How frustrating is it when you finally get your little one to sleep only to have them wake 20-45 minutes later crying?! We know 30-45 minute sleep cycles are a normal part of your little ones’ sleep development but how can we extend those naps so we actually have time to do things while they nap?!
Does my baby need to sleep longer during the day?
Catnapping is inevitable at some point in your little ones’ sleep journey. Most babies developmentally go through a catnapping period between 3-5 months of age. This is a normal part of development for them! However, we do need to be wary of prolonged catnapping impacting nighttime sleep from overtiredness. Not enough restorative day sleep can mean night sleep derails. Remember a baby who sleeps well in the day will generally sleep better at night, feed well, and be more settled than an overtired bub!
Why does my little one cat nap?
They are overtired. Our little ones who are overtired will really struggle to go back to sleep between sleep cycles. It can feel like a vicious cycle, they are overtired so they catnap, therefore overtiredness continues to build causing more catnapping! Having your little one on ideal routines as outlined in the Ultimate Routines Guide (check out the link below) is the best way to rule out over or under tiredness
They are under-tired. Our little ones need lots of sleep pressure to build before their naps to make settling and staying asleep easier for them. If they haven’t had enough awake time or physical activity prior to going down for a nap then they’ll struggle to take a long nap.
They are hungry. If your little one is hungry then its unlikely they’ll sleep for long. Ensure good full feeds during the day rather than short snack feeds constantly.
Environmental conditions aren’t on point. Where and how your little one falls asleep plays a big part in their sleep quality. It doesn’t matter too much for newborns who are really portable and can sleep anywhere, but the older they become the more important having a sleep environment conducive to good sleep is. We want their room pitch black dark - even for naps! Sleep will be so much easier on your little one if the room is blackened out. Using white noise helps lull our little ones into another sleep cycle, so invest in a good white noise machine, it truly helps them to stay asleep longer!
They can’t yet self-settle and require you to put them off to sleep. If your little one requires lots of active settling from you in order to fall asleep (rocking, patting, shushing, feeding or sucking a dummy off to sleep), then they need this action replicated in order to link a sleep cycle. They will stir, wake and cry out looking for whatever they went to sleep with initially.
They are having micro naps between awake times! If your little one has had a quick snooze whilst feeding or dozed off for 5 minutes in the car as you are running errands, this will reduce the sleep pressure they need to build in order to nap longer. Watch out for rest periods during their awake time, even a 5-10 minutes snooze can wipe away their sleep drive and create a short nap cycle.
Their pre-nap wind-down needs some tweaking. Check they aren’t getting too drowsy during their wind down. Are they having enough connection time before sleep? Have they had enough floor mat time during the day to practice rolling, crawling, walking or have they been in the pram or carseat and haven’t had enough movement prior to sleep?
How can I help my little one nap for longer?
Set up a great sleep environment for your little one. Darkness helps promote the sleep hormone melatonin which helps keep your little one sleepy. White noise playing loudly will stop external noises from waking them and lull them back into another sleep cycle. Swaddling up until 4 months is also helpful in avoiding catnaps
The timing of your naps is crucial so your little one is not over or under tired. This will help them transition more easily into another sleep cycle.
Follow a routine and aim for age-appropriate awake windows (check out my guide if you are unsure!)
Look at their sleep associations - how you settle your little one to sleep reflects whether they will easily re-enter a sleep cycle or whether they will cat nap. If they are going to sleep in your arms and being transferred or being fed to sleep or a dummy being put in for them, they will find it much harder to go back to sleep on their own when they wake after 45 minutes.
Make it really obvious when they have had a great nap and you are entering the room to get them up. Same goes with when they haven’t had enough sleep, we want to make it really obvious that the nap isn’t over and you are working on resettling them!
Provide them with the opportunity to go back to sleep. So often we jump into their room at the slightest grizzle. It’s normal for your little one to pass through a sleep cycle with a grizzle, grunt or even a few minutes of crying. It doesn’t necessarily mean they are ready to get up and hungry! Stop and pause before going in once they wake from a short nap and provide some space so they can practice falling back to sleep and being content in their cot.
Keep consistent in your attempts at resettling them if they wake too soon from a nap
For younger babies under 5 months we need to move slow and steady. You can attempt to resettle them from a short nap but remember it’s totally normal for them to need some help to get back to sleep! For our older babies 5 months plus, ensure they can self-settle at the start of their nap. Be sure to work on this first before expecting them to resettle from the nap.
Have patience and give yourself some grace here! Changing catnapping habits can take a good few weeks to come together. Work on it consistently (especially with the lunchtime nap). Typically nighttime sleep consolidates first then comes nap consolidation. Your consistency will pay off - hang in there! If you want to work with me 1:1 to change catnapping habits, enquire by clicking the link below to send me a message.