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Why Does My Baby Take Such Short Naps?

Ok, so would you rather have a baby that is waking up in the night 6 times or a baby that is only taking 30-40 minute naps during the day?

I know that getting woken up in the night is dreadful but equally when your baby is not getting the sleep which they need in the day, it can be just as big as a problem as night wakings. Both situations mean that baby is not getting the sleep they need as well as the caregiver not being able to take the breaks which they also need.

Does this sound familiar? Let's look at the causes and solutions for short naps!

The first thing to understand here is that babies, just like the adults, sleep in cycles. They go from light sleep to deep sleep and back into light sleep again. However, there are some differences between an adult's sleep cycle and a babies. A baby has a shorter sleep cycle lasting about 40-50 minutes.

Here are some of the reasons why a baby could be taking short naps:

1. Baby is not falling asleep where they’re waking up

Putting baby in their cot in their nursery is a very important aspect for baby to take long, restful naps. I always phrase this as imagine you fell asleep in your nice comfy bed and then woke up on your kitchen floor. Then imagine if that happened most times when you fell asleep! Don't you think you would become anxious about falling asleep and then wake frequently? This is exactly how it feels after 4 months old when baby falls asleep in your arms or somewhere else and then transferred into their cot!

Equally it is similar when they fall asleep in their car seat or in the pram. They often start to awaken at the end of the first sleep cycle and can have difficulties connecting into the next cycle.

2. Baby has become dependent on a sleep 'prop' in order to get to sleep

This is very similar in the first point for anyone who has a baby that is napping in the cot but waking up after one sleep cycle. Ok, you are putting them down in their cot but they are being helped in order to fall to sleep. This can be either rocking, feeding, shhing, singing or cuddling to sleep. This is where the caregiver will help the baby drift into sleep.

I can totally see how effective these techniques of helping seem on the surface but they are often a short term solution to a problem. Baby becomes dependent on that 'prop' to be able to fall asleep and have a hard time falling asleep without it. They do go down for that nap but at the end of the first sleep cycle, they wake up requiring that prop again. If the prop is not immediately available, they get upset and often find it difficult to get back to sleep.

3. Baby is too tired to fall to sleep

I know it does sound contradictory as most people believe that if a baby is tired then they will sleep. This is a common misconception. In fact, when we put off sleep and go into a state of “overtiredness,” our system assumes that we’re staying awake for a reason and does what it can to help us out, bumping up our cortisol production and stopping melatonin secretion, both of which and major hindrances to a deep, restful sleep. We do want baby in their cot when they are ready for their nap but we don't want them to be awake much longer. Therefore, if you are not using a sleep prop and you are putting them in their cot but you are still seeing short naps, I would look at timing of naps. Please contact me for my awake window cheat sheet according to age!

4. The nap environment is not conducive for sleep

Daytime is not as conductive to sleep as the night is because it is bright, there are noises and sounds which are much more likely during the day too.

The best piece of advice here is to use total blackout blinds in their room and to use a white noise machine that is playing constantly. The white noise machine is not a must if you live in a very quiet area. However, the blackout blinds are a MUST. We want the room to be 10/10 darkness, not be able to see your hand level of darkness in there.

If you were were someone who had both night wakes AND short naps in the would you rather section at the top... I have great news!

Solving your Little Darling's daytime sleep issues is going to work magic for their night sleep issues too.

The ability to self soothe is a skill they can use both in the day as well as at night. If they are well rested during the day, they will not be overtired at bedtime which makes it easier for them to fall to sleep as well as stay asleep through the night.

There is no need to pick between good night sleep and good day sleep. With some consistency, dedication and hard work, you can have both!


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