One of the biggest pain points of almost every single family I work with is short naps. Naps are troublesome for some babies for tons of different reasons, and there are usually 10-15 reasons why your child might be having short naps. Today I’m going to focus on the THREE top tips that are the most common solutions.
What is a short nap?
Well, most babies sleep for 30-45 minutes per sleep cycle. So a short nap is defined as a nap that is one sleep cycle of less. And biologically speaking, some babies actually have consistently short naps until they are about 6 months of age. Some babies just need a little time more time to develop, so their bodies are capable of consolidating sleep cycles and lengthening their naps.
Naps are just as important as nighttime sleep. I would rather see a baby take 5 30-minute naps to get the sleep they need during the day. And maybe one of those naps is an assisted nap. Because if your child isn’t getting the sleep they need during the day, they’re going to be overtired. If you aren’t sure how much daytime sleep your child should be getting, let’s talk. I can help you understand your child’s sleep needs, individual to their stage of development, so you can help your child get the right amount of sleep to be at their best.
So, what can you do today that will help your child take longer naps? Here are a Sleep Consultant’s Top Three Tips for debunking short naps.
Create an Ideal Sleep Environment
Creating a sleep environment that sets your child up for success is the easiest tip I can give to parents who are trying to solve short naps. If your child wakes up between sleep cycles and there is an element of their sleep environment that makes it harder for them to go back to sleep, then they are going to have short naps. You want to make sure that you do everything possible to create an environment that promotes sleep and makes it easy for your child to take longer naps.
Keep It Dark
You want your baby to sleep in a dark room. Your child’s room should be pitch black, even at noon, the brightest part of the day. An easy way to assess this is to walk into your child’s room in the middle of the day, turn off all the lights, draw the curtains, close the blinds, and get it as dark as possible. Then hold your hand in front of your face. Can you still see your hand? If so, your child’s room is not dark enough. Darkness gives your child’s body the cue to produce melatonin, the sleep preparation hormone. If your child’s body is sensing too much light, their body could not be producing enough melatonin.
Keep It Quiet
Is there external noise happening while your child is trying to nap? Some noises (like construction next door, the garbage truck passing, etc.) you may not be able to control. But you can try to control the noise that happens inside your home. If you have older kids, you can place your younger child in a room away from the center of the home (like a walk-in bedroom closet) to keep them as far away from unavoidable noise as possible. Also, be conscious of the noise you’re making. Naptime might not be the best time to ask your husband to unload the dishwasher or start another noisy activity. You can also use a white noise machine to drown out any unpreventable noise. When using a white noise machine, place it at least 5 feet away from your baby’s head and where it can act as a buffer for the most common noise. If there is outside noise, place the white noise machine in the window. If there is noise coming from inside your home, place the white noise machine next to your child’s door.
Keep It Cool
Most humans, babies included, sleep best in a room where the temperature is between 68-72 degrees. Keep that in mind when you are putting your child down for their nap. Is the sun heating up their room in the middle of the day? Turn on a fan or drop the house temperature a degree or two to make things cooler and more comfortable.
Keep It Comfy
Would you sleep in a pair of jeans? Probably not. Your child should be put to sleep in comfortable sleep attire. Make sure they are in soft, breathable clothes that are cozy and cool.
Find the Right Sleep Schedule
Your baby should be on an age-appropriate sleep schedule. Not sure what an age-appropriate schedule looks like for your baby? As I mentioned above, I can help you determine an age-appropriate schedule with your child’s needs in mind. If you do have an idea of what that schedule should look like, then you’re already on your way to implementing this tip.
Most babies are not on a fixed schedule until they are older or napping two naps per day. Awake windows play a huge part in the quantity and quality of your child’s sleep. When your baby stays awake longer than recommended between naps, they can become overtired and have trouble settling down to fall asleep due to stimulating hormones that are being produced. Their brain is telling them that they don’t need to sleep, and developmentally they don’t understand the importance of a nap. So they’re going to fight going to sleep. And, when they do fall asleep, their body is still producing those stimulating hormones, so they may wake up ready to go after one sleep cycle. If your child is showing signs of being overtired, try scaling back their awake window, meaning shorten the time between your child’s naps.
Don’t Nap Too Soon
The flip side of being overtired is when your child is undertired. Meaning, their naps are too close together, so they are not feeling the sleep pressure their bodies need to produce melatonin and other chemicals that help them fall asleep. Or when your baby is undertired, they may go down for a nap, but they wake up ready to go after one sleep cycle because their body just doesn’t need any more sleep. Staying aware of your child’s ideal sleep schedule and awake windows based on their age can help you determine if your child needs more time between naps, so you can schedule naps appropriately and prevent undertiredness.
Build Solid Sleep Skills
Helping your child build independent sleep skills at an early age can set them up for success in nighttime sleep as well at naptime during the day. If your child is relying on a sleep prop (like rocking to sleep, feeding to sleep, etc.) to fall asleep, when they wake between sleep cycles, they aren’t going to be able to fall back asleep on their own. They are going to look for that sleep prop to soothe them to sleep.
Truthfully, healthy sleep habits are where it all begins. Building healthy independent sleep skills will help solve almost all of the sleep struggles I see in families that Sleep Train with me. It’s very rare that I work with a family where the child is taking great daytime naps, but nights are a struggle. Usually, the issue at hand is larger than just a quick fix, because your child needs help building those sleep skills that will help them in every area of their sleep.
If your child is consistently struggling to sleep at night, has trouble with naptime during the day, or a combination of the two, know that this won’t last forever. There are solutions to your sleep struggles, and it is perfectly okay to reach out and bring in a professional. If that is the case for your family, my team offers a FREE Sleep Evaluation Call that will help you learn more about Sleep Training and determine whether Sleep Training is a good fit for your family.
In the meantime, you can learn more about Debunking Short Naps in my Masterclass. This online, DIY Sleep Training course is a great solution for families who aren’t ready to pull the trigger on one-on-one Sleep Training but still want the expertise of a trained Sleep Consultant. Check out this go-at-your-own-pace Sleep Training solution here!