HELP! My Baby’s Naps Are SO Short!

– Written by JoAnna Inks 

baby girl sleeping - JoAnna Inks Sleep Solutions

Is this scenario a familiar one in your home?  Your little beauty wakes in the morning, you feed her, change her, play for a bit, then rock or feed her to sleep – gently place her into her crib only to have her wake 30 minutes later.

At this point, she’s probably a little irritable, and you might be thinking that it’s okay because she’ll be more tired for the next nap and maybe sleep longer.  NOPE!

Unfortunately, the next nap comes, and guess what? It’s another 30-minute nap nightmare!  No amount of pleading or bargaining can convince your baby to go back to sleep.  And, of course not!  While a 30-minute nap is NOT restful, it is enough sleep to take the edge off and leave you with a baby that won’t sleep AND is fussy and over-tired as the day wears on. 

Your life is starting to feel like the “Groundhog Day” movie with 30 minute naps DAY after DAY!

Crying baby boy
Crap Naps = Tired Baby!

WHY ARE MY BABY’S NAPS SO SHORT?

We should start with “WHY” this is happening, and then we’ll move onto exactly how to fix it.

Every human sleeps in cycles.  We begin to drift off to sleep, it’s super light, and we can be awakened easily. We gradually fall into a deeper sleep, and this is where the magic happens.  Deep sleep is regulative. It’s where our brains and bodies do maintenance that leaves us feeling clear-headed, refreshed, and hopefully energetic!

At the end of our sleep cycle, sleep is light again, and we have a few seconds or even a few minutes where we’re awake, then we drift off again.  This cycle takes about 90 minutes in adults, BUT, in babies, it can be as little as 30 minutes.

Your baby’s wake up after 30 minutes is entirely natural.  If she wasn’t waking regularly during her sleep, it would be cause for concern. It’s how she manages these mini wake-ups that matter (more on that in a minute).

I know you have friends whose babies take long, restful 2 – 3 hour naps, and that’s what you’re after, right?  Yes, their babies are taking amazing naps BUT they’re NOT asleep that entire time.  They simply know how to put sleep cycles together, and that’s the key to daytime sleep success.

So, what gives?  How do you get your baby taking long, restful naps? 

Long, Restful Naps = Happy Baby!

HOW DO I TEACH MY BABY TO NAP LONGER?

The place to start is teaching your baby to fall asleep without “help” from you.  Once your baby can do this, daytime sleep improves dramatically. 

Back at the beginning, remember when I was talking about your naptime routine where you rock or feed your baby to sleep?  Stop right there!

That’s where the change needs to happen.

Your baby needs to do the entire journey from awake to asleep on their own, without “help” from you. There’s going to be a bit of protest around this change, but most of our clients see HUGE results in a few short days.  Imagine a few short days to a baby that falls asleep easily without your help AND long, restful naps!  Pretty amazing, right?

TIPS FOR EXTENDING BABY’S NAPS

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, the inconsiderate delivery guy ringing the doorbell, 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. 

Watch overstimulation before naps. Ensure things are a little calmer for about 5-10 minutes before routine. 

With all ages, we need to make sure that we create a sleep sanctuary for our babies.  A DARK room, the right temperature (68-72 degrees Fahrenheit), white noise, and comfortable clothes can really help.

yawning baby boy - JoAnna Inks Sleep Solutions

SHORT NAPS BY AGE

0-5months:  

Yes, it’s normal to see primarily short naps at this age. Naps lengthen with time and consistency, so seeing some short naps for a while, even while working on independent sleep skills, is pretty reasonable.  Sleep is a skill, and daytime sleep can take time to develop, so be consistent.

Here are some top things to check on: 

Baby is NOT getting drowsy on any feeds.  The older the baby, the more detrimental. Obviously, with newborns, it’s fine to seem drowsy, but at the 3-5month mark, ensure it’s not happening. 

Is baby getting enough to eat? Between 3-5 months, babies who are sleeping well at night may need to have two feeds during their awake window to ensure they are getting enough calories to make up for low intake at night – BUT WATCH THE DROWSINESS on the second feed especially as it’s closer to nap time. 

When the baby wakes early, are you providing them the space to fall back to sleep? Yes, babies who wake early from a nap will likely cry, but you need to understand that this is because they are still tired. Providing space for them to fall back to sleep is key – at least 10-15min at this age, more if you can handle it. 

Awake times – babies in this age range can be tough to judge their tired signs. Mostly I find that parents mistake tired cues for hunger cues.  The assumption is always that they’re hungry when they’re just tired.  Be sure that you’ve got an appropriate schedule for your baby.  Watch overstimulation before naps. Ensure things are a little calmer for about 5-10 minutes before routine. 

6-12 months

At the early end of this age group (6-7 months) most babies will dance between 2-3 naps. Occasionally, naps should be scheduled out to help break the cycle of a short nap.

7+ months a nap schedule is fantastic!  One nap in the morning (9:30ish) and one in the afternoon (2ish).  This schedule allows you some freedom because it’s consistent every day.  If the second nap is continuously a problem, capping the first nap can be helpful. 

Give baby some space if they wake from a short nap.  The longer you can leave them, the better.  15-30 minutes is an excellent amount of time, depending on the level of protest.  Running in an trying to “help” them back to sleep at this age will not be successful.  

Ensure babies are eating solids well. A lot of parents don’t know how to transition children onto solids and are stuck on the milk wagon too long. Snacks or meals before sleep instead of nursing or bottles are a great way to ensure they aren’t getting drowsy on a feed. 

12+ months

First, ask yourself if your baby is ready for one nap if the child is exhibiting short naps. It’s likely time to make a move. Even if children seem tired, the cycle can be broken by having one big nap as opposed to 2 short ones.

Remember, naps will be short for a bit still, and you can provide that afternoon catnap in the car if need be, but dancing that line for too long can perpetuate the problem. 

SPACE, SPACE, and MORE SPACE – At this age, I ask the parents to wait up to 45min, especially if the child isn’t upset at minimum 20min. 

Remember, it will be common on a newly transitioned one nap child to have a 1.5-hour nap for a while. Just wait and keep it up.

It’s hardly ever just the naps that are the issue.  We want to look at the entire 24-hour feed/sleep schedule so that baby is an amazing sleeper both day AND night.


If you’re running into trouble with naps or any other sleep issue with your baby, click on this link to schedule a complimentary 15-minute sleep evaluation. The solution might be more straightforward than it appears, and most of our clients see a dramatic improvement in just a few days!

Here’s to a well-rested family,

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