How that is a lot of baby’s don’t seem to sleep like a baby you may ask? Very often parents report struggles with their children’s sleep. Not all sleep issues need fixing and not all sleep challenges can be rectified, well not at least until your baby is older than 6 months of age.
First of all, I would never consider what is happening to your child’s sleep to be a problem that requires intervention until they are at least 6 months of age and the issues have been going on for 1 month plus. Then we do start to feel that you can expect better sleep for the whole family. Typical sleep issues are reported to be frequent night time activity, difficult to sleep to sleep at bed and naptime, long wake periods and early rising.
One familiar observation in the first year is also short naps. Your little baby may sleep for 10-20 or 30 minutes sleep bursts without exception. Let’s try to get an understanding of what might be causing this presentation.
A desirable nap would be at least 40-45 minutes in duration and in some instances 1 hour plus in duration. I tend not to put a whole lot of emphasis on amounts of sleep but rather the dynamic between them. When this is correctly aligned then you have more chance of the nap being at least 40-45m minutes in duration. Don’t panic though if they are shorter than this, sometimes that is just the way your child is designed. Work through the following cause factors and suggestions in an effort to improve this, without going insane.
Reason 1: Addressing the nap after the fact
It is possible that your naps are being attempted when your baby is already overtired. There is a real fine line between getting tired and being overtired. Very young babies may cross the line of overtiredness in the space of a few minutes. Attempting to learn to read the correct language for sleep and addressing naps within short spaces of awake time by day and before you see obvious cues such as intense eye rubbing, big yawning or agitating may be all you need to do.
It may be a surprise to learn that in the first 4 months or so your baby will need to return to sleep first thing in the morning, within as little as 45m-1 hour of being awake. Then as the day unfolds potentially the wake period and get’s larger, but I would try to never exceed a wake period of more than 2 hours, even if your child seems fine on this basis.
Always prepare for a nap by following early sleep cues-brief eye rubs and small yawns or at the very least 1.40 hours from waking from the last sleep. Once you have had one nap then let at least 1.30h pass by before attempting another nap despite cues, so that you allow sleep pressure to develop. Going too soon again can yield a resistance or, indeed another short nap!
Reason 2: Bedtime too late
In the early weeks your baby’s bedtime will be really quite late-like an adult bedtime. Your baby will go to bed when the parent does, between maybe 10pm-12am. However, biologically, as times goes by, that bedtime naturally comes earlier and earlier so that by 4 months of age, we anticipate that most children are in bed asleep between 7 and 8pm. If you baby’s bedtime has never been adjusted forward as they have gotten older, this can be another contributory factor behind short naps. If you haven’t already you can bring the bedtime forward swiftly and then this should be complimented by a wake time of no later than 7.30am wake time. If bedtime is already at 8pm, then that may not be early enough; trial 7pm for a few days/a week.
Reason 3: An irregular feeding approach
If you are feeding your baby too frequently by day this may also have a negative impact on their napping ability. Once your feeding practise is established and if your baby is heading to 3 months onwards, gaining weight appropriately, then adjusting feeding to 2-3 hourly can have a positive effect, and adjusting that further to 3-4 hourly from 4 months can also help. Obviously you would never delay a feed if your child is hungry, but very often- frequent feeds are not hunger related but they way that baby is comforted. Develop a host of soothing strategies other than feeding such as rocking, swinging, dancing, and cuddling. This way the feeding rhythm and sleeping rhythm can be in sync and can ideally run parallel to each other instead of overlapping. It can help to wake no later than 730am and always to start the day with a feed and then run the feeding times through the day, in between sleeps as opposed to always helping the sleep to happen.
Reason 4: Unable to self settle
If your baby does not yet have the skill set you put themselves to sleep at bed or naptime then this may also be represented by short day sleeps. Although I don’t advocate any formal sleep learning efforts in the first 6 months, you can certainly work on weakening the level of input required, specifically at bedtime first by using a sleep shaping approach such as my percentage of wakefulness approach. Then gradually enabling that skill set for the first 2 naps of the day over a few weeks. The concept encourages that at bedtime your baby is a little bit more awake than asleep when they are put to bed. This decreases the risk of not being able to sleep through a sleep cycle which heightens the chances of longer night time sleep and indeed longer day time stenches too.
Reason 5: Biology
Many children’s nap rhythms do not mature until beyond 6 months of age and as a result a series of short naps is the best that they can do. Provided you start to observe the right timings and refined application, then the likelihood of naps lengthening will be higher for you, when the time is right.
Many parents spend a lot of time trying to achieve something that is just not there to be had. If you are applying all the above mentioned strategies, then take it easy on yourself and know that normally by 6 months plus, most children can do better, provided that are being allowed to learn to consolidate their night time sleep as well. A very small percentage of children take to 12 months onwards to gain ground with naps. You will need to become your child’s sleep expert-mood and behaviour and tendency to maintain their night time sleep regardless of the nap, can often indicate that that is as good as it gets for now. Keep the faith and continue to plug the gaps and observe the positive sleep practices mentioned and better day sleep is coming your way.
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Covering all sleep issues and answering your questions from birth to 6 years of age.