent or a more experienced individual. It involves the carer providing support, guidance, and comfort to the child, assisting them in regulating their emotions and reactions when they are dysregulated. This is why it is important to approach nap time or bedtime in a calm manner because your little one will mirror your emotions. To read more about dysregulation read my blog, "What causes babies and toddlers to resist sleep?"

    *Expert Tip: If your baby has a quick nap, try not to reduce the time they stay awake afterward. Doing so might reinforce the habit of short naps, leading to more short naps. Stick to the recommended awake time for your baby's age to encourage better napping habits.
  4. Separate feeding and sleeping: When your little one dozes off to sleep whilst feeding, it takes away from their sleep pressure. This then causes them to wake early from their nap. If your little one tends to fall asleep during a feed, try moving their feed early (45 minutes before their nap). You can also try to add another activity after their feed to break feeding and sleeping. For example, after a feed, you could read them a quick story before putting them down.
  5. Ensure your baby is not hungry: Feed your little one every 2.5-3 hours. This ensures they are not going to sleep hungry. Hunger is one of the main culprits to short naps because babies have small stomachs.
  6. Practise falling asleep independently: Research shows that a baby who is able to fall asleep independently can sleep a lot better because they are able to fall back asleep when they wake. Babies younger than 5 months is not developmentally ready for formal sleep training, however, there are ways you can start practising falling asleep independently through gentle & responsive techniques appropriate for younger babies. To learn how to do this, check out my First Four Months Bundle.
  7. Work on night sleep first: If your little one hasn't conquered night sleep yet, they also won't be able to conquer their daytime sleep. Of course, there are some exceptions to these guidelines, but generally, it's better for most babies to start learning how to sleep through the night first.

So what's the solution? If your baby is having trouble sleeping at night, I've got you covered! Lots of parents notice that when nighttime sleep improves, naps tend to get better too. I have 1:1 Support options available to help you achieve your sleep goals for your child. This is includes a comprehensive sleep analysis of your child based on a completion of a 3-4 days sleep log & detailed questionnaire. From this, I am able to tailor a sleep plan specifically for your child and their temperament, and ensure that the methods sit right with you as a parent and is well-suited to your family. This also includes a 1 week or 2 week support, where I can hold your hand through implementing the plan via phone calls and Whatsapp text messaging. If you would like to tackle your child's sleep on your own and at your own pace but just need the tools, my 5–24 Month Sleep Guide is just what you need. I'll show you all you need to know to achieve great sleep at night, during naps, and through every sleep challenge until your little one turns 2.



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