In order to understand why your child takes short naps, first you need to understand your baby’s sleep cycle and her sleeping patterns. A child who continually takes short naps means he/she doesn’t know how to connect to their next sleep cycle when they wake up from one of their sleep cycle. A child’s natural sleep cycle typically last 30-60 minutes long.
A question asked from my mommy fan in my Facebook Page:
Hi Supernanny! During the day, my 3 months old baby doesn’t fall asleep on her own, even when she is tired (rubbing eyes/yawning) and so will cry for our attention. We need to carry her or rock her to sleep (have tried patting, shushing, playing white noise, swaddling but none works). Once asleep, she will only catnaps and wake up in 30 minutes! How can we make her nap longer? Thanks in advance!
Baby’s Sleep Cycle
The structure of sleep patterns for our child around 4 months old will begin to change. Whereas prior to this, your newborn had NREM (deep sleep) and REM (light or active sleep), after 4 months, their NREM sleep will further begin to divide up into multiple stages.
At this stage, there is actually a large development in their cognitive growth and hence a change in their sleep patterns. After 4 months, a child will enter into NREM in a light sleep stage and progressively move through deeper stages of sleep and then back into a light sleep again to complete one cycle. This cycle takes around 45-60 minutes to complete (varies with age) and when one cycle is finished, the child may have what is called a partial arousal and then go back to sleep or, completely wake up.
Baby’s Sleep Cycle – Transition to Sleep or Wake
It’s at this transition point between stages 4 and 1 that a short nap can occur. Very often, if a baby has been used to falling asleep being rocked, held, fed, with a pacifier or any other sleep association that a parent must help with, then she will wake at this point looking for that same external help or object to get her back to sleep. Sometimes parents are successful at extending a nap in this way, but often the child remains awake.
Baby’s Sleep Cycle – Too Overtired to Sleep
A child who is always having short naps can also mean he/she is constantly overtired. If your baby isn’t sleeping well and though the night, they will accumulate lots of sleep debt. Sleep debt prevents a child from getting into a deep sleep and will cause multiple night awakenings and plenty of catnaps.
Baby’s Sleep Cycle – Fixing Naps Takes Time
My clients often tell me bedtime sleep is the easiest to establish whereas naps always seem to take longer to come to fruition. If you’re having difficulty with short naps and your child is over 4 months of age, just know that you can lengthen them, but it will require patience on your part. Whereas night issues can be resolved sometimes in as little as a few days, naps can take much longer to see changes, so don’t give up.
Baby’s Sleep Cycle – Finding a Solution
The first step when trying to get your child to nap longer, is to identify the cause.
If your child is relying on sleep props in order to sleep, then they need some practice sharpening their independent sleep skills. Pick a sleep training method that suits your personality and parenting philosophy (there are many to choose from that range from more gradual, no-cry methods, to more accelerated ones) and be very consistent with implementing it.
However, if you determine the cause of your child’s un-restorative naps are from being overtired, then your goal would be to work on allowing your baby more opportunities to sleep within a 24 hour period by implementing a consistent nap routine and age appropriate bedtime.
With either cause, a child will most likely have a sleep debt, therefore consistency in your approach will be imperative for success. Yes it will be challenging at first, but the results will be a happier, well rested and healthier child in the end.