The Curse of the Short Nap
Your baby wakes up in the morning after a decent, but not amazing, night. You feed her, change her, play with her for a little bit, take her for a little walk outside, then rock her to sleep, placing her gently into the crib for her morning nap. Phew — you made it to nap time and get a little time to yourself.
And then, 30 minutes later, you hear it. She’s starting to stir and is going to wake…already! She escalates until she’s fussy and irritable and, despite your pleading or coaxing, refuses to go back to sleep. So after half an hour of trying to put her back down, you finally give in and scrap the nap, hoping she’ll be that much more tired when her next nap rolls around.
A few hours later the exact same scenario plays out again, and baby is a cranky ball of unhappiness for the rest of the day. Ugh, just ugh!
If this sounds familiar, you probably can’t help but obsess over this question – how the heck do I get my baby to nap longer than 30 minutes? You are ready for a change, like yesterday.
So, How Do I Get my Baby to Nap Longer than 30 Minutes?
There are things in our child’s lives we can control, and things we cannot. Sleep, like eating, is one of the areas in parenting in which we have some control through things like following schedules and what we choose to serve at the table, but ultimately our children have the final say in whether or not they are going to sleep.
Does this mean that if baby is not sleeping then that we should throw in the towel and give up? The quick answer is no. Our little ones need to nap, and there are always a solutions to teach them to do so. Scientific studies show that for children under the age of 5, daytime sleep is crucial for cognitive development and memory consolidation. It is no wonder that your little one becomes cranky and restless when they are unable to nap – their bodies crave the rest and reset, but sometimes they need our help to make it happen.
Before we jump into the steps to getting baby to nap longer than 30 minutes, let’s review the system of sleep.
Understanding Sleep For Children
In the first 3-4 months of life, sleep is made up of 2 stages: REM (rapid eye movement) and NREM (non-rapid eye movement). During this time, it is possible to “assist” a baby into REM sleep by rocking, nursing, bouncing, or holding and still expect them to get some sleep. After the newborn period, sleep becomes more biologically complex and is made up of 4 stages. The first of these stages is what we know as “drowsy”, when we begin to drift off but still have some awareness of the outside world.
When adults complete one sleep cycle and move on to the next, we may wake up briefly but are able to put ourselves back to sleep in a split second. This ability to connect one consecutive sleep cycle to another is what we call the skill of sleep independence. It is a skill that we all learn at some point in our lives. Babies, however, are not born with this skill. If they haven’t learned to connect sleep cycles without assistance yet, then it is normal that they wake after one sleep cycle, or in as little as 30 minutes.
You’re ready this and probably thinking…this is much too simple. And we’re here to tell you, it often is this simple. By allowing your child to fall asleep on their own, they will be stringing sleep cycles together in no time. Learning this skill is going to make your baby a whole lot happier and, on the self-indulgent side, leave you with hours at a time to do whatever you like. Granted, as a mom “whatever you like” might not mean what it once did, but still, 1-2 hours twice a day to catch up on chores (or binge watch Netflix) is something we can all appreciate.
Although making sure your baby is able to fall asleep independently isn’t the only factor that plays into helping your baby get the ideal nap, it is the one parents get the most hung up on. It’s also the one that can be difficult to do depending on how unfamiliar falling asleep without “help” is for their child. If your baby doesn’t react well to being laid down awake for their naps, we recommend parents come up with a plan for how they are going to handle their little one’s protest, and stick to it. Choose a strategy that feels good to your family, and don’t be afraid to seek support if you need it.
Wait, But What About the Cuddles?
Cuddles are an amazing way to connect with your baby. By no means are we saying you shouldn’t rock your baby, or sing to her, or read her stories, or love her like crazy. You absolutely should! Simply avoid doing any of these things to the point where she falls asleep. Often that means moving cuddles to the time he or she wakes up from nap, or in the middle of a wake window. This will especially be true if rocking, cuddles or bouncing (basically anything involving touch) were ways your child was able to get to sleep in the past.
Okay, so after sleep independence, what else should you consider?
To Get Baby to Nap Longer than 30 Minutes, Create the Ideal Nap Environment
Setting your baby up with an optimal sleep environment is important to allow for the best sleep outcomes. There are several components that make up an ideal sleep environment.
First, your baby should be napping in a quiet room away from noise and stimulation. At The Sleeper Teachers®, we recommend using a white noise machine to help drown out or mask any noises that come from inside or outside of your home during the day. This also allows you to do more during nap time (hello chores, Netflix and brewing more coffee!) instead of having to tiptoe around the house while your baby sleeps.
Next, ensure your child’s room is dark enough as darkness encourages melatonin production. Melatonin is important because it is the hormone which makes us feel sleepy. A dark room also reduces stimulation, which will help your baby relax and focus on sleep.
To Get Baby to Nap Longer than 30 Minutes, Optimize Their Schedule
Now that we have the ideal sleep environment set up, it’s important to understand that every baby, depending on their age, has an optimal amount of time they should be awake between sleep cycles. These awake periods are known as “wake windows”, and they extend in duration as a baby gets older. In other words, the older your child, the more stamina or energy he or she is able to build to sustain longer periods of time awake.
To find your baby’s appropriate wake windows, head over to this post which will help you set up an optimal nap schedule for your little one so they’re able to fall asleep seamlessly and string sleep cycles together for a nice, long nap.
What to do if You’ve Made These Changes, And Your Baby Still Takes Short Naps
You may have been working on your little one’s naps for weeks or months now. If you’ve tried everything you can think of — schedule adjustments, putting your baby down earlier, or later, changing bedtime, letting her cry it out, saving the nap by helping him or her back to sleep, etc — but nothing seems to be working, we have a solution for you.
Here at the Sleeper Teachers we’ve helped hundreds of families resolve their children’s chronic short naps. Our 12 Step Guide to Getting Rid of Crap Naps for Good is for those who are looking for a DIY, deep-dive solution to help extend baby’s naps. This thorough guide will help you troubleshoot all of the factors playing into your child’s chronic short nap cycle and help you make changes that lead to your baby getting the daytime sleep their body needs.
Additional Support is Available to Those Who Need It
Sometimes working out your child’s nap issues can be complicated. Maybe you’ve tried all of the DIY suggestions, and baby isn’t responding well to the changes. Or maybe you feel like you could use some support, accountability, and guidance in reaching your family sleep goals. Whatever it is, please know there is help and support available to you!
At the Sleeper Teachers® we love nothing more than to be the newest member on your family’s sleep team. We have accompanied thousands of families on their journeys to teach their little ones to become great sleepers. It has been life-changing for so many families, and we’d be honored to guide you on your sleep teaching journey as well. Head over to this link to book a free sleep evaluation call with one of our pediatric sleep consultants so we can get to know your family and chat about how we might be able to help you.
And if you’re still on the fence, head over to our reviews page to read how impactful teaching independent sleep was for our clients. Lives change when everyone in a family sleeps!