Short naps are so frustrating for parents. You finally get baby down to sleep only to have them wake 30 minutes later. It’s barely enough time to do something to take care of yourself or get anything on the to do list done. So why is baby taking short naps?
Short naps can be caused by many different things. Let’s look at some things to look at for your own baby when trying to determine why baby is taking short naps.
First of all, let’s define a short nap. Anything less than 45 minutes is what we are considering a short nap here. These naps are only one sleep cycle or maybe not even a full sleep cycle.
Here are some factors that lead to short naps
Short naps are very common in babies 6 months and younger. Between 4 and 6 months is typically the age when naps can start to more consistently extend past the 30 to 40 minute mark.
Babies get overtired because they have gone past their ideal sleep window. Their bodies compensate for missing that window with stimulating hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. This then makes it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep. Think about being so exhausted and depleted and then taking an espresso shot. It’s not a great feeling. Overtired babies may feel like their body is fighting them in going to sleep and often appear to be fighting their nap even though you know they are tired.
When baby is undertired, or not tired enough, going down for nap they may fall asleep easily but then don’t have enough sleep pressure to help them extend their nap. Sleep pressure is a result of adenosine building up in our brains during the time we are awake. Then it decreases as we sleep. This leads to baby waking up from their short nap feeling rested. Just like short cat naps often help adults recharge and feel more awake and alert.
You also have to consider their total sleep. Each of us has an unique sleep need, or total amount of sleep our bodies need during the day. If night sleep is going really well or you are getting one long nap and some short ones, look at their total sleep in a 24 hour period.
Naps can be really hard because we don’t have our circadian rhythm telling us it is time to nap. There are dips and peaks in circadian wakefulness but it doesn’t necessarily help with naps. Having the environment be conducive for good sleep is important. This includes having the room dark, cool and boring. Darkness and keeping the room boring (aka free of lots of things to look at or other exciting things) helps make sleep the priority. Keeping it cool (68-72°F or 20-22°C ) helps facilitate falling asleep as our body temperature drops as we fall asleep. Just don’t forget appropriate layers!
This is a big one. Babies come into this world and everything is new to them. The shadow cast on the wall, the sunlight coming in the window, and yes, all those toys and playmats everyone bought you. Too much stimulation from activities, toys or engagement (think meeting new family and friends) can be a lot for babies’ brains to process. When their brains are in overdrive it can be hard to unwind for sleep and may lead to short naps or babies having a hard time getting down to sleep for their nap.
Some things to consider when determining why baby is taking short naps
Is baby younger than 4 months old?
If so, it may be a wait-and-see game or using assisted naps (rocking, holding, baby carrier) to help get some longer naps. Naps start to consolidate between 4-6 months so once you are in this age range there is more you can do to start increasing nap length.
Are short naps impacting nights?
If baby is still sleeping well at night then short naps may not be a big issue in the overall picture of their sleep. When I say sleeping well at night this is is dependent on each individual baby, their age and development and a family’s definition of sleeping well. It may look like waking to eat and going back to sleep easily. It may look like sleeping long stretches or through the night for other babies.
Is your baby tired and grumpy during the day?
If your baby wakes up tired and grumpy from their short naps, it is likely that they need a bit more sleep. Or baby getting progressively grumpier and grumpier as the day goes on can also be a sign baby needs more frequent or longer daytime sleep. I’ve got some more troubleshooting items and tips to increase naps here.
If your baby wakes up happy from every short nap, they may be getting the daytime sleep that they need right now.
Overall, the answer to why baby is taking a short nap can be complicated. It may also differ from day to day. Tracking your baby’s sleep can help you find patterns and determine where adjustments may need to be made. You can learn how to troubleshoot these short naps here.
Of course, if you are struggling and want more personalized help you can always reach out to me to schedule a free evaluation call here. We will chat through what is going on, what your sleep goals are and how I can help you reach your sleep goals. Baby sleep can be quite a puzzle, Getting all the pieces put together will help improve short naps.
To healthy and happy sleep,
2 thoughts on “Why Baby is Taking Short Naps”
This was really helpful and reassuring thank you! Most other sources had the same suggestions for “fixing” the problem but this is the first that made me realise that it may not actually need fixing! My 6mo son is always happy after his cat naps, he sleeps at night, and he’s getting 14/15 hrs sleep in every 24 hrs, and so it seems that all is well! I’ll just have to accept that I’ll get less done around the house, oh well! 😉
Hi Heather! I’m so glad this was reassuring. Yes, having realistic expectations is very helpful. Longer naps will come but sounds like you (and he) are doing great!