How do I get my baby to nap for longer than 30 minutes?
Are you putting your baby down and 30 minutes, 40 if you’re lucky, and they’re awake again and you just know they haven’t had enough sleep? What can you do if you’re getting these snatched catnaps all day and no predictability and you just know your little one isn’t rested enough?
Okay, well, there is a hidden key to solving this problem and it’s not what you would expect. I’m going to break this down for you.
First of all, let me just explain the science of a sleep cycle. When we put our little ones down to sleep, their sleep cycle is typically somewhere between 45, 50 minutes and 60 minutes. That’s the whole cycle.
Now, sometimes I have parents say to me, “My little one’s cycles are only 30 minutes.” That’s not true. Their cycles are longer, they’re just not making it through the whole cycle. What happens is they go down, they fall asleep, they go into deep sleep, they finish that section of sleep, they go into lighter sleep.
They’re moving through lighter sleep and around 30, 40 minutes, they’re coming through light sleep and they are meant to be transitioning to another stage of sleep, but what they’re doing is instead of transitioning, they’re falling out of sleep.
They’re finding themselves awake and they’re stuck, so they cry out and we go, “Oh, baby’s awake, get them up.” We just think that’s it, nap time is over. It’s not, it’s just a break in the cycle because they haven’t yet mastered the ability to see that cycle through, let alone knit that finished cycle into another sleep cycle.
The key is in the nap onset. The way your little one falls to sleep at the beginning of that nap is going to have a big part to play in whether or not they sleep longer than that 30 or 40 minutes.
The reason they’re waking is because they haven’t yet mastered that skill of resettling to sleep, so when they find themselves awake, they don’t know what to do.
Well, the only way they’re going to know what to do and their body is going to either stay asleep or help them just nod back on off to sleep is by knowing how to get to sleep in the first place. When they haven’t practiced during that when you put them down for the nap, they can’t do it when the sleep is broken.
When you put your little one down for that nap, if they’re going out like a light, if they fall asleep very easily or very quickly, there’s a good chance that you’ve already done it for them. Maybe they fed to sleep, you rocked them to steep, you held them to sleep, jigged them to sleep, lulled them off in some way, or maybe the timing was just at a point where they were so tired that they crashed and burned and they hit the deck with no real conscious awareness of it.
That’s when the falling asleep is done for them. If that bit’s done for them, then when they do have this break in a sleep cycle and they’re like, “Oh, I’m awake. What do I do?” they cry because they’re basically saying, “I don’t want to be awake yet. How do I get back to sleep? Come in and fix me.” We don’t know that, it’s not common parenting knowledge. Let’s face it.
We want to practice this art of falling to sleep for nap time, but this is the big thing that people don’t tell you. It’s one thing going, “Yeah, I know that, I know. My little one needs to put themselves to sleep at the beginning of a nap in order to do longer naps.”
Yes, brilliant, great information. But if they’re not practicing that exact thing, that sleep onset skill, if they’re not learning and developing this and getting better and better at it at bedtime, it’s going to be a lot, lot harder for a little one to learn this for nap onset.
When I have family say, “Yeah, yeah, bedtime’s fine, nights are fine, that bit’s all fine. I just need help with a nap,” I often take my clients right back to bedtime and I start unpicking bedtime.
They say, “Well, why? It doesn’t matter. I put my baby down at bedtime, they just got to sleep.” I always say, “No, no, no.” We need to actually go back, look at bed time, look at the sleep onset there, and sometimes we have to undo some habits and fix it back up again in order to get the results with the naps.
Practicing sleep onset at bedtime is where your little one’s going to learn the most. They’re going to get really, really good at it by practicing at bedtime. Then they’re going to get better and better at resettling any night waking’s, not through fluke, through actual skill. Then they get better at it when you practice the same with nap onset.
Once they can settle to sleep and back to sleep in that way, then settling a broken nap is the hardest one, it’s the last one that they get and it’s the hardest one, but once they can do that, they can then take longer, more restorative, replenishing, good length naps that will actually set them up for a better day and a better at night as well.
Those are the keys to extending those naps. You may have to do some resettle work, you may have to come in at that 30-minute mark and actually work on resettling your baby to sleep rather than just accepting 30 minutes and getting them back up.
There are lots of other pieces to this puzzle that we can help you with in our sleep program, but I really hope this helps you if you are struggling with that 30-minute annoying little cat nap.
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