There is nothing more frustrating than when your little one naps for only 20-30 minutes at a time! You work so hard to get them to sleep only to have them wake up shortly after! Not to mention the fact that you can’t get anything done while they are “napping”! Because of the short naps, they might be fussy when they are awake and you may be worried that they are not getting the sleep that they need. Short naps are common but they absolutely do not have to be! For your little one’s growth and development, we would love to see their naps start to extend. Here are some of the most common causes of short naps and what you can do about them!
Look at How they Fall Asleep
This is probably one of the biggest contributing factors for short naps. How your child fell asleep for that nap in the first place is what they need recreated to fall back asleep when they partially wake.
We all have sleep cycles. For babies and children, when they are coming out of a sleep cycle, they have a partial awakening. This is when they might check their surroundings. If everything is the same as it was when they went to sleep in the first place, they feel more secure and are more likely to roll over and fall back asleep.
If rocking is how they go to sleep for all of their naps and sleep periods, after a short nap they need you to go back in and recreate that to get back to sleep. Only, by that time they may not fall back asleep because they are now good and awake! This is when it is very beneficial to teach your little one how to fall asleep on their own for all sleep periods. (After 4-6 months of age.) It still might take some time for them to be able to connect their sleep cycles completely on their own, but with consistency and patience, they will get there!
If your little one falls asleep on their own and you are still seeing consistent short naps, you will want to look at the timing of their sleep. Often the reason for short naps is that they are awake for too long in between sleep periods and going to bed overtired. Going to bed overtired can cause your little one to have a harder time falling asleep and staying asleep. So that is your first step with sleep timing!
We have a helpful chart that may help you determine how long your baby might be able to handle being awake before they need to go back to sleep. After 6 months though, we recommend having a set but flexible schedule so that your baby’s internal clock knows what time to go to sleep at every day and therefore, becomes tired at that time. The predictability can do your child’s internal clock a lot of good!
Dark means asleep, light means awake
Our bodies read dark and calm, non-stimulating environments as time for sleep, and light and stimulating environments as time to be awake. If your little one wakes after a 20 minute nap and you immediately go get them and bring them into a bright and stimulating room, you are essentially telling your baby’s body clock that it is in fact time to wake up! So by going to get them right away and exposing their internal clock to all of the stimulation, it is reinforcing that 20 minute nap and their body clock sets to waking at that length of nap every time. This is when the waking becomes strictly habitual.
One of the ways to get their bodies back on track is to keep them in their sleep space for longer than that short nap! The goal is to have them stay in their dark and calm environment after they wake to encourage the longer naps down the road.
We do want to let you know that in the first 4-5 months of infancy, it is common for babies to have some shorter naps. Forty minute naps can be all that you manage to get until closer to 5 or 6 months when sleep becomes a bit more predictable and because they should be having a few naps per day at that age, it is okay. By 5 months old however, you will want to start really encouraging those longer naps. Your goal is for the first 2 naps of the day to become at least 1 hour and 15 minutes in length by 5 or 6 months old.
It takes time
When using the techniques for lengthening those short naps it’s important to remember that this is a long term plan. It may take your little one a couple of weeks of consistency to really start seeing improvement.
It’s also important to know that the initial goal isn’t for your little one to actually fall back asleep when using these strategies, although that is a huge bonus. We are initially working on retraining your child’s brain to learn that those short naps are just not enough.
If you are struggling with chronic short naps or want to teach your little one how to fall asleep on their own and have more questions, Elisa and Pam would love to help! Contact us for a free 15 minute consultation or check out our services page to see how we can help!