One of the most common questions I hear from parents is regarding their children’s short naps. More specifically, naps lasting 30 minutes, sometimes (if you’re lucky), 45 minutes. Parents will say, “my baby can only sleep for 30 minutes and then he’s up, and he won’t go back to sleep.” This is a painful experience for everyone. Your baby is likely to still be tired and you are likely to be frustrated because you know he still needs more sleep but you can’t get him to sleep any longer. I know how you feel! I have been there. My son was also a 30 minute napper until he was about 7 months old. I would watch him on the video monitor and at exactly 30 minutes, I would see his fingers moving, then a leg and then he was up! I remember thinking, “Are you wearing a watch in there?” How did he know that it had been exactly 30 minutes on the dot? I now know that 30 minutes was the end of his first sleep cycle, and he had to learn how to get himself back to sleep when he went through that sleep cycle.
The good news is that it is possible to teach your child how to take longer naps and help him not be overtired. Before thinking about working on the naps though, you have to take into account what is happening at night. Children learn to consolidate their night sleep before day sleep. If your baby does not have the skill to put himself to sleep at night (when it is the easiest time to fall asleep), then it will be very hard to do it for naps when it is much, much harder. If the nights are going well, then you may be in a good spot to do some nap coaching. The key to your child learning how to take longer naps is that he has to put himself to sleep at the beginning of the nap so that when he goes through a sleep cycle, he has the skill to get himself back to sleep.
Another important component to taking good naps is for your baby to not be overtired when going down for a nap. When babies become overtired, their brain begins to produce cortisol which is the stress hormone that not only inhibits sleep but also give your baby a “rush,” leading him to be energized rather then sleepy. How long your child can be awake before becoming overtired largely depends on how old they are and how well they are sleeping in general. For instance, if your child is sleeping through the night, he is going to have a much easier time making it an hour and a half or two hours to his morning nap then if his night sleep is broken by frequently wake ups. So when your child is waking too early from naps, looking at whether he might have been overtired when he went down can help you understand what led to the short nap.
Lastly, if you want your child to learn how to take longer naps, then you are most likely going to need to do some nap coaching so he learns that when he wakes at 30 or 40 minutes, it is not time to be awake. Nap coaching is not very much fun and can be very frustrating. The reason for this is because naps happen multiple times a day and require persistence and consistency in order to improve. Also, often one parent is home alone with the child, doing the nap coaching so it can be more isolating and sometimes discouraging. With some focus on improving your child’s naps, however, it is absolutely possible to make changes so that your child is getting enough sleep for his developmental stage.
Have you been struggling with helping your child improve his or her day sleep? Contact me for a FREE 15 minute phone consultation to learn more about how to improve your child’ s naps.