Dealing with Short Naps

A photograph of a sleeping baby
Photo by hessam nabavi on Unsplash

As lovely as it is when your baby or child sleeps for 2 hours straight once or twice a day, this is often not the reality. We can experience a lot of stress (affecting your child as well) trying to force long block naps and, whilst there are actions we can take to achieve an optimum amount of sleep, we also have to look after our child’s individual needs.

Here are some suggestions to help review your current nap situation to see if you can lengthen them when appropriate:

  • Some babies and children are cat nappers (particularly children aged between 3 and 5 months). Some progress through this and naturally start to increase their nap periods, whilst others seem content to have several naps during the day, many being 30-45 minutes. If your child seems fine on their schedule, sometimes it is best to just “go with the flow”.
  • Try and have some consistency with nap times. You don’t have to be exact every time, but once you have found your child’s general “wake windows” and they start to show tiredness, then act on this.
  • Keep a log of when sleep cues start. Once you have noted these cues, start a 10-15 minute wind down (5-10 minutes is fine for younger babies). Support them in the transition between play and sleep times. Note what their mood was like when they woke. If after 10 mins of being awake, they are still fussy, grumpy and/or crying, and you have ruled out other possible factors, then it suggests they haven’t slept for long enough.
  • Have they woken up because they are hungry? Make sure you are not expecting babies to go too long without a feed (2-3 hours for under 6 months). Remember also not to let young babies sleep too long without feeds. If they have slept for 3 hours, you should wake them and give a feed. For toddlers and pre-school children, you may like to give them a small snack before naps.
  • Too much noise: some children are sensitive to external noise. Using a white noise machine can help. Many are portable now, so even if you are out and about you can still have one on you. It is helpful early on to plan naps indoors and outdoors so your child gets used to different noises and environments to fall asleep in.
  • For babies, napping in slings can extend the length of a nap and is also great for bonding and attachment.
  • Short naps can also occur when your baby/child is going through developmental changes: for example, rolling over, standing and language development. The skills needed to achieve these milestones are ‘practised’ when babies/children sleep. You may see short naps occurring as light sleep increases and deep sleep decreases. It can be really frustrating but when you are playing and engaging with your child, practice these new milestones. Teach them how to roll over, how to have “tummy time” and/or sing songs to them.
  • Check your child is comfortable. Some babies and children are sensitive to clothing, for example labels and material. Cotton clothing is best and is cooler and you should remove labels if they are irritating your child’s skin (particularly children with sensory needs and eczema). Make sure they are not too hot or too cold.
  • Check they are not in pain. Teething can cause some babies to be in pain or discomfort, or it might be a tummy ache. In these instances, you may need to increase emotional support and comfort until they feel better. They may benefit from a ‘cuddle nap’ if they are under the weather. (Please make sure that if your baby/child naps on you that you remain fully awake for safety).
  • If you are at home, try to darken the room to help give them a cue that it is nap time. (If your baby is under 6 months old, they should never be alone in a room asleep).
  • Avoid screen time. Not only does the light from screens impact negatively on sleep generally (it reduces melatonin and is also a stimulant) but the content is often inappropriate. Background television noise can cause sleep disruptions as the child is taking in the content of what is being said. They are unable to understand what they are seeing/hearing which can lead to sleep terrors and nightmares as well as general anxiety.
  • If your toddler or pre-schooler no longer needs naps or they are impacting on the night’s sleep, then just encourage a restful time. Be with them and have a cuddle, read some stories or do some mindfulness activities.

If you would like some support with your child’s naps or overall sleep, Julie currently has spaces for 1-1 consultations on phone or Zoom. You can contact her in several ways, just visit this page to find out both email and telephone contacts.