Short naps are very frustrating for parents, especially when baby is falling asleep easily and sleeping well otherwise. Once you have identified why your baby is taking short naps (if not, check this out!) the next question is what can you do about it?
Unfortunately, naps take time and patience (I know, I know… this is hard to come by when you are only getting a few 30-minute stretches of a break.) Here are 7 things you can do to help your baby start to take longer naps.
Observe your baby to learn their early sleep cues
Things such as rubbing eyes, yawning and becoming fussy are all late sleep cues. As in you may be too late getting your baby down for a nap. Your baby may already be overtired. However, early sleep cues can be more elusive. In order to learn what your baby’s early sleep cues are I recommend you set aside some time to sit with your baby and watch while they play on their own in the second half of their awake time.
Keep a log for a few days and be open-minded about what you observe. Watch for things like movement and activities slowing down, getting frustrated more easily, coming back to you for support more frequently, or seeming less in control of their movements. These typically come before you see the common sleep cues of rubbing eyes, red eyebrows or yawning. These are also not sleepy cues for all babies and your baby may have something very specific and unique. So these observation periods will help you nail down what that early sleepy cue is.
You may observe that your baby is very alert and observant. In babies with these temperaments, I often see that they may not reliably show tired signs and may need a bit more guidance from you in terms of keeping their nap sleep timed appropriately through the day, so watching the clock may be helpful to avoid overtiredness.
Determine if wake times are age-appropriate and adjust if needed
Here is the average awake time between naps that babies can handle by age. Not all babies will fit into this range but most are somewhere close.
If you are way off, especially on the longer end, it is possible your baby isn’t reliably showing tired signs at their optimal sleep window. In very alert and observant children I see this frequently. They aren’t ready to nap because they are too busy taking in the environment around them. But it can lead to overstimulation and overtiredness which can create a cycle of short naps.
If your baby is way below the average awake time for their age they may not have enough sleep pressure to extend their nap and we need to increase their awake window slightly in order to give them enough sleep pressure to start to extend their naps. This may take a few weeks and you may need to move very slowly.
Adjust wake windows slowly
The younger your baby is the shorter increments you want to use when adjusting awake times. As you start adjusting awake windows for babies 4 months and younger, you can use 5-10 minute increments for 2-3 days until you find that sweet spot of falling asleep easily and waking up rested. For babies 5-8 months, you can use increments of 10-15 minutes every 2-3 days and for older babies, I recommend using 15-minute increments.
Take baby to a less stimulating area for 5-10 minutes before nap
Since overstimulation can be a contributing factor to short naps, taking baby into an area with less stimulation such as a dim room without a ton of things on the wall or floor to look at can help baby wind down their brain and body for sleep.
Have a nap routine
Having a consistent nap routine that baby can depend on is important so that baby can start to anticipate the transition to sleep. A diaper change, putting on their sleep sack, and a story or song is a great place to start. A nap routine should be about 5 minutes.
Keep the sleep situation the same throughout each nap
Think about how your baby falls asleep. When they come to the surface of sleep between sleep cycles is everything still the same? While some babies aren’t as sensitive to being put down after falling asleep, some babies are very sensitive to this and it causes a wake-up when they trying to get into the next sleep cycle. Then this wake-up can result in the nap ending.
Whether baby is very sensitive to these changes can be partially dependent on temperament. More alert and sensitive babies will likely not do as well with this change of being put down while they are asleep.
Keep the sleep situation the same throughout naps to help extend nap length.
Consider baby’s temperament
Babies who are more alert may need more help from you with getting them ready to nap. There are studies1 that link a more ‘negative’ temperament with poor sleep and shorter sleep durations. These studies don’t necessarily show that temperament causes issues or what the relationship between temperament and poor sleep is, only that a relationship seems to exist.
From the hundreds of families I have worked with one-on-one, little ones whose parents describe them as very alert, observant or appear to have “FOMO” tend to struggle with short naps and parents need to be more intentional with their activities prior to nap and how activities, outings and adventures are spaced throughout the day to help babies get some solid, longer naps with some downtime to help them sleep well.
How long does it take to resolve short naps?
It may take 2-4 weeks of implementing these tips and monitoring to fully see progress. Naps can be really challenging and things can be up-and-down in the process of improving them. This is unfortunately completely normal.
If things aren’t progressing as you hope or you aren’t sure where to start, you can schedule a free evaluation call with me to chat through what’s going on, what your sleep goals are and how I can help you reach those sleep goals.
To healthy and happy sleep,