If your baby takes short naps it can be exhausting for parents, leaving very little time to get anything done or even take a moment for ourselves. Even when you know your baby needs longer naps, sometimes it feels like nothing you do works to extend them.
There are lots of different reasons why babies take short naps. The good news is that once we know what is causing the short nap times, we can take action and help our little one start to take longer naps.
Keep reading to learn the most common reasons why babies take short naps, and what you can do to extend them.
Reason #1: Your Baby Takes Short Naps Because of Their Age
Short naps or ‘catnapping’ is completely normal between 3.5 to 6 months of age.
At this age babies are not developmentally ready to link sleep cycles and will wake after one sleep cycle which is every 30 – 45 minutes.
Because short naps are developmentally appropriate at this age, it’s important to embrace (or tolerate) the short naps until our little ones are developmentally ready and able to link sleep cycles and extend their day naps.
Reason #2: Your Baby Isn’t Tired Enough
Daytime naps are guided by sleep pressure, which builds while you’re awake as a result of chemicals in the brain.
For our little ones, this simply means the longer they are awake the more sleep pressure they experience, and the sleepier they become. When the sleep pressure is high enough our little ones will fall asleep.
If we offer our babies a nap too early, their sleep pressure will be low and this will cause them to have a short nap. This is often really confusing for parents because their little one might have enough sleep pressure to fall asleep but not enough sleep pressure to sleep more than one sleep cycle.
To help our little ones have long naps it’s important to follow age-appropriate wake windows, as this will ensure our little ones’ sleep pressure is high enough to link multiple sleep cycles:
- From 0-4 months, your baby will stay awake for 45 minutes to 2 hours at a time
- From 5-6 months your baby will stay awake for 2 to 2.5 hours at a time
Reason #3: Your Baby Is Overtired
On the flip side, your baby might take short naps because they’re overtired.
When babies become overtired, their bodies releases stimulating hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. These stimulating hormones make it extremely difficult for babies to fall asleep and stay asleep.
To avoid an overtired baby, it is important to follow age-appropriate wake windows. Once we know what the age-appropriate wake windows are we can look for our little ones tired signs at this time and offer them a nap when they signal they are tired.
See the wake windows above for more details on those.
Reason #4: The Environment Isn’t Conducive to Sleep
Newborns fall asleep absolutely anywhere. But this ability to fall asleep in busy, noisy environments disappears once our babies’ sleep pattern mature between the ages of 3 – 5 months. After their sleep patterns have matured, babies start to partially or fully wake between every sleep cycle, which is every 30 – 45 minutes.
Our little ones are more likely to fall back to sleep during these partial or full wakings, if the sleeping environment is not exciting or stimulating. But if the sleeping environment is interesting then it is more likely our little ones will wake after a short nap.
To encourage our little ones to have longer naps we want to ensure the room is conducive to sleep. This means sleeping our little ones in rooms that are dark, cool and quiet.
Reason #5: Your Baby Takes Short Naps Because They’re Hungry
Hunger can also cause babies to wake early from a nap.
Babies feed regularly and will wake early from a nap if they’re hungry. It’s important to consider the timing of their feeds, so that they aren’t napping when they are due for a feed.
For example, if your little one feeds every three hours and they were fed two and a half hours ago when they first woke up, and now it’s time for them to have a nap, then it’s likely that they’ll only sleep for 30 minutes because they’re going to be hungry at this point and wake up looking for food.
It’s important to consider the timing of your feeds to ensure that when your baby does go to sleep, they’re going to be able to do two sleep cycles before that hunger kicks in and they need food.
Reason #6: Your Baby Needs a Sleep Aid
As parents we often fall into the habit of helping our little ones fall asleep by rocking, shushing, holding or feeding them. But what happens is our little ones start to wake every 30-45 minutes searching for the item which helped them fall asleep. And that item is us! We have become their sleep aid.
To extend the day naps we need to help our little one fall asleep independently without requiring us as a sleep aid. Once they can fall asleep independently, they will have the tools to put themselves back to sleep when they wake between sleep cycles and extend their day naps.
If you’re struggling because your baby takes short naps and you want to get them to sleep for longer, there are things you can do to change it.
Try one of these and find what works for your little one:
- Pay attention to wake windows if you think your little one may not be tired enough
- If you think your baby may be overtired, again check their wake windows and adjust naps accordingly
- Check their sleep environment and make improvements where you can
- Your baby may be hungry. Consider the timing of your feeds to extend your baby’s naps.
- Consider providing a sleep aid to provide comfort and security