If you find your baby stuck in a vicious short nap cycle, I’m willing to bet you’re feeling exhausted too, and maybe even burnt out by them.
You finally get your baby down to sleep, go move the laundry from the washer to the dryer, warm up your coffee or tea, finally sit down to take a break, and - exactly 27 minutes later - you hear your baby on the monitor.
Only for this cycle to repeat itself ALL DAY LONG. It’s draining!
While short naps can be very developmental and are even normal or common in those first few months, there are some things you can be doing to help set your baby up for nap success.
Today, I’m going to outline for you the exact four steps you can take to help your baby take better naps.
Step 1 - Troubleshooting: What Causes Short Naps?
Short naps are caused by oodles of things, so scroll through the list and see if you can pinpoint anything that may be the cause. If you know the cause, I’m willing to bet you can figure out the solution! Don’t worry, I’ll point you in the right direction:
Is your baby on the right schedule for their age? Not sure? Grab our FREE Baby Awake Windows chart here. This will give you a starting point for setting up the best schedule for your baby, based on the averages for their age.
Lack of consistency - if you have a different response to each nap, that will just confuse your baby. You don’t need to try a million different things. Pick one thing and stick to it for a week. If you’re not seeing improvement, then pick something else, and stick to it for another week.
Sleep development - your baby will go through a physiological change to their sleep patterns around 4 months of age, also known as the 4-month sleep regression. You may notice more wakings between sleep cycles, and this could be the cause of short naps.
Teething - yes, teething may interrupt a nap for a day or two, but it’s not the cause of prolonged short naps.
Separation Anxiety - babies will experience bouts of separation anxiety throughout early childhood. It’s normal and also developmental. The best things you can do to get through it are to consistently remind your child that you always come back, and display your confidence in the decision to provide quality sleep opportunities for them. Offer support as needed and be consistent with your responses.
Overtiredness or sleep deprivation due to illness or travel. If you get off track due to either of these things, refocus when you’re back home or when your baby is feeling better.
A short car nap ruins the homeostatic balance and sleep pressure is gone! You can always try to move them from the car seat to their crib. If this doesn’t work, offer their next nap a little earlier.
There’s no nap time routine. You need a nap time routine just as much as a bedtime routine. This short set of steps ensures a smooth transition from awake time to sleepy time.
They’re hungry. Make sure they’re fed within the appropriate time of this awake window or well before their next nap time.
Something is off with the environment. It’s not the ideal temperature, or it’s too light in the room where they sleep. If they’re older than 12 months, they may benefit from having a lovey item in the crib with them. Play white noise for the duration of sleep to block out exterior noises that may cause your baby to awaken earlier than ideal.
Lack of independent sleep skills (we will get more into this below).
If you’ve identified a possible issue that may be causing your baby’s short naps, I’d encourage you to fix it. Assuming you’ve done all that and your baby isn’t yet an independent sleeper, but they’re still having short naps, keep reading.
Step 2 - Focus on nights first
When I work with clients, we always start with nighttime sleep first and then move our focus to naps.
Naps take longer.
The good news is, if your baby is sleeping all through the night, the naps will naturally follow!
I mentioned it before and I’ll say it again - you must be consistent with your response to your child. We start with consistency at bedtime and move into naps the next day. We may also adjust bedtime the first few days while we work together because naps are not going to work immediately, and we want to ensure your child is not getting overtired.
This is also a strategy you can use if your child has had a poor nap day: Simply bring bedtime that night a little earlier to make up for their short naps.
Step 3 - Be consistent
One more time! CONSISTENCY IS KEY!
For younger babies (less than 6 months), practice the first nap of the day in their crib or bassinet. You can try the other naps there too, and if it works, great! If it doesn’t don’t get too frustrated - this is normal. You can always extend naps with a pacifier or by holding your baby.
For babies older than 6 months, practice Crib Hour.
Step 4 - Practice Crib Hour
Crib Hour is a strategy I use to help babies on a 2-nap schedule elongate their naps. You basically do the nap routine when it’s time, and then lay your baby in their crib for their nap. Regardless of whether they sleep the whole time or not, you leave them in the crib, in the best possible nap environment, for at least 60 minutes. Over time, you should see the nap lengthen.
If your baby is on a 1-nap schedule, I recommend doing Crib 90, where instead of 60 minutes, they stay in their crib, in the ideal nap environment, for at least 90 minutes (At this age we want to encourage them to sleep for at least 2 hours in the daytime). And it’s the same thing: Over time, you should see the nap lengthen.
If you’re not sure how to troubleshoot these issues or want another set of eyes on your baby’s sleep situation, I’d invite you to look into my Video or Zoom Sleep Consults. They are the perfect solution for getting your questions about your child’s short naps answered without the need for a full sleep package. Simply head to our website and select your child’s age for our sleep services. Then scroll down to see my consult options!
Sleep tight, friend!