Nap lengths can vary greatly in these early months. Babies have sleep cycles between 45 minutes and 60 minutes long and the structure of their sleep is quite different from adults. Babies spend about half their time sleeping in lighter sleep. This means it is easier for them to wake up and they can often manage well on short naps. Naps that are under 45 minutes we would usually consider to be short, however there is some variation, and some babies can wake from a 40 minute nap being restored and able to stay awake for their full wakeful window without any issues.
* Short naps = naps under 45 minutes at this age.
Why does my baby take short naps?
Short naps can be perfectly normal and most children will thrive nicely on short naps, however they will likely need a lot more naps to get through the day. There are some things that cause naps to be shorter:
- Tummy troubles. Parents with fussy babies especially with digestive issues such as colicky behavior or reflux often report that their babies will sleep exactly 20 or 30 minutes long. This can usually be improved after 6 months of age and after night coaching.
- Sleep Structure. Since babies spend more time in light sleep and can have stark transitions between sleep phases, it can make it easier to wake up in the middle of a sleep cycle.
- Babies who are in the habit of sleeping short or needing support to fall asleep are more likely to wake fully and need that same support to fall back to sleep. As naps develop more consistently after 6 months, this can significantly improve.
How do I know if my baby’s short naps are a problem?
Often babies under 6 months of age can manage well on short naps as long as they are not getting overtired between naps. Short naps may be normal however each child is different. Some babies will seem to suffer from lack of sleep.
- If child wakes happy = enough sleep
- If baby wakes out of sorts or grumpy then may be related to needing more sleep or a potential scheduling or feeding issue. Such as may be too long from the last feed and baby may be waking due to hunger. Or may have been woken up by a loud noise.
You are the expert on your baby, if you think your baby is thriving despite having short naps then there is nothing to be concerned about. Your sleep arrangements need to work for the whole family so if you feel stuck in a schedule that is not manageable because of the short naps you can try to lengthen one or more naps a day, which will likely give you some longer wakeful windows as well as longer naps.
What can I do about short naps?
Since our goal is to make sure that your baby is not getting overtired rather than trying to implement rigid routines, you will need to adjust your wakeful windows and watch your babies tired signs to determine when to put him down for the next nap.
Option 1: Roll with it.
A short nap will result in a short wakeful window so if your baby has short naps he will likely need 4-8 naps a day.
- If baby sleep 45+ minutes = possibly 1-2.25 hours wakeful window
- If baby sleep less than 45 minutes = possibly 40-90 minute wakeful window
Option 2: LENGTHENING SHORT NAPS
Keep in mind if your baby sleeps for 45 minutes or more he will likely be able to stay awake for his whole wakeful window. It can be very challenging to try to get some babies back to sleep if they had a restorative sleep and probably not worth the effort.
There are several approaches you can take to try to extend naps. Your baby may get used to sleeping longer stretches and not need assistance in the future. Whatever you choose, with babies under 6 months we want to avoid crying.
- Comfort back to sleep. You can simply try to catch your baby as soon as he wakes or starts to wake and try to comfort him back to sleep. This may involve, shushing, patting, giggling or even picking him up and feeding him back to sleep.
- Be proactive. If your baby wakes consistently after 20 or 30 minutes, you might want to set your alarm and go in just before that time so you can encourage him to fall back to sleep before he fully wakes, which will be easier. Often you can pat, touch, or giggle back to sleep. If he wakes fully then use whatever works.
- Do what works. Many families will find that babies will nap well in a vibrating chair, swing, infant carrier, nursing/feeding, rocking, walking, stroller, or while lying on a flat safe surface beside Mom or Dad. If this is the case then you might want to try this either for 1 or 2 naps or for all of them if it works for you and it is safe. You don’t need to worry about creating so called bad habits.
Whatever you decide to do, if it is not working after 5-10 minutes or baby is crying, then end the nap and try for the next nap when you see tired signs.
You may find that efforts to lengthen naps is exhausting, isolating and consumes your whole day with insufficient rewards. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Short naps are usually not a problem
- You only need to try to extend the nap for 5 to 10 minutes
- You can just try to lengthen one nap a day and roll with the short naps for the rest of the day
- It will be easier after 6 months of age
If you can get at least one longer nap each day you may feel that your schedule is more manageable and your baby is more content.