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Troubleshooting Short Naps

Okay so, you finally get baby down for a nap, have a few minutes to take a shower, clean up, sleep, whatever you want, and baby is awake 30 minutes later. Is this normal? Yes, totally. Is it the only option? Absolutely not. And it's exhausting - for you and for baby.

Reasons for a short nap

Most babies do not naturally know how to connect their sleep cycles. It's a skill that has to be learned. A sleep cycle is about 30-45 minutes long. So when baby is waking after one sleep cycle and doesn't know how to go back to sleep independently, that's where the nap ends.

What causes short naps?

  • Baby is not tired enough

  • Baby is overtired

  • Baby doesn't know how to self soothe so is unable to fall back asleep without your help

  • Baby doesn't know when to expect a nap because they're occurring at inconsistent times throughout the day

  • Room is too bright

  • Outside noises are waking baby - such as your dog barking

  • Baby is hungry and isn't on a predictable feeding schedule

  • No nap routine to help baby prepare for sleep

  • Parent gets baby up as soon as baby wakes, reinforcing the short nap

How to lengthen short naps

First things first, if baby doesn't know how to fall asleep independently, then every time she wakes after a sleep cycle she will be looking for you to provide the same thing you did to help her fall asleep initially. This might be rocking, feeding, bouncing or wearing baby to sleep. If baby is not able to fall asleep independently, this is where sleep training is beneficial to teach her how to self soothe.

If baby is falling asleep independently but continues to wake after one sleep cycle, look at baby's schedule and wake times. If you're not following age appropriate wake times, then baby will be either overtired or not tired enough, resulting in a short nap.

Look at the sleep environment. Room should be dark enough that ideally you can't see your hand in front of your face. That's tricky to get during the day, but if you combine blackout shades plus blackout curtains, you can get close enough. Use white noise! This is not optional. White noise drowns out any outside noises and creates ambient sleep noise.

Is baby on a regular feeding schedule? I have my clients follow a feeding schedule of feeding every 3 hours when on a 3 nap schedule, and every 4 hours when on a 2 nap schedule (around the time solids are introduced). This helps baby anticipate when their next feeding will be, allowing her to take full feedings rather than little snacks.

Are you getting baby up as soon as she wakes up? If so, you're reinforcing the short nap. When baby wakes early from a nap, try leaving her in her crib for a full hour. This will be hard and you can anticipate some crying. Remember that a little crying is okay. Crying releases the stress hormone, cortisol. Think about how you feel when you cry. Generally you feel a whole lot better! So for two weeks, I would give baby a full hour for each nap. If baby wakes early, leave her in her crib until the end of the full hour. Then wait for a lull in her cry and go in and get her up. Give her TONS of praise for taking a great nap (even if it wasn't), then move on with your day. This will help teach her to be comfortable in her crib for the full hour and will give her the opportunity to work on self soothing back to sleep.

How I can help

My goal is to provide SIMPLE, data-driven, step-by-step sleep programs for the tired parent who's ready to SLEEP AGAIN! Whether you have a brand-new baby, a 3-year-old who's never slept through the night, or you just need some help making a schedule change. I have a program just for you! 


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