Extending Those Short Naps

Think about how often this happens…

Your baby decides it is time for the day to start and wakes up after what seemed to you like a tough night’s sleep. Although you are exhausted, she is the cutest baby in the world so you can’t be mad at her.  Instead, you happily feed her, change her, play with her for a little bit, take her for a little stroll, then rock her to sleep and gently put her into her crib for her morning nap.

You can finally breathe because this time she didn’t wake up when you laid her down.  You plop down on the couch, quickly check out the latest InstaStories and Snaps while sipping on your cold coffee, start daydreaming about your next vacation, then BAM! It has only been 30 minutes and she is awake!  You rush in to coax her back to sleep for a little while longer, but despite your pleading, bargaining, and offers of riches, she refuses to go back to sleep.

So after half an hour of trying desperately to put her back down, you finally give in with the hopes that she’ll be that much more tired when her afternoon nap rolls around, Except, the same exact scenario plays out again during the afternoon nap, giving you a cranky ball of unhappiness in the form of your baby for the rest of the day.

Why does this happen and how can you fix it?

Babies, just like the rest of us, sleep in cycles. We start off in a light state where we’re easily woken up, then gradually fall into a deeper stage where even loud noises or movement might not be able to disturb us. This, incidentally, is the good stuff. This really is the rejuvenating, restful sleep where our brains and bodies do all of the maintenance work that leaves us refreshed, clear-headed and energetic when we get enough.

Once we’ve come to the end of the deep-sleep cycle, we slowly start coming back to the light stage again, and typically we wake up for a few seconds and then drift off again, and the whole thing starts again.

In adults, one of those cycles typically takes about an hour and a half. In babies, it can be as little as 30 minutes.

So the fact that your baby is waking up after only 30 minutes is actually completely natural. In fact, if she wasn’t waking up regularly, that might be cause for concern.

“But,” you’re thinking, “I have friends whose babies nap for two or three hours at a time.” Well, that’s partially true. But in a more literal sense, they’re stringing together several sleep cycles in a row. The only difference between their baby and your baby is…

Drumroll please…

They’ve learned how to fall back to sleep on their own.

That’s it. That really is the heart of the issue. Once your baby can fall asleep without help, she’ll start stringing together those sleep cycles like an absolute champ- extending those naps! That’s going to make your baby a whole lot happier and, on the self-indulgent side, leave you with more time to do whatever you like. (Granted, as a new mother, “whatever you like” might not mean what it once did, but still, more time each day to catch up on motherhood-related tasks is something we can all appreciate.)

So think back to the start of that first nap scenario, there you were, getting ready to put baby down for her nap, gently rocking her to sleep and then putting her down in her crib.

Stop right there. That’s where you need to make some changes. Because in this scenario, you are doing the work for her- you are essentially what Sleep Consultants refer to as a “sleep prop” equal to a bottle or a pacifier.

Sleep props are basically anything that your baby uses to make the transition from awake to asleep. Pacifiers are the most common example, but there are many others, including feeding, rocking, singing, bouncing, snuggling, the presence of a caregiver, and the list goes on.

Now I’m not saying you shouldn’t rock your baby, or sing to her, or read her stories, or love her like crazy. You absolutely should.

Just not to the point where she falls asleep.

When it comes to bedtime, whatever time of the day that might be, put your baby down in her crib, while she’s still awake, and let her fall asleep on her own.

There might be a little bit of protest for a day or two, but for the majority of my clients, the results start to materialize in about three to five days.

Think about that. A few days later, and you and your little one could be enjoying the extraordinary benefits of proper sleep. She’ll be happier, healthier, more energetic, and you’ll both sleep better at night.

Some other pointers for extending baby’s nap time…

  • Keep the bedroom as dark as possible. Buy some blackout blinds if the sun is getting in, or if you’re on a budget, tape some black garbage bags over the windows. It doesn’t have to be pretty, it just has to be functional.
  • White noise machines are useful if baby tends to wake up due to the neighbor’s barking dog, your buddy- the Amazon delivery guy ringing the doorbell, or any other noise that might startle them out of their nap. Just make sure it’s not too close to their ears and not too loud. 50 dB is the recommended limit.
  • If you’re running into trouble applying these suggestions, give me a call and set up a free 15 minute consultation. The solution might be simpler than it appears, and most of my clients see a dramatic improvement in a few days.