6 Reasons Your Baby is Taking Short Naps

Short Naps
Victoria Bermudez

Victoria Bermudez

If your little one is struggling with short naps, it can start to feel like you NEVER get a break. It can also lead to a fussy, overtired baby who can barely make it to bedtime.

You’re not the only one who wants your babe to take longer naps – their little body needs consolidated, restorative sleep during the day to support all of the growing, learning, and developing they’re doing. Also, sleeping well during the day will support consolidated night sleep, as a well-rested baby sleeps better – sleep begets sleep! 

So, what do we call a short nap? Ideally, we want our kiddos taking naps of at least an hour in length. The exception to this is the third nap, if applicable. A 30-45 minutes is fine here. Anything shorter than one hour is only one full sleep cycle (45-50 minutes) and an indication baby is having trouble moving into the next cycle for a truly restorative nap.

Here are some reasons why your little one might not be getting the day sleep they need:

#1 There is Light Sneaking On

Light tells our brain it’s time to be awake, and especially during the day when the pressure to sleep is lower, but sleep is still so needed! Even the smallest amount of light can be disruptive.

Blackout the room completely. Often blackout curtains alone are not enough, and it is helpful to add extra light-blocking help such as an extra shade on the window itself, or I’ve had past clients use cardboard, tin foil, or black construction paper. 

A great temporary solution is black trash bags & painter’s tape!

#2 Your Baby is Getting Hungry Partway Through

Depending on your baby’s age and source of nutrition, they’ll need to eat every 2.5-4 hours during the day. Many babies will have a hard time making it past 3 hours. If it’s been that long and your little one is waking 30-45 minutes into their nap, feeding about 30 minutes prior to nap time might help keep their belly full long enough to sleep well.

#3 It’s Time for a Schedule Change

There are a few different ways this can manifest. For babies and children, there are optimal times at which their bodies become tired and are most receptive to sleep. If we attempt naps too early, their body won’t be tired to take a good, long nap.

Conversely, if they’re overtired from missing this window and going down too late, their bodies experience a rush of stimulating stress hormones designed to keep them awake. This works against the hormones to fall asleep and stay asleep. This is why we say a well-rested baby will sleep better!

We want the baby to be tired, but not fussy and miserable going down.

#4 Your Baby Doesn’t Know How to Fall Back to Sleep

When babies & children don’t know how to fall asleep independently at the start of their nap, they will also struggle to fall back asleep when they wake up at the end of the first sleep cycle. A sleep cycle = 45-50 minutes in babies.

These partial arousals are natural, normal, and protective and all human bodies experience them. A baby who does not recognize their surroundings because they fell asleep in a different location (mom’s arms, the car seat, etc.) will feel a bit confused to find themselves in a crib and will call for help to return to sleep. 

Allowing your baby to fall asleep in their sleep space independently means when they have an arousal after one sleep cycle, they will learn to look around and check in on their environment, feel safe, and drift right back off to sleep without waking fully. They will recognize their surroundings and have the ability to fall sweetly back to sleep.

#5 Nights Haven’t Come Together Yet

Remember how we said, “sleep begets sleep”? This works both ways – nights can affect naps, just as naps can affect nights. In fact, we usually see nights pull together before naps can fall into place.

If your baby is still up many times during the night, it’s likely they’re feeling a little overtired at nap time. Once they’re getting longer stretches or sleeping the full night, it’s time to focus on elongating and consolidating naps.

Start with a nice and early bedtime and help them learn independent sleep skills, so they feel confident falling back asleep at any awakenings.

#6 They’re Under 5-6 Months Old

Around 5 months, we see so many things change with sleep! Babies’ sleep and wake cycles (a.k.a. circadian rhythms) are becoming established and babies transition from 4 naps down to 3. It’s not really until this point that we can expect to see consistently long naps on a predictable schedule.

So, if your baby is still young don’t stress! This is developmentally normal, and it may be helpful to focus on the areas above, but patience and keeping your baby well-rested are really the key things to focus on for now.

If you need support while navigating short naps or pulling night sleep together, the Bella Luna team is always here for you. Schedule a free discovery call to talk about working together and getting your whole family sleeping! 

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