Naptime is a sacred time of day. It’s a precious time when you can actually get things done without interruption. Maybe you work from home and your baby’s naptime is the only time you can have meetings or catch up on work. Or maybe you use that time to relax. Regardless of what you get up to during naptime, it can be frustrating when you hear your baby calling for you after just 30 minutes.
What is considered a short nap?
A short nap for a baby is anything less than 50 minutes. A baby’s sleep cycle is about 40-50 minutes long, so waking at the 50-minute mark or earlier shows that baby is struggling to connect sleep cycles for some reason.
Are short naps bad?
Short naps are not just an annoyance, they can have a real effect on your life as well as your baby’s happiness.
- Poor daytime sleep leads to overtiredness, which can negatively impact nighttime sleep.
- No restorative restful daytime sleep leads to increased crankiness and tantrums.
- Short naps can lead to you staying home in an attempt to fix the routine and to avoid tantrums in public – having a negative effect on your mental health.
- You may feel more stressed as your attempts to lengthen naps prove unsuccessful.
What causes short naps?
Newborn sleep is much more stable and constant than an older baby’s sleep. Newborns will usually only wake for physical needs such as hunger or discomfort. Once your baby hits 4 months they begin to experience light sleep, as well as deep sleep and REM sleep, similar to how adults sleep. This can be a difficult adjustment as there is a new period of wakefulness between each new sleep cycle, causing many babies to struggle to maintain sleep for a few weeks. This period of adjustment is referred to as the 4 month sleep regression. There are multiple sleep regressions throughout the first 2 years of your baby’s life. All you can do is set them up for sleep success and try to support them through each transition.
Overtired or undertired
Your baby’s wake windows are an important consideration when planning for good sleep. Depending on their age they will have an ideal amount of time that they should be awake for. For example, a 4 – 6 month old’s wake window is between 1.5 – 2.5 hours. If your baby is awake longer than their wake window then their body will release cortisol (the stress hormone) which makes it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep. This is why a tired baby will fight sleep. On the other hand, if you’re putting your baby for naps too soon after their last sleep they may not be tired enough to have a longer nap.
Bad environment for sleep
Naps go against the circadian rhythm (to wake when it’s bright and sleep when it’s dark) so you need to set up the environment for sleep. The ideal nap environment is quiet, dark and slightly cool. Many parents worry about their baby becoming dependent on this environment leaving them stuck in the house for naptimes. However, once your baby learns to link sleep cycles during the day, it will be much easier for them to take that skill out and about.
No wind-down time
It can be helpful to have a naptime routine that is similar to your baby’s bedtime routine, except shorter. These rituals leading up to naptime signal to your baby that sleep is coming soon, so their body begins to release sleepy hormones. Your baby may find it hard to fall asleep if they go straight from playing to lying in their crib in the dark.
Try offering a feed or a snack (depending on your baby’s age) just before naptime as this prevents hunger from disturbing their nap.
Sleeping before naptime
Have you ever fallen asleep on the couch because you were so exhausted, then gotten into bed and felt wide awake? This is because your small nap on the couch reduced your sleep pressure. Sleep pressure has to build up in order to fall asleep and stay asleep. So if your baby is falling asleep before naptime, maybe during a feed, then waking up and getting ready for naptime, this could sabotage their nap.
Remember, short naps are not considered a sleep issue unless your baby is older than 6 months and has been having consistent short naps for more than 1 month. Try not to stress too much in your pursuit of longer naps, give your baby every chance at success and then give yourself a break.