Short naps are so frustrating. They cause anxiety and moments of helplessness on everyone's part.
Eventually your baby WILL grow into a toddler and their sleep cycles will naturally elongate.
But for now, there are things you CAN do to help your baby to take longer naps.
Reasons why babies take catnaps.
1. Naps are not timed correctly.
When your baby takes a nap is directly related to their age. Following age appropriate wake windows OR times on the clock, for older babies, will set your little one up for success to take a restorative nap. Apps like Huckleberry don't help you trouble shoot short naps. Meaning, it could possibly tell you your 9 month old needs 4 naps, because naps are short. This is not what you want! You'll want to spread those naps out and have your baby napping less frequently to build sleep pressure for two longer naps.
2. Naps are happening too early in the day, which means all the daytime sleep is stacked too close together leaving a long wake window before bed.
Are you stuck in an early cycle? It may seem impossible for their first nap not to start at 8AM since they have been up since 5, but the cycle can be broken! For older babies, 6 months+, mirror their nap from your desired wake time. So, if you want baby to start their day closer to 7AM, start their first nap closer to 9 or 9:30. Leave baby in crib as close to 7AM as possible, as the crib time and lack of light can still be considered restful. Here are my best hacks to correct early mornings!
Quick tip: Inch their first nap forward about 15 minutes every few days until you achieve the new nap time. Is baby super cranky? Take them outside or add extra high chair time during previous fussy periods. By moving everything forward, you will close the gap between last nap and bedtime.. You want this!!
3. Naps are short because baby is falling asleep assisted.
Yep. It's all too familiar. Your baby was once a newborn who had very little capacity to stay awake. So the environment of being held, rocked and fed likely always induced sleep. But now, maybe you are back at work or have other children at home (or just want a break) so holding and nursing and bouncing just to get a nap doesn't work for you anymore. You know what? Your babe CAN learn to sleep a different way. A way that puts themselves in charge of how/when they fall asleep and how long they sleep for.
When baby goes to sleep from a state of drowsy or with a feeding, they will complete one sleep cycle, then stir, then become fully awake. Baby will look for those 'things' to be recreated so they can continue to keep sleeping. When they wake and those things aren't present, they will signal to you to bring them back in the form of crying.
Are you ready to tackle independent sleep? Work on it at bedtime first. Your baby's body will be producing sleep hormones at that time which will make the process MUCH easier and chances of success are higher! You can start with nap training the very next day (as long as bedtime was a success) or you can get a few nights under your belt before working on naps. Want a copy of the perfect bedtime routine? I got you! Suggested bedtime routine.
4. Naps are short because it's time to drop a nap! Baby is in a nap transition. It takes A LOT of sleep pressure to fall asleep. So, if baby is age-ready to drop a nap, this will increase sleep pressure (duration) for the naps that remain.
So, plain and simple. There just isn't enough sleep pressure for baby to take a long nap. It may seem like a difficult task, especially if your baby is stuck in an overtired cycle. But, many times, it works to push past the tired cues and crankiness to make it to the new nap time. Parent-led nap transitions are perfectly acceptable. Read my blog on nap transitions here.
5. Leaps & Milestones! Naps can be short because babies are humans they have off days. I advise to look for a trend of 7 days+ before changing anything as far as schedule or timing. Independent routines can always be started when you are ready which will help those bumps in the road become less 'bumpy'
Even if baby is an awesome self-settler and the schedule is right, short naps can happen from time to time. The popular sleep regressions like the 8 month regression, 12 month regression, 18 month regression and so on, line up with gross motor skill developments like crawling, pulling up, walking and at close to 2 years old, a HUGE language burst!
Key takeaways when troubleshooting why your baby is taking a short nap.
Naps are not timed correctly.
Naps are happening too early in the day
Baby takes short naps due to sleep dependencies
Baby is in a nap transition and it's time to drop a nap.
I 100% understand how frustrating short naps are! All we want is for our babies to sleep well and get the rest they need to grow and be content. My sleep plans work for parents who are home to implement nap training, as well as those who have their children in daycare. It's not a deal breaker if you don't have full control of your baby's naps. Most daycares will be happy to follow your instructions if it means your baby will nap longer and their arms are free :)
If you want full on support to improve your baby's sleep, Lindsay at Tweet Dreamzz Sleep Consulting will show you how. Book your free call with her here!
Lindsay Loring is a certified pediatric sleep consultant who specializes in babies, toddlers and twins. She is a sleep consultant in the Metro St. Louis, MO area serving families worldwide. Visit www.tweetdreamzz.com