Ideally, all naps should last longer than an hour. Nap cycles for babies are approximately 30-45 minutes and we need our babies to have at least two of them. However, sometimes babies stir or wake up between one cycle and the next. I call this the “nap intruder.” It’s a tricky thing because your baby may seem totally ready to wake up, but he actually isn’t.
Before we dive in, I want to clarify two things:
- Newborn naps are totally random and unpredictable. If a newborn nap lasts less than an hour it’s a good idea to try to get them back to sleep just so they start to learn that naps usually last longer, but there’s no need to stress about nap lengths yet. I’m focusing more on babies older than 4 months here.
- If baby is having three or four naps a day, it’s fine for the last cat-nap to be a shorter one.
Okay, now that that’s out of the way, let’s get back to the business of crap-naps and what to do about them.
How to lengthen a short nap?
There are two main issues at play that you’ll need to tackle first, in order to overcome the crap nap.
- Teaching baby how to initiate sleep on his own
Often, the reason for the crap nap is that the nap started too late. Most babies prefer to go down sooner after awakening than we think they do, so finding the appropriate awake windows for them is very important.
Teaching baby how to initiate sleep on his own is also very important. If your baby can’t fall asleep on his own, the “nap intruder” will ruin naptime time and time again. You can teach your baby how to do this by putting him in the crib drowsy and by allowing for some crying.
The nap intruder—how to lengthen crap naps
Again, ideally naps should last for at least an hour, but the baby just pops awake (“nap intruder”). This happens when baby moves from one nap cycle to the next. They may seem ready to be awake but they need to go back to sleep, but how?
Babies 0-3 months:
Make sure the baby isn’t sleeping longer than three hours at a time and keep awake periods relatively short. A good rule of thumb: if baby slept for 45 minutes or less, have the awake window be 45-60 minutes.
Babies 4 months+
The two biggest culprits in short “crap naps” are overtiredness and inability to self-soothe. Just make sure baby is on a good schedule and has appropriate awake windows for his age. If you think baby is on a good schedule and does know how to initiate sleep just let him “finish the hour”. Meaning if baby sleeps for 30 minutes, leave him there for another 30, if baby wakes up after 40 minutes, leave him in there for 20 minutes, etc.
Not every baby is going to have the same sleeping needs, so find what awake periods and sleeping periods are right for yours. Above all, be consistent! The next best thing you can do to protect your baby’s sleep is to stay on course and not get discouraged when sleep gets wonky.
Image Credit: Tracy Layne Photography