Short baby naps can be very disheartening. In some cases, the time it takes to get him down for a nap is longer than the nap itself! Ugh... If you find yourself in this boat, don't worry! There are some things you can do to try and lengthen those naps.
First of all, it's important to understand that short naps can be common until up to 6 months of age. So, if your baby is under 6 months, don't worry or feel like it's a lost cause if there are one or more short naps in his day. This could just lengthen out in time. particularly if he takes any longer naps in the day. If he takes one or two decently long ones, then it's normal- and actually ideal- that the others be shorter. Day and night sleep are directly connected. You don't want a 5-month old, for example, taking three 2-hour naps every day. This would be 6 hours of total day sleep, which means he's going to struggle to sleep at night because he had too much day sleep.
Now, if your baby only takes 30-45 minute naps all day every day or he's older than 6 months and is down to 2 short naps, then we want to take a look at why this is happening. Here are the possible reasons and what you can do to change it.
Age-Appropriate Wake Windows
Hitting the right wake windows is very important for making sure your baby is tired and ready for sleep, but not overtired and cranky. If you put him down for a nap too soon, then he won't be tired enough to sleep well. It may be a fight to get him to sleep or, if he does go right to sleep, it could be causing the short nap. This is simply because he wasn't able to build up enough sleep pressure to sleep deeply.
On the other end, if your baby's wake window is too long, then he will get overtired. Being overtired causes more issues sleeping than you might think. Head here to find out more about how overtiredness affects sleep. Download my free Sleep Times Chart to find out the age-appropriate wake windows for your child.
If your baby can sleep long and independently at night, but not during the day, you may want to look at his sleep environment. A lot of light can still come in on the top and sides of light blocking curtains. This may not be an issue at night, but can let a lot of light in during the day. You want his environment to be just as dark during the day as it is at night. Check out these BlackoutEZ customizable window shades for 100% total blackout. This is what we use in all of our bedrooms! Sleepout customizable curtains that go on a window with suction cups are also a great product for getting better blackout! (Both are affiliate links.)
You also want to make sure the rest of his environment supports sleep just as well in the day as it does at night. For example, if you use a sound machine at night, you should be using it during the day for naps as well. If your baby wears a sleep sack at night, he should wear one for naps as well. It can be a thinner one if he doesn't need as much warmth, but you still want to have one on him! Sleep is sleep- keep things consistent across day and night sleep.
Sometimes you simply need to give your baby a little bit of time to connect sleep cycles. When your baby wakes up from a short nap (45 minutes or less), don't rush right in and get him up. Especially if he isn't fully crying, give him a few minutes to see if he can settle and fall back to sleep for a longer nap. This may not help the short naps immediately, but pausing after short naps can really help over time.
Sometimes babies can't sleep longer than one sleep cycle because they are dependent on too many props to fall asleep. A sleep prop is anything a child is dependent on to fall asleep, for example, rocking to sleep. If a baby is rocked to sleep for a nap and then laid down, he may wake after only 30 minutes or so. This is because he needs to be rocked again to fall back to sleep. In this case, teaching the baby independent sleep skills will help him connect sleep cycles on his own, which will result in longer naps.
Making sure you have the right wake windows and a proper sleep environment are the first steps to getting longer naps. Practicing the pause and teaching independent sleep skills are other great ways to help your baby take longer naps!
Unable to figure out your child's nap situation? I can help! Contact me for more details!
~Ashley Bell, pediatric sleep consultant