One of the biggest issues parents have – besides getting their babies to fall asleep independently and stay asleep – is having short naps.
I consider anything under an hour to be a short nap in most cases, but I see a lot of parents who have babies sleeping 20-30 minutes for each nap, and then waking grumpy because they’re still sleepy!
When a baby isn’t getting the right amount of day sleep, it affects night sleep and then this sleep situation snowballs into a giant mess of trying to catch up on lost sleep…and that’s where a lot of parents get into the “do anything to get him to sleep” mode.
You know he should be sleeping in the crib, but in hopes of a longer nap, you take him in the stroller, car or put him in the swing or rock n play…or you just hold him.
And then THOSE things lose their effectiveness too!
Want to know why? Because while sleep props initially help a child sleep, over time they lose their potency so to speak, meaning a baby that once needed only a few minutes of rocking to go down for a nap could soon need 30-45+ minutes to get that same amount of nap out of him!
Children want to be able to fall asleep on their own, but those with sleep issues just haven’t mastered how!
It’s up to us as parents to nudge them in the right direction, and that means giving them the opportunity to practice these new skills in the most optimal environment.
That optimal environment isn’t just physical environment, but one in which all their other needs have been met.
Here are four tips to help create that ideal sleep environment and make these catnaps longer:
#1 Make sure your child is awake when he goes into the crib for the nap.
If your child is taking short naps, sleep props are almost certainly one of the culprits, and more specifically that your child is going down for the nap drowsy or already asleep.
He needs to learn how to go from awake to asleep without you doing most (or all!) of the work. Then it won’t be a shock when he wakes up on the crib mattress instead of in your arms and if he does wake up after 20 minutes and he’s still sleepy, he’ll be able to put himself back to sleep.
#2 Make sure to learn what awake time your baby does best with so he’s tired enough to fall asleep and stay asleep for a long enough nap BUT he’s not going to bed overtired.
If your baby is having a hard time staying awake in the nap time routine, he either has a very strong feed-sleep association or he’s overtired.
Overtiredness is a biggie – it makes it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep, which is why overtired kids have short naps, night wakings and/or early wakeups.
#3 Look at the clock to make sure baby won’t be hungry in the middle of the nap.
Ideally your baby will be on an Eat – Play- Sleep schedule, so he’s eating when he wakes from a nap instead of when he’s going down to sleep.
If his naps are sporadic and inconsistent, that may not be a doable schedule. But, for example, if he’s eating every three hours, and at 2.5 hours he’s ready to go to sleep, it’s usually better to feed him before the nap so he doesn’t wake up 30 minutes into the nap because he’s hungry.
Of course this will be a super hard feed to keep him from falling asleep during, but if you can keep him from getting drowsy and put him down awake with a full tummy, he’ll have a much longer sleep!
#4 Be consistent in the sleep environment
If your child is catching naps in the stroller or car, sometimes in the baby carrier or being held and sometimes in the crib, there’s no rhyme or reason to where your baby is expected to fall asleep.
Remember children learn best through repetition, so putting them down for naps in the same place (as much as possible) helps them learn that when they’re in the crib, they’re supposed to fall asleep…unlike a stroller when sometimes they’re going on a walk and looking around, and sometimes they’re falling asleep.
Along with location, having a consistent nap routine will be another trigger that it’s time to go to sleep. When you go to sleep, you probably have a routine too – washing your face, brushing your teeth, putting on your pjs, reading for a few minutes, etc. Babies and toddlers thrive with a routine as well, but again, make sure your child isn’t falling asleep during the nap routine.
Once you’ve removed sleep props and your child is going into the crib awake, you’re putting him down in the right window so he’s not overtired or hungry and you’re being consistent with the location and nap routine, you should see short naps extending longer within 2-6 weeks depending on the child!
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