Resetting Those Dreaded Short Naps

Has anyone actually felt better after a quick nap?

Sometimes as adults, even a 20 minute power nap can be enough to take the edge off, but when your body really needs an hour of rest, you wake up cranky and still feel tired. When your baby only gets 20 minutes of the hour they need, it’s no wonder they feel the same!

Short naps feel crummy for everyone, and no one intends for them to happen. But the short nap cycle can creep up accidentally if we’re not careful, leading to crap naps all day long for baby, and no decent breaks for mom or dad. No thanks! 

Let me let the cat out of the bag: Short naps are normal for newborns. If your newborn is experiencing short naps, that is A-okay! Their sleep cycles are shorter and underdeveloped during that time, so that’s totally fine. If your newborn’s sleep has been a struggle (whose hasn’t?), your best bet is my Newborn Sleep Guide for gentle, age appropriate sleep support for the newest addition in your life. I’d advise taking a look through there first. But if you’re past the newborn stage, short naps are something worth addressing.

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Why It Happens

The old saying “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is true in a lot of ways. Like anything, the easiest way to prevent some sort of hurdle is to catch it before it starts. The same is true for the short nap cycle. Buuuut, I completely understand that things occur, or you don’t recognize the signs. Life happens, right?

It goes like this: Your child seems tired, so you put them down for a nap. But they’re not tired enough for a quality, restful nap so they wake up early feeling cranky and tired - the literal opposite of what you want to feel after a nap. So they need another nap shortly after they wake up. Then you do this on repeat until everyone in the house is crying. 

The crap nap cycle can be hard to handle because no one is happy about it. Baby constantly feels tired and doesn’t keep to a decent sleep schedule, while Mom never gets more than a 30 minute break. Neither of these outcomes are sustainable, so we’ve got to take action when they arise.

Here’s the thing. Short naps start to surface around the 4 month sleep regression. It’s not synonymous with it (it can start happening anytime after this too!), but that’s when your baby develops an additional sleep cycle, the healthy sleep habits I preach about daily start to make a difference. This age is when their sleep gets more complex than simply “awake” or “asleep”. They now have a sleep cycle for 30-45 minutes, and sometimes they’ll wake up right after it. The trouble is, if they rely on a sleep crutch to go back to sleep, they’re now wide awake and the sleep pressure has lessened enough that they’re not going back to sleep. 

If they know how to sleep independently, then look for an external reason. Is it too bright in their sleep space? Has there been any noise that could be waking them? How’s the temperature? When did they last eat? How are their wake windows? Put on your detective hat and try to solve the mystery. 

How To Hit Reset

The goal is for your little one to get those longer, restorative naps so they’re getting a good rest. Plus, breaks throughout the day are crucial for the parent’s wellbeing, and that’s not going to happen if you don’t get more than 20 minutes at a time. 

If you want to support longer naps, ensure that their sleep space is optimized for quality rest in order to lay the foundation to encourage more sleep. Look at it from angles of light, sound, safety, and sleep attire (AKA sleep sacks!).

The quick exit out of the crap nap cycle lays within nailing their wake windows. If your baby is undertired or overtired, that’s really going to impact how well they nap, or if they can even make it to their typical nap time. If your little one is experiencing short naps consistently (especially earlier in the day!), that can be really exhausting for everyone. 

So let me break it down for you: If your babe has a short nap and they’re taking longer to fall asleep with little to no sleepy cues when you put them down, that’s a good indication that they need to be awake longer before their nap. AKA stretch that wake window. If they take a short nap and seemed tired before and wake up less than pleasant, it’s likely they were already overtired and you should try shortening the wake window. 

While it seems straightforward, wake windows can sometimes feel like a precalculus equation, and lengthen the time that you start to see success because it can be a lot of trial and error. Lucky you though! I’ve been through all the dirty work when it comes to wake windows, and created a Wake Windows Guide that cuts out the guesswork and math homework. Instead you get simple, straightforward answers that you can implement right away to eliminate the short nap cycle. My guide helps you cut to the chase and start enjoying those long nap breaks a whole lot sooner.

Prefer a little more hand holding when it comes to sleep help? Send an email straight into my inbox or take a look at how I can help you. You & your baby need the sleep you’ve been missing out on, and I’ll get you there faster than you think!

Prefer a little more hand holding when it comes to sleep help? Send an email straight into my inbox or take a look at how I can help you. You & your baby need the sleep you’ve been missing out on, and I’ll get you there faster than you think!