Here’s the scenario: Baby falls asleep, but only stays asleep for maybe 45 minutes (or 30 minutes). Baby wakes up, probably crying and upset, because he is still tired, and just doesn’t know how to go back to sleep. It’s like he has FOMO or something.
You get baby up, try to move on with your day, but the next nap is just as short. By the end of the day, your baby is overtired, cranky, and has meltdowns in the hours before bed. And this is happening every single day.
I get it. It’s totally frustrating to be working hard to put your babe to sleep, and then he’s awake just 30 minutes later. Baby’s tired, and you just want some time to yourself to maybe catch a quick nap too or get some things done around the house.
Keep reading to learn more about what causes short naps, and how to avoid those things so your babe can start taking longer, restorative naps.
What’s causing these short naps?
Just like most others things with babies, that answer is probably pretty complex, meaning there could be multiple things that are causing your baby to take short naps. Here are 5 areas that you might want to focus on when beginning to troubleshoot.
1. Environmental- Is there something in baby’s sleep space that could be causing her to wake up early from a nap? Common environmental things that contribute could be:
Irregular sleep environment
Ambient light in the room
Temperature is too hot or too cold
Noises from outside of baby’s room
I always like to recommend that babies, especially infants older than 3-4 months, start taking naps in a consistent sleep environment. Ideally, these naps take place on a flat mattress, with tight fitted sheets, and in a dark room with the temperature about 70-72 degrees.
If your baby rarely takes naps in the same place, or often naps in a swing, baby carrier/wrap, stroller, or car seat instead of napping in a crib or bassinet, then moving them toward sleeping in a consistent, safe place is a great place to start. While newborns can be a little more easygoing, once babies start to become more alert, they are very tuned in to their surroundings and crave consistency. If they hear an outside noise for example, this may startle them awake, or make them notice that things are going on outside of their room- white noise is a great way to prevent this from happening. By providing your baby with an optimal sleep space, you are setting them up for success.
2. Routine- Did anything in the previous wake window happen to cause baby to be over-stimulated (or under-stimulated)?
Babies- especially young babies- are very easily overstimulated. They honestly can be amused by staring at a ceiling fan, or the wall, for a good bit of time. Therefore, any hanging mobiles, music or television, or different people in the room can all be too much going on, especially if this is happening during every wake window, or there isn’t any quiet time in between events.
Another thing to consider is how long baby has been awake. This amount of time increases by age. Newborns can only handle a very short wake window- just about enough time to feed, have a few moments of play time, and then back to sleep. Older infants can handle more and more, in increasing amounts as their age increases and the number of naps they need decreases. Children older than a year are at the cusp of dropping down to just one midday nap, which will last until they are about 3 years old, so they are getting about 5-6 hours of awake time.
Now, is this wake time window is TOO long, then your child will become OVERtired. A huge surge of adrenaline hits, and it actually will prevent them from being able to fall asleep. Cue the tears, stall tactics, and sleep struggles… combined, it makes it tough for an overtired babe to fall asleep, and then that adrenaline sticks around in his system and causes a short nap.
But… on the opposite end, if your child hasn’t been awake long enough, then she might also fight going to sleep, because she just isn’t tired enough yet and has the stamina to protest. Or, she might fall asleep fairly well, but again, take just a short nap because she wasn’t tired enough to fall asleep and stay asleep.
It really is a balancing act of finding that sweet spot and putting baby down right at that moment. Not sure where to start with wake times or figuring out an ideal daily routine for your babe? That’s exactly what I can help with as a sleep consultant- book a free, 15-minute discovery call with me to learn more about creating the ideal routine for your babe by clicking here.
3. Hunger- Is baby hungry?
Of course, your babe might be waking early from a nap because he is hungry. This is especially true for younger babies, under about 4 months old, because their tummies can only hold so much. After sometime around 3-4 months, they can start lengthening the time between feeds to at least 3 hours, if not 4, during the day, and up to 6-8+ hours at night (or even 11-12 hours straight!).
To ensure your babe is getting enough daytime calories, I always recommend following an EAT//PLAY//SLEEP routine, and offering a feed at the beginning of the wake window. Especially if you are breastfeeding, watch your baby closely to ensure he is nursing vigorously and having a full feed. Even with formula fed babies, still ensure full feeds toward the beginning of that wake window. With a full feed, your baby should be able to go the full wake period, plus a long nap, without being hungry.
4. Does baby fall asleep independently?
One of the foundations of what I teach to the families I work with individually is the importance of independent sleep. This means that baby is able to be placed in the crib awake, and can soothe himself from there to fall asleep, rather than nursing, bouncing, rocking, or falling asleep with other forms of help (things I call “sleep props”).
When newborn babies fall asleep, they tend to fall into REM sleep first. During REM sleep, babies (and adults) are dreaming, which tends to be a very active phase of sleep, and you might even notice that your baby is moving around while asleep. While in REM sleep, this is when your baby processes what she’s learned, and actually uses this time to organize their brain into new neurons.
Babies start to change their sleep patterns around 3 months, so they will actually fall into non-REM sleep first. After the first few moments of lighter sleep, this becomes a very deep sleep, and it’s hard to wake them. During deep sleep (Stage IV), babies are strengthening their immune system.
Babies cycle through REM and non-REM sleep more quickly than an adult, moving through an entire cycle every 45 minutes, compared to 90 minutes as an adult. And they usually complete deep sleep after about 30 minutes.
So, if you are seeing your baby wake up at the 30 minute mark, or the 45 minute mark, it’s because they are shifting between sleep cycles and briefly moving into a lighter stage of sleep. This is often referred to as the ‘45 minute intruder’.
Now, cycling back to that idea of independent sleep. If your baby can fall asleep for the beginning of their nap, the odds are exponentially higher that she can also fall back asleep independently when she wakes up briefly after one sleep cycle, or not wake up at all and just continue sleeping.
However, if your babe is dependent on you to help him fall asleep, then when he rouses a little bit in between those sleep cycles, his brain is realizing that you are no longer present, and that becomes upsetting, causing a full-on wakeup.
5. Is baby under 6 months old?
If you have an independent sleeper, AND you are able to check off all of the other things I’ve talked about above, then it’s still possible for you to have a short napper. Sometimes, babies are just not physiologically ready to extend their naps until they are 4-6 months old.
Or, if you’ve just started working to extend naps, then it may just be that you need to give your babe a little time, especially if they are younger than 4 months old. I’ve seen naps take between 4-6 weeks to come together, especially if that same baby is sleeping 11-12 hours straight overnight, because that sleep pressure just isn’t there.
The same is true if you’ve been working on this for a while now and still struggling with short naps, or maybe falling asleep at bedtime or waking up at night too. I know exactly how frustrating it can be to work so hard to help your baby sleep better and not see any improvement for all of your efforts.
If you feel that you could benefit from a sleep expert’s opinion, then your next step is simple. Click here to book a call with me. It just takes about 15 minutes, and you can share what’s going on with your unique sleep challenges and we can discuss the best solution for your family.
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