This is a question which has been asked by parents time and time again. I certainly asked it many times when my little girl was a baby. In fact, 30 minute naps were so common for Clara that I ended up taking her on daily walks in the pram so I could guarantee longer naps. I walked for at least two hours every day for the early afternoon nap.

Luckily it was the summer so I had good weather, but taking your little one out for hours at a time in the pouring rain or freezing cold is just not practical. Not to mention how tiring it is irrespective of the time of year!

So let’s firstly cover what could be causing the short naps in the first place. And what you can do to lengthen them.

It’s normal for newborns

When babies are very young, short naps like this are very normal. I know it might be frustrating, but tiny babies often take lots of short naps throughout the day and wake lots in the night because they aren’t yet able to link their sleep cycles, plus they need to feed.

So, as tiring as it may be, enjoy the cuddles! Newborns need closeness and support.

Once a baby is over 18 weeks, and certainly by 6 months old, they will have developed the ability to self-settle – but it’s a learned skill, so despite having the ability, they might not know how to actually do it!

Once your little one reaches this age range, there could be a few causes of short naps…

Overtiredness could be at play

A baby’s sleep cycles last from around 40-50 minutes. During this time, our little ones go from light sleep, into deep sleep and back into light sleep again. They tend to come out of the deep sleep phase around the 30/40 minute mark, so if they’re overtired, they can easily wake before the full sleep cycle has finished. It can be frustrating because short naps can be the cause of overtiredness in themselves.

Trying to reduce overtiredness as much as possible is key. So ensuring your little one is napping at the most appropriate times of day is important. Keep an eye on wake windows as well. If you’re stretching your little one out for longer periods of time between naps and bedtime than they can cope with, this could cause overtiredness.

If you would like more information on this, then download my FREE Sleep Needs Chart to find out the average wake windows for your child.

Self-settling is key to longer naps

Along with overtiredness, the most common reason for short naps in babies is that they haven’t yet learned how to self-settle. When they get to the point in their sleep cycle where they start to go into a light sleep, they can suddenly become very aware that they’re not where they were when they fell asleep, i.e. I was in mummy’s arms when I fell asleep and now I’m in my cot!

They can’t move into the next sleep cycle by themselves so they need you to help them. So, for example, if your baby is used to being rocked to sleep, they will need this rocking to get back into the next sleep cycle when they wake up after a short nap, or wake in the night.

You may see longer stretches of sleep at night, but still find your little one wakes regularly. This is for the same reason. However, at night, babies spend a high percentage of the first part of the night in very deep sleep, which means they may make it through a few sleep cycles unassisted, but you may then find they wake more regularly as the night goes on.

Supporting your little one to self-settle is the key to linking those sleep cycles and giving them the opportunity to take longer naps.

Gentle sleep training can help with this. I work closely with parents to identify your child’s temperament and build a bespoke sleep solution which will help your little one to develop the skills to sleep independently.

How can you rescue a short nap?

If you can encourage your little one to get back to sleep and continue their nap, this may help to lengthen naps overtime. They’ll need some help from you to do this though.

This will involve soothing them back to sleep. Try and do this in the same way you got them to sleep in the first place. Bear in mind your baby will find it far harder to get back to sleep having already had some sleep, despite it not being enough. This means it may take a while to get them back to sleep, perhaps even as long as 40 minutes.

It really is worth it though, as extending the naps can help to eradicate overtiredness, which could affect short naps in itself.

If you find it easier to pop your little one in the pram or car instead, then that’s great and both are a great way to get them back off to sleep again. Do whichever works best for you and them.

If after 40 minutes it’s a no go, give up and just get them down for their next nap a bit sooner to prevent them from getting too overtired.

Reach out if you would like extra support with naps

I can support you to develop a nap routine and work on issues such as overtiredness and self-settling. I know first-hand how exhausting it can be when your baby just won’t nap! So don’t feel alone or unsure of where to turn. I’ve got you mama!

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