Have you ever laid your child down for a nap and then stressed about what to do with the next 30-40 minutes, knowing that it won’t be long before your little one will be awake again? I’ve definitely been there!
If you have children, my guess is that you’ve struggled with short naps at some point in your child’s life, no matter his current age, and they’re so frustrating!
First of all, let’s talk about what I consider a “short nap.”
If your child sleeps for less than an hour, that’s a short nap; most often, they are around 30-45 minutes. (I once worked with a family who’s baby slept 27 minutes on the dot each nap!)
If your baby takes multiple naps a day, it is not uncommon for a couple naps to be short, and that’s okay! When I work with younger babies, it’s my goal to help that babe have at least one nap that’s over an hour each day, and it’s most commonly the morning nap. Once babies transition to a two nap schedule, however, we’re looking for both to be over an hour.
If your baby, however, is nearing or in the middle of a nap transition, the last nap of the day that’s about to drop off will very likely be short and we don’t need to worry about extending it as it will soon be gone.
Now that you know what a short nap is, here are 5 strategies you can use to help lengthen your child’s short naps.
If your child is a chronic short napper, the first thing to check is his sleep environment. Ideally, it would be so dark in his room that you can’t see your hand in front of your face.
If there is any light streaming through your child’s window during nap time, it could make it harder to not only fall asleep but to also stay asleep beyond that first sleep cycle, hence a short nap!
A quick “hack” to quickly darkening your child’s room is using foil and painter’s tape; overlap the foil and put tape anywhere the foil is touching and along the window frames so that no light can come through! You can also checkout some of my favorite blackout solutions here.
“Save the Nap”
When I say “save the nap,” I’m talking about going in right before your child stirs awake or quickly after to help soothe him back to sleep. Whether that be scooping him up and holding him for a nap extension, or popping a pacifier in and soothing him back to sleep in his crib, the hope is that you could lengthen the otherwise short nap by a good 30 minutes or more.
If you have a newborn (0-12 weeks old), this is a great way to extend those short naps! Naps are still very developmental and short ones are to be expected.
If your baby is four months or older, however, I strongly advise no longer saving naps. It may be fairly easy to save your baby’s nap, but he could quickly catch on to the pattern and consequently learn that he needs help in order to sleep longer. Or oppositely, attempting to save your older baby’s nap may make him all the more frustrated and/or stimulated upon seeing you, so it just won’t work.
I know it sounds counterintuitive, but especially if your child wakes up instantly crying, try to wait at least 10 minutes before going in to get him. That immediate cry likely signals he is still tired and is crabby he’s awake, but is stuck between sleep cycles. By waiting 10 minutes, you are giving him a chance to fall back asleep before calling it quits.
For those older babies and kiddos on a set nap schedule, try to keep your child in his sleeping environment for the entirety of the set nap time as often as possible in order to teach his body clock it’s nap time.
Adjust Awake Windows
Trying to find your child’s sweet spot of awake windows can be a challenge, but it’s so important, as both overtiredness and undertiredness can cause short naps.
That’s because of something called “sleep pressure.” Sleep pressure is what builds up while we’re awake and it helps us both fall and stay asleep. If our little ones don’t have quite enough sleep pressure, they may have a difficult time getting to sleep and/or staying asleep, as their just not tired enough.
Oppositely, if our little ones have too much sleep pressure, we get into the danger zone of overtiredness.
When we are overtired, our bodies release cortisol, the stress hormone released as part of our fight-or-flight response; when that stress hormone is pumping through our little ones’ bodies, it not only makes it incredibly challenging to fall asleep but to also stay asleep.
If you’re not quite sure where to start with awake windows, go snag The Ultimate Guide to Sleep Schedules (free!) to use as your starting point!
If you’ve made the above changes and your child is taking short naps, yet your child still relies on help getting to sleep (i.e. rocking, feeding, a pacifier), now is a good time to sleep train! He is likely waking up after one sleep cycle and just does not know how to slip into the next, even though he is still tired.
Now, in all of this talk about short naps, I also want you to hear something important: THERE IS NO JUNK SLEEP! Short naps are absolutely frustrating, especially when we know our little ones are tired and really need that extra sleep. But a short nap is still a nap, which means it still counts as sleep and it will still help carry our child on to his next sleep.
So yes, let’s work on solving those short naps, but let’s also give ourselves some grace!
Finally, if you’ve run through this checklist and are still stumped by your child’s short naps, don’t hesitate to reach out! I work with families like yours all the time, sifting through what sleep currently looks like and working together on reaching your sleep (that includes NAP!) goals!