What Causes Short Naps

What Causes Short Naps

Short naps can be really frustrating for any parent or guardian.  The worst feeling is when you finally get them down to sleep just to have them wake up 30 minutes later. There is frustration because you didn’t have enough time to get anything that you had planned done.  But it can also feel like all you are ever doing is feeding your baby or trying to get them to sleep.

 So why is your baby only taking short naps?

Before we move on to why let’s first try to understand the difference between short naps and extended naps.

What is the difference between short naps & long naps?

I often find that parents aren’t really sure what is reasonable or expected around nap length.  For instance, you might be worried that your child’s afternoon naps are too short when they only sleep for 30 minutes and don’t realize this is typical for younger infants.  The more naps in a day the shorter they will usually be. 

Image describing short naps vs long naps: 

short naps vs long naps

At the point when infants sleep for 45 minutes or less and wake after only 1 sleep cycle, this is what we generally consider a short nap. 

Long naps range from 1.5 – 3 hours and happen when babies efficiently transition from one sleep cycle to the next.

While short naps can be disappointing now and again, they are not all “awful.” Truth be told, they’re common at various ages and stages.

For instance, 6-month-olds on a 3-nap day commonly have 2 longer naps early in the day and a more limited catnap in the late afternoon.

So what’s the cause of the short naps?

Below  are some of the things we often see in our practice that may be contributing to short naps:

1. Awake windows are too lengthy and your child is overtired.

The #1 reason we see short naps happen is that a child’s awake windows are excessively lengthy. Assuming that your child is awake for a long time, past their age-fitting alert window (going from 1-5 hours, contingent upon developmental age), they will become overtired. A few children show this with tears and irritability, yet others cover their over-tiredness well and only show it through short naps or numerous night wakings. 

I realize that it may seem like an overtired child would have a better chance of sleeping well to make up for lost time, yet sadly that is simply not how sleep science functions. At the point when children are awake for a long time, their bodies produce the chemical cortisol, our stress hormone, and the buildup of adenosine. The outcome is not better sleep, it’s another short nap!

Most children will have some telltale signs that they are tired: red-rimmed eyes, pulling at the ears, rooting, yawns, irritability, and disinterest in activities.  While others may just twirl their hair or get a bit clingy.  It’s important to watch for these signs because this is their way of communicating it’s time to lie down.

For instance, if your child is five months old, their awake windows ought to be somewhere in the range of 1.75 and 2.5 hours. We tend to see the ability to stay awake is shorter in the first part of the day while the more extended alert windows occur later in the day. Meaning they may have the ability to stay away for 30 mins to an hour more during the time between the last nap and bedtime.  Each child is different so it is important to see just how sensitive your child is to extended wake times.  This will help you plan any late nights that could keep them up past their bedtime. 

2. Awake windows are excessively short or the child has not had enough physical activity.

Additionally, we also see issues when the alert windows are excessively short, 

or there has been little to no physical activity.

Similarly, we know that adults rest better with exercise and movement during the day, and babies need to apply their energy by playing, moving their bodies, spending time in the sunlight, and so on. Toddlers need to have at least an hour of movement both before and after the mid-day nap.

It can be difficult to find sleep once our wake window is over-extended, but just as difficult if it hasn’t been long enough.  I have seen one-year-olds that developmentally would be closer to a 4-hour wake window being put down at the 2-hour mark.  

3. Their environment isn’t conducive to sleep..

Short naps can also be a consequence of a climate that is overstimulating or isn’t consistent. The best spot for your child to lay down for rest is in their crib or bassinet, in a room that is free from interruption and light.   I realize that this can be particularly troublesome if your child attends daycare, in which case you may have to move bedtime up to try and counteract the repeated short naps during the day.  Use black-out curtains if the light gets through a window, and we generally prescribe a background noise to drown out other environmental sounds.  This could be white noise or lullabies without words.

4. Your child has been snacking as opposed to getting full feeds

Infants who are constant snackers or go for significant periods during the day without full feeds will often wake from naps due to hunger.  It is important both for afternoon and evening rest that they get full feeds through the day,  usually every  2.5-4 hours in the first year of life. We suggest an  “eat, play, sleep” schedule.  To help avoid the snack and snooze cycle where they are having half naps and half feeds all through the day. 

5. Your little one  is prepping for a nap transition

If your kid has unexpectedly begun fighting a nap,  or it is really hit or miss, that may indicate that they are preparing to change to one less nap. These advances generally occur around 5-6, 8-9, and 12-15 months (dropping down to 3, 2, and afterward 1 nap.  We often see that the last nap of the day is the one that becomes problematic.  They will fight it or it will be consistently very short.  Then it causes a really long wake window between the last nap and bedtime which leads to night wakings and early morning wakings.  It’s a vicious cycle that starts over each day.  If you suspect it’s time for a nap transition, start by extending the wake windows by about 15 minutes every couple of days, you will see the first naps move later in the day and eventually that last nap will just fall off.

What can you do to help your child extend their naps?

Once you feel like you have gotten them to the correct wake window, created a good sleep environment, and gotten out of the snack and snooze cycles with full meals about every 3 hours. You can also incorporate a nap time routine. This is similar to a bedtime routine but shorter. Skip the shower and nightgown, and perhaps have a book or two or a consistent lullaby that you sing or hum, however the routine ought to in any case include little to no light, turning on white noise, and putting on a sleep sack.

Follow the “crib hour” and pause before answering your child.

This implies that you attempt to assist your child with remaining in their crib for an entire hour, regardless of whether they wake at  30 or 45 minutes. Don’t always feel the need to intervene immediately. If they are 4 months old or older, give them an opportunity to self-soothe; at times babies shock us and return to sleep once they are allowed the consistent opportunity. If your child doesn’t nod off on their own after something like 10-15 minutes, you can go in and put forth an effort to assist them with falling back to sleep, particularly if they still appear to be tired. You can utilize these tips on ways of showing your child to self-soothe. Make an honest effort to help your child in their crib for basically 60 minutes, regardless of whether you must be in the room with them for part of it.

5 month old short naps

Depending upon the child’s age, you will need to abbreviate their next awake window by 30-45 minutes. For instance, assuming your 5-month-old ordinarily has 2-hour awake windows, you will need to carry that down to 90 minutes after a short rest. This is to keep away from them becoming overtired and having one more short nap later. For an older infant on only a couple of naps, you should move bedtime up (only not before 6 pm), and possibly include an additional catnap (45 minutes max).

As a last resort, attempt an assisted nap.

Now and again if the child is caught in an overtired cycle, A short nap causes another short nap, which causes a night loaded with wakings, and the cycle starts once more. The most effective way to break out of that cycle is to attempt an assisted nap (assuming your child is 10 months or younger). After the first attempt for a nap in the crib, you can then hold your child, take a drive in the car, or push them in a stroller to assist with extending their nap. This is an emergency answer for breaking out of the overtired cycle and isn’t intended to be your go-to technique for rest.

If your child is caught in a pattern of short naps, start here! If you want more help, reach out and schedule your free rescue call and we can chat through the support options that we have to help your family break the exhaustion cycle! 


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