There’s one thing parents dread when it comes to their little ones and that’s short naps. There are lots of things actually but those 20-30 minute naps can be tough.
We love our babies but sometimes, mama (or papa) needs some rest. That certainly won’t happen if your munchkin doesn’t allow it.
Well, turn on parent investigator mode and let’s dissect the question, “why is my baby taking short naps?”
What Is Considered A Short Nap For A Baby?
A baby’s sleep cycle is usually between 50-60 minutes and a nap should be at least 2 sleep cycles.(1) So anything less than that is considered a short nap.
Other than the age, it’s okay to see some occasional short naps with your little one. In reality, there will be times when you can’t predict the sleep time of your little one. And it’s normal to see occasional sporadic changes in your little one’s sleep pattern.
The cause for worry arises when your little experiences frequent short naps. At about 5 months, my baby would sleep for 25 minutes and then make a fuss all through her wake time. Trust me when I say, tough times.
On the days she took 2 hour long naps, it felt like I had hit the jackpot.
You should know that what is considered a “short nap” mostly depends on your little one’s age. It’s developmentally normal to see those 20-minute naps when your little one is a newborn and a lot frequently too.
Nap Duration for Different Ages
One thing I’ve noticed with lots of parents is that they throw an unnecessary fuss about their baby taking short naps. Don’t get me wrong, it is a thing. I mean, I experienced short naps with my baby a lot of times but in some cases, your baby is having adequate sleep even with 20-minute naps.
I’ve curated a list to help you decide whether or not your baby is experiencing short naps as per their age.
|Age||Nap length||Nap frequency|
|3-month olds||30 minutes to 2 hours||3-4 daily|
|4-6 month olds||1 to 2 hours||2-3 daily|
|7-12 month olds||1 to 2 hours||2 daily|
You don’t need anyone to tell you that your 5-month-old taking 30-minute naps counts as cat napping. You’ll need to do something to lengthen their sleep time so they don’t get overtired.
Why Do Short Naps Happen?
There are a couple of reasons why your baby may be experiencing short naps and you need to determine this before you try to extend sleep times. These are:
1. Your Baby Needs Your Help To Sleep
I know you’re probably wondering what on earth that means. Well, take a trip down memory lane, do you rock your baby to sleep? Do you cuddle them and sing them to sleep on your arms? If yes, then there you have it!
As I earlier stated, a baby’s sleep cycle takes 50-60 minutes so to take a long nap, they’d have to go through two sleep cycles. They are likely to partially wake in between sleep cycles and when you’re not there to put them back to sleep, they would stay awake.
2.Your Baby Is Startled By A Change In Environment
I used to do this all the time, I’d rock my baby to sleep in my arms then transfer her into her crib for the nap. Like I said, 25 minutes later she wakes. Sometimes, that happened because she woke up in a different environment than she slept in.
A good rule of thumb is to place your little one in their crib right before they fall asleep when they are just drowsy enough to still be aware of their surroundings. That way, a sense of familiarity hits them when they wake and they can go back to sleep.
3.Your Baby Is Hungry
A major reason why your baby may be short napping is that they get hungry halfway through the sleep session. This arouses them and will most likely lead to a break in their sleep cycle.
It can be hectic planning feeding and sleeping schedules for your baby, especially when they barely stick to the sleep schedule. Still, I would suggest you take your time to prepare a schedule that works well with their feeding schedule.
4.Your Baby’s Sleep Environment Is Not Conducive
The environment your baby sleeps in plays a major role in whether or not they would have short naps. In this case, I’m referring to any disturbances that may be present while your little one naps in their crib.
Just like adults, babies can be light sleepers and a short neighborhood dog bark or squeaking door can cause your baby to wake in the middle of a nap.
5.Your Baby Is Over Tired
You have to be as precise as you can when it comes to your baby’s wake times and sleep schedule.
As weird as it sounds if your baby doesn’t get enough sleep they would get over tired and take only short naps. That’s because extended wake times cause the release of hormones like adrenaline and cortisol which can cause your baby to stay up and make a fuss.
6.Your Baby Is Under Tired
Just like over-tiredness will cause your baby to take short naps, under-tiredness will cause the same. Under-tiredness is basically when your little one hasn’t built up enough sleep pressure to nap.
The thing with this is that your baby will fall asleep because there’s just enough sleep pressure for that. But when it comes to staying asleep, it’s not sufficient. When this happens, they may even wake before a complete sleep cycle.
How To Extend Your Baby’s Short Naps
Its time for the part you’ve patiently been waiting for. Let’s look into some of the ways I tried to extend my baby’s short naps. Some worked on some occasions and didn’t on some and it may be similar for you. Or not but it’s worth trying.
1.Allow Age Appropriate Wake Times
You see the last two the reasons I listed that may cause your baby to take short naps? This is where we solve them. Babies tend to be awake for short times before napping again during the day, this is what is called wake time.
You don’t want their wake time to be too long or they’ll end up overtired and you don’t want it to be too short or reverse will be the case.
What works for one mama may not work for you, so you’re going to have to observe your little one’s sleep patterns to establish an appropriate wake time. But before you do that, you may want to take a look at this chart for a good guess.
|Age||Wake Time Between Naps|
|0-1 months||45 minutes|
|1-2 months||45 to 60 minutes|
|2-4 months||1.5 to 3 hours|
|5.8 months||2.5 to 3 hours|
|9-12 months||2.5 to 4 hours|
2.Create a comfortable nap space
You may have noticed that your newborn napped or naps almost anywhere and I mean, anywhere. From the car to the tight booth in the coffee shop to the hard couch. But as your little one grows older, they start to get picky about where they sleep. They are no longer able to sleep just anywhere.
What you should do is create a friendly environment for them to nap in. It’s no news that babies tend to sleep better at night. So, you would want to mimic the environment they sleep in then.
To do that, you simply have to block out all the noise and ensure that the room is dark. So much so that you can’t read a book in it. If you live in a noisy neighborhood, you could also invest in a white noise machine for better sleep.
If you get it right, your little one is more likely to enter into the next sleep cycle when that partial wake time comes as there are no disturbances.
3.Make Sure Your Baby is full
If you don’t want your little one to take short naps due to hunger, you would have to put them to bed full. The best way to do is, as I earlier stated, is to properly plan both feeding and sleeping schedules.
You don’t have to feed your baby to sleep though. You could simply ensure that your baby has a feed 20-30 minutes before going down for a nap. This makes them relatively full and less likely to wake in the middle of a nap.
4.Create a Pre-nap Routine and Stick To It
We want our little one to fall and stay asleep easily so you’re going to have to build a routine that leads to nap time. It doesn’t have to be something too elaborate, it can be a simple extraction from their bedtime routine. You just want to make sure you follow the routine for every nap, every day.
This was the nap routine I went with for my baby:
- Read a book
- Sing a lullaby
- Cuddle and rock baby until drowsy
- Lay baby down to sleep
The thing with routines is that the pattern will become familiar in your baby’s head and whenever you do the activities in that order, they’ll take the cue that it’s time to sleep.
5.Train your baby to fall asleep on their own
It’s sweet to rock and cuddle your baby to sleep but it may not be a good idea in the long run. Whenever a sleep cycle ends, they don’t know what to do. They will cry out for you to come back and help them go to sleep which won’t always be possible.
You can start by putting them to sleep in their crib. I’ll tell any parent this, your little one doesn’t have to fall asleep in your arms. Get them sleepy but still aware of their surroundings and lay them to fall asleep in their crib. You could as well introduce a lovey for toddlers and older babies.
If you can effectively train your little ones to fall asleep on their own, they would simply do so whenever they wake from a sleep cycle. It helps them transition easier.
When you finally get your baby to take regular long naps, don’t slack off. Babies can easily unlearn napping habits and you would be back to stage one. So, you’ve got to keep it going. Keep up with your routine even on weekends.
Prioritize your baby’s sleep time and have friends over instead of going on frequent outings. When your baby naps well, you have those few hours to yourself and you can finally get on that show you’ve been missing!
Nap Tips For Newborns
- Arrange for a comfortable environment for your little one to sleep in; curtain down, white noise machine on.
- Make sure you’re having them nap in their bassinet or pack n play as those are the safest places for newborns to sleep.(2)
- Keep soft objects and loose bedding out of your baby’s sleep zone even during naps.(3)
- Place your little one in their sleep station when they’re still awake but drowsy.
- Stay consistent in your nap schedule.
There are several reasons why your baby may be taking short naps. Once you’ve established this, you can start working to help them to extend nap times.
Remember that it takes time to get your little one taking longer naps and even when you get there, there might still be a few cases of short naps. You just have to keep going because it’ll get much better as your child grows older.
1. Raising Children Network, (2021, Mar 31). Baby Sleep: 2-12 months https://raisingchildren.net.au/babies/sleep/understanding-sleep/sleep-2-12-months
2. The American Academy of Pediatrics, (2022, June 21). American Academy of Pediatrics Updates Safe Sleep Recommendations: Back is Best https://www.aap.org/en/news-room/news-releases/aap/2022/american-academy-of-pediatrics-updates-safe-sleep-recommendations-back-is-best/
3.Rachel Y. Moon, MD, FAAP, (2022, July 14). Healthy Children. How To Keep Your Sleeping Baby Safe: AAP Policy Explained https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/sleep/Pages/A-Parents-Guide-to-Safe-Sleep.aspx