Short naps are in a word: ANNOYING. In more words? Frustrating, tiring, anxiety-giving, maddening... I could go on.
I remember frantically googling any combination of words I could to find an answer to my 6-month-old son's perfectly timed 31 minute naps. (31 minutes? really? what happened to 2 hours?) 'how to make naps longer.' 'why is my baby sleeping 31 minutes' 'why are my baby's naps so short...' 'going crazy with short naps please send help'
I could look up my google history to show you the dark hole I got into... but it is not pretty.
There are a few things I wish I could go back in time and tell myself... Obviously I can't but fortunately I can share them with you! Read below for the list!
1) Many babies just don't take long naps between 4-7 months.
This is an age of crazy brain development! There are new milestones (hey I can turn my whole body around?), new discoveries (hey I can see color?), a newfound sense of wanting to be awake (hey I may have FOMO!), and of course it's after the 4 month sleep regression (I need to write about that soon). Don't stress out. Keep encouraging sleep with healthy habits, with good waketimes, and routines, and wait. Just remember that somewhere around 6/7 months naps will naturally get longer. (At this point, if you're anything like me you'll then obsessively text your mom, husband, sister, anyone-you-know, and cry of happiness when your little one suddenly sleeps past the 31 minute mark. And then be terrified that they have stopped breathing... I'm sincerely hoping you are not the anxious wreck I was at this point). If your baby doesn't fit into this age category, or if you'd like to try things out anyway, keep reading this whole list.
2) Some babies are have STRONG sleep associations with you.
If you're nursing/feeding/rocking baby to sleep for naps, they're going to want that in order to take a longer nap. Babies normally go through 2-3 sleep cycles during naptime. If they fell asleep with your help for the first cycle, they will surely love (and ask for) the help to go into the next cycle! If you're not there for that, well hey now you have a wide awake baby. What can you do in this situation? Teach baby to fall asleep entirely on their own for the first cycle. That way when they have to transition to the next cycle, they'll be able to without needing to cry for it.
3) Some babies need to have a full tummy in order to sleep. This one may actually be more stressful than helpful, so I apologize for that. If you have a good feeding rhythm this may throw you off a little bit. But something I've noticed with some clients is that they're so afraid of creating a feed-to-sleep association (good for you!) that feeding is not anywhere near naptime. This is a good thing, but at the same time, baby could be waking up mid-nap hungry. So how can we solve this? Feed them 20/30 minutes before naptime routine, in a separate room, and make sure they are awake for this feed.
4) Sleep environment needs to be perfect.
When wondering what the environment for infant and toddler naps should be think: DQC, Dark, Quiet, Cool. Ok that Acronym doesn't help all that much, but remember those three words anyway. The room should be so Dark that you can't read a book, so Quiet that you wouldn't be distracted if you could read, and so Cool that you wouldn't sweat but you also wouldn't need to put on a sweater (69-73 F). Having said that- sometimes babies will fall asleep in an environment that is not DQC. And you'll think, ok baby's good, no need to DQC here (is it a thing yet?). But the truth is that maybe they were super tired (go you for finding their sleep sweet spot!) at the beginning of the nap. But once they finish a sleep cycle they're not as super tired, and if DQC is missing, then there isn't much that encourages more sleep!
5) The Noise Environment needs to be a constant the entire time.
White-noise is awesome. It truly is! It helps babies soothe to sleep. But a huge misconception is that they just need it to calm down and fall asleep. In reality, it helps them continue to sleep! And especially when they're transitioning to a second cycle, they need that same stable woosh to be playing, or they won't be able to fall asleep again. So if you have a white-noise machine with a timer- replace it with one that does not end after X amount of minutes. If you don't have a white noise that can go for hours- then ditch the whole white noise idea.... or just buy one! Amazon has tons of good ones. You can also check out my blog post about white noise machines if you've never heard of this phenomenon.
6)If the nap is shorter than a 30/45 minute cycle- baby is likely to be chronically overtired.
I was going to keep it at 5 because it's a nice number, but this one is really important. Baby's inability to sleep for more than once cycle is one thing, but waking up in the middle of a cycle is a slightly more worrying situation. If your baby's nap ending (or nighttime wakings) are happening before the 30 minute nap, there is more going on. I suggest you talk to your pediatrician, or a sleep consultant to figure out what issues are waking your little one up, not letting them have a full sleep cycle, and making them overtired
Well there you go, past me, the six things you NEEDED to read a year and a half ago... To all readers who are not past me, I hope this helps! Please let me know if it does, if you'll be implementing any of these strategies, and if you have more questions about short naps.