As a sleep coach and occasionally in my role as a maternity nurse I get asked many questions about cat-napping. Why babies can go from napping well throughout the day to only getting thirty minutes for what seems like no reason.
Let me start by telling you that it is not uncommon, you are not alone, so don’t panic. There are ways in which you, as a parent, can help encourage your baby to nap for longer for them to feel more refreshed and ready for an awake cycle.
There are several reasons why your baby may have started waking after a shorter nap time including:
- They may be going through a growth spurt
- They could be going through a developmental change
- They might just simply be hungry
- They may have wind and be in some level of discomfort
- It could just be that baby went down either under or over tired
It is important for you as their parent to try to understand why and the only way of doing that is by watching them. Remember that every baby, family dynamic and parenting style is different. There is no right or wrong and you need to figure out what works for you. Some parents find that cat-napping is no bother and actually works for them whereas others are reliant on baby having a longer nap in order to get things done on the list!
Before we get onto some tips and helpful guidance, I am going to first start by explaining the sleep cycle a baby will go through every time they go down. The first 10-15 minutes is when baby is in a light sleep, the following 20-25 minutes is when they will be in a deep sleep and then they come back to a light sleep again. This last stage of light sleep is where they will potentially wake up having not had a long enough nap. Longer and more effective naps happen when your baby can knit continuing sleep cycles together, dropping back into deep sleep again and again.
If babies wake up too soon from a nap they are likely to display symptoms of still feeling tired, such as yawning, eye rubbing, being a little bit grouchy etc. If you notice this or you just simply feel as though they may not have had sufficient sleep you can encourage them to drop back off, give them comfort and allow your presence to make them feel safe. You may just find that after a few days of consistent attempts at this, they eventually manage to extend their nap. One tip at this point is to work on one day nap at a time and make that nap the routine selection to encourage a longer sleep.
I would encourage you to keep sleep patterns flexible, in the sense of where you put your baby down for a day nap. I believe that outdoor naps are beneficial in many ways to your baby if you have the space and ability to do so. You can always use contact naps with baby sleeping on you if that works for you, however when they get a little bigger and more aware of their surroundings you may want to consider putting them down to nap to avoid them getting distracted by your movements. Also as they get a little older, I recommend ensuring that at least one nap a day is at home, in their cot, simply so as you can get some things done that you can not do when they are awake.
My top tips to encourage longer and more effective nap times are:
- Manage their awake cycle as best you can – keep them entertained and understand the tired cues they display. It may be that their tired cues are in fact boredom cues. You could try to extend their awake cycle by just 5-10 minutes to establish whether they are tired and ready for a nap.
- Try to keep sleep times as flexible as possible – your baby’s needs will change as they develop and you should try to adapt and change your behaviour to suit them.
- Encourage your baby to get back to sleep if they are still tired – try to get them to start linking their sleep cycles together.
- Be patient and be consistent – babies will learn from persistence and repetition.
- Demonstrate that it is time for a nap – try to set a routine, almost like a mini bed time routine, to show your baby that a nap is about to come their way! Repeat certain actions every time you go to put them down for a nap. They don’t have to be big or lengthy actions, just make sure you are consistent with them and you do them in the same order each time. Babies will understand after a few times what the routine means.
I hope this helps if you are struggling at all with your little ones sleep patterns. Just remember that you must do what works for you. There is no one size fits all and all babies will respond differently. So, try a few things out and if you need any help, support or further guidance then please get in touch.
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