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Short Naps. What’s Going On and How to Lengthen Them.

Ugh, the dreaded short naps…we all know them and want them gone. Not only do short naps leave us with cranky babies come afternoon, but consistent short naps lend to overtiredness that give us ongoing bedtime battles and night wake ups. Our babies need that midday rest to release the build up of sleep pressure during their awake time (depending on their age), it’s restorative and supports their growth and development.

Children need 12-15 hours of sleep a day. If they are under 3 and sleeping 10-12 hours at night, they, for the most part, require additional rest during the day to achieve an optimal amount of sleep.

An average sleep cycle is about 30-45 minutes. Does the timing sound familiar? The reason for a nap that lasts 30-45 minutes is largely due to a child’s inability to transition into the another sleep cycle. Since the end of a sleep cycle is lighter sleep, it's a time when your child can easily wake and disrupt the length of the nap. Noooooo! What can cause a full wake up at this time?

There can be a number of causes for this interruption between cycles (short nap) and it may take some trial and error to get to the bottom of it. If you are struggling with a little one that has consistent short naps, I’ve put together a list of some common reasons why below:


1. Appropriate Sleep Environment:

  • Noises - Are there any noises that can cause an early wake up? Perhaps a dog barks at a certain time, there’s construction or another child is home. White noise is handy for these instances, to help your little one block out other sounds and fall into another sleep cycle without disturbance.

  • Is the room dark enough? A dark room during naps help to support melatonin (the sleep hormone) which helps your little one fall asleep and stay asleep.

2. Comfort: Is your child comfortable? Make sure you put them in comfy clothes for sleep and diaper changes are addressed. Also, the temperature of the room is important. Keep it cool – babies sleep best in a room that is kept between 65-70 degrees. Obviously, you should follow your baby’s lead on this, but a warm, comfortable sleep sack or onesie in a cool room will often lead to better sleep than no cover in a warm one.

3. Wake Windows Are On Point: Are you following your child’s age-appropriate wake window? If you find the window isn’t working and you’ve given it some time, you might want to adjust it by 15-30 minutes for a few days to a week to see if it makes a difference. Your child might just need more awake time.

4. Full Feeds: Is baby taking full feeds when she wakes? Work on a feeding schedule that allows for this and ensures baby isn’t waking cause of hunger. Talk to your doctor or a lactation consultant should this be a concern.

5. Independent Sleep: This is the big one! Is your child able to fall asleep and stay asleep on their own without intervention or a prop? Do they need help falling asleep? The reason this causes a problem, is that when they have a slight wake up after the first sleep cycle, they need help falling back asleep for the next one. Now a full wake up happens until they get that outside help they need. If they have the skills to fall asleep on their own, they will just soothe themselves right into the next cycle.

Keep in mind that if the nap has made it to an hour, that is still good restorative sleep. I recommend 1-2 hours when there is more than one nap. Sometimes it’s an hour and that’s ok. However, if your child is on one nap, you’ll want at least 2 hours out of it.

It's important to note that when sleep training, naps can take time to get longer. They are almost always harder than night sleep and can take 2-4 weeks to fully resolve. Give yourself some space and time around naps. Go through the checklist, make changes where needed, and stick with it in order to see progress.

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