One of the most common questions I’m asked time and again is how to get baby to nap a little longer. Short naps are really common, especially in younger babies, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do about it. In this post we’re going to look at what potentially causes short naps, and what you can do about them.
What is a short nap?
Firstly, knowing what we class as a short nap is essential because it could be that my idea of a short nap differs to yours, and there might not be a problem at all! A short nap is generally a nap that lasts less than one sleep cycle, or for just the length of one sleep cycle. A sleep cycle is around 45 minutes, so if your baby is napping for less than that, I’d say that is a short nap. A good length for a nap is anything over one hour- so if your baby tends to nap for longer than an hour, you have nothing to worry about!
What can we do to lengthen naps?
There are things that we can do to lengthen naps, even with younger babies, so don’t despair! Be mindful that short naps are very normal for babies under the age of at least four months. Naps tend to develop after night time sleep, which develops around twelve weeks. Of course, every baby is different so this will vary, but as a general guide its fairly accurate. So naps tend to lengthen out and settle down between four and six months of age, starting with the first nap initially. That said, there are still things that you can do to lengthen naps before then.
• How long is your baby awake for during the day?
The first thing I’d recommend you do if your baby is taking short naps, is to take a really good look at the daytime routine as a whole. How long is your baby awake for during the day? The average nine month old baby should be following the 2-3-4 routine- awake for two hours, nap, awake for three hours, nap, awake for four hours, bed. Does your day look anything like that? If your baby is awake for less time then that could affect the length of her naps. Similarly, being awake for too long can cause your baby to become overtired and unable to settle for a good nap too. So being mindful of awake times is a really important place to start in lengthening out the naps. The 2-3-4 routine is great for babies over the age of six months, up to the point where they drop down to one nap. Read more about the routine here.
Babies under six months will most probably fall into the ‘four hour routine’, where they are awake for two hours, sleep for two hours. So again, naps that are shorter than one hour for younger babies are also not good! It’s worth noting here though that many babies won’t sleep for the whole two hours you might expect them too. Just as babies on the 2-3-4 routine won’t necessarily sleep for the 90 minutes you want them to either.
• Stay in the room while your baby sleeps.
Hopefully this idea doesn’t fill you with dread! At first all you need to do is simply be in the room as your baby naps. This is a great opportunity for you to observe your baby as she sleeps, but don’t forget its a chance for you to rest too. So make the most of it! As your baby begins to make a noise and stir, she is beginning to move out of her first sleep cycle. Make a note of the time and how long she’s been asleep for, and then you can start to become a little more ‘hands on’. Pat, stroke and soothe to help your baby to move into her next sleep cycle. Your patting and shushing etc may last for around ten minutes, so be prepared. But it will mean another 45 minutes of sleep so its worth doing!
It’s also worth knowing that however long that first sleep cycle lasts, it will be the same for each and every nap, so the next day you know that she is going to need you after the same length of time. So what you can do next is to leave her to nap, only entering the room when you know she is about to move into the next sleep cycle. You may need to do this for a few days, before your baby learns that its ok to move into the next sleep cycle by herself, the lengthening out the nap by herself.
Let me know if you try this technique, and if it works for you.