Short Naps Are The Bane Of My Existence
Your baby wakes up in the morning. You feed her, change her, play with her for a while, maybe feed her again and then rock her to sleep and put her gingerly into her crib for her morning nap.
And then, 30 minutes later, she wakes up fussy and irritable and, despite your pleading, refuses to go back to sleep. So after half an hour of trying to put her back down, you finally give in, hoping she’ll be that much more tired when her afternoon nap rolls around, only to have the exact same scenario play out again, and baby is cranky the rest of the day!
So here’s what’s going on, and how to fix it. Babies, just like the rest of us, sleep in cycles. We start off in a light state where we’re easily woken up, then gradually fall into a deeper stage where even loud noises or movement might not be able to rouse us. This is the good stuff. This is the really restorative, restful sleep where our brains and bodies do all of the maintenance work that leaves us feeling refreshed. Once we’ve come to the end of the deep-sleep cycle, we slowly start coming back to the light stage again, and typically we wake up for a few seconds and then drift off again, and the whole thing starts again.
In adults, one of those cycles typically takes about an hour and a half. In babies, it can be as little as 30 minutes. So the fact that your baby is waking up after only 30 minutes is actually completely natural. “But,” you’re thinking, “I have friends whose babies nap for two or three hours at a time.” Well, that’s partially true. But in a more literal sense, they’re stringing together several sleep cycles in a row. The only difference between their baby and your baby is…they’ve learned how to fall back to sleep on their own. That’s it. That really is the heart of the issue. Once your baby can fall asleep without help, they’ll start stringing together those sleep cycles. That’s going to make your baby a whole lot happier and, probably you too!
So remember back at the start of that scenario, there you were, getting ready to put baby down for her nap, gently feeding and rocking her to sleep and then putting her down in her crib. Stop right there. That’s where you need to make some changes. Because in this scenario, you are acting as what we in the sleep consulting business refer to as a “sleep prop.” Sleep props are basically anything that your baby uses to make the transition from awake to asleep. Putting baby down awake to find sleep on their own is the key.
Some other pointers for extending baby’s nap time…
- Keep the bedroom as dark as possible. Buy some blackout blinds if the sun is getting in, or if you’re on a budget, tape some black garbage bags over the windows. It doesn’t have to be pretty, it just has to be functional.
- White noise machines are useful if baby tends to wake up due to the neighbor’s barking dog, siblings running around like banshees, or any other noise that might startle them out of their nap. Just make sure it’s not too close to their ears and not too loud. 50 dB is the recommended limit.
- If you’re running into trouble putting your baby in their crib awake, that’s where I can help. Sleep training is not an easy process for every baby and can be even more difficult for you as the parent.