You lay your baby down and walk out of the room, with a full mental list of all you plan to get done during his nice, long, two and a half hour afternoon nap….all productive things, of course. No, never catching up on shows or mindlessly perusing Facebook. Ahem. I do those things for at least one nap of every day. It’s glorious.
But, what isn’t glorious is when your little sweetie wakes up after only 30-45 minutes, crying and insisting that nap time is over. Actually, you try to sweetly remind him, you need to be asleep for at least another hour or two. Pretty please?
Well, sometimes our kiddos have a plan of their own. However, this isn’t the plan they actually want or would choose. Often babies who are waking up from their naps early are overly tired and can’t self sooth, so they can’t get themselves back to sleep once they have not been able to get into the deeper sleep rhythm they are so desiring.
So, to help them, let’s look at two areas you can assess your baby’s nap in and then talk about some tips to help you lengthen those short naps into gloriously long ones.
What is a short nap?
A short nap is certainly one that lasts 30 minutes or less.
But, depending on the age, it can be a nap that lasts 45 minutes or less as well. Check out the sleep schedule post to figure out if your baby’s 45 minutes naps are considered too short. And even if your baby doesn’t fit into the sleep schedule mentioned, you can check here to see if they are still getting all the hours of sleep they need based on their age.
For most ages above a few months old, 2 hour long naps and one longer afternoon nap are the norm. So, if your baby is not getting a prolonged afternoon nap, you are likely dealing with a baby that has a short nap problem.
So, how do you lengthen naps?
First, check the environment of your baby’s room. Ensure they will not get too warm, that the room is as dark as possible, and we use a sound machine to drown out the noises our baby boy’s sisters are always making.
Next, catch your baby when they are still drowsy and not yet uncomfortably tired. Between your baby’s cues and the clock, you can determine when to put them to bed. Watch for your baby to rub his eyes or some babies pull on their ears or hair when they are tired. Also, watch the clock to ensure that you are laying your baby down BEFORE it is time for them to be asleep. When you know their awake time is coming to an end (not more than two hours for babies 2-6/8 months and less for newborns, then a gradually increasing awake time with age) you should begin heading for the crib. Even if they do not look tired or are not showing drowsy cues, you can likely lay your little one down. The worst that should happen if you have a well rested baby is that they babble for a few minutes before falling asleep. Catching your baby when they are drowsy and not tired is probably one of the best tips I can give! This is how you are able to lay a happy, awake baby down to sleep.
Drowsy = head for the crib. Tired = too late!
Finally, be prepared! Now, I have not read this in any book or heard about it from someone else. I came up with it myself and it worked well for me. I can’t remember which of our girls had this short nap problem for a season, but quite honestly, I kicked that short nap problem’s boo-tay. I don’t mess around when it comes to sleep so when there is a problem, I make it my mission to get it solved. I mentally dismiss anything I can and let go of any other household task I have. When I was working on getting that short afternoon nap to turn into a long one, I acted like it was a job I was getting paid millions to do. No joke. Don’t call, don’t stop by, I’m busy. I had my bottle in my hand and I waited outside that door. As soon as I heard my baby waking up, always around the same minute mark (perhaps it’s 30 minutes for you, or even an hour into the long nap time), I went in to sooth her back to sleep as she wasn’t able to do it herself, it seemed. These are the tricks I used:
- I rubbed her back and sung a song. Sometimes that was enough and it just lulled her back to sleep.
- If she was really upset, I offered a bottle and rocked her
- I kept everything completely dark and quiet. I didn’t make eye contact so she knew it was not time to wake up and engage.
This problem did get solved after only days of a focused effort. Seems pretty simple, right? For me, it was. I truly believe what made it something I was able to take care of was because I was already following a good schedule with my baby and I dedicated myself to make the long nap happen. I never gave up or let her out of her nap if at all possible.
One thing you have to keep in mind about my method here is some of the associations that can be created with falling asleep being held or rocked as well as falling asleep being fed. These were two associations I was willing to make to get my baby to take her long nap. I decided that I was willing to allow these two particular associations because if I could get my baby well rested, I could work on breaking the associations with a happy, healthy sleeper which was a better battle than a tired, cranky, sad baby all the live long day. The associations were not hard for me to break (in our case, she simply stopped needing them because she stopped getting up in the middle of nap time), so this was a win-win for me and baby girl.
If you have an overly tired baby, you have to do whatever it takes to get them the sleep they need. You will then be able to stretch this afternoon nap into the long, glorious time it’s supposed to be. You will be happier (and caught up on your Netflix) and you will have a happier baby.