So you finally get your baby to sleep for a nap and 30 minutes later, she’s awake again! This is so very common but let’s look at why this happens and whether or not it is a problem…
Babies naps are usually quite disorganised up until around 4 months of age when they begin to take on more of a rhythm. Sometimes they get into a good rhythm sooner and then it all goes out the window around 4 months when they hit a big developmental phase.
Whenever it strikes for you, 30 minute cat-naps can be exhausting for you and your baby but why do they happen?
Sleep works in cycles like this diagram shows. Babies and young children have shorter sleep cycles than adults. For a baby it is about 60 minutes. We enter deep sleep fairly quickly and at around 30-40 minutes into sleep, a baby transitions from into lighter sleep.
Often a baby or young child will become a little too roused in this transition to lighter sleep and find themselves semi-awake or awake.
If they have not yet learned and secured the ability to settle or resettle, this will mean they get ‘stuck’ during this transition in the cycle and look for help/cry out and often the nap ends there.
It can be really difficult to resettle a baby at this point because the sleep they got has taken the edge off the tiredness even though perhaps it wasn’t enough.
So how can you improve this and enable your little one to take longer, more substantial naps?…
- Find the optimal sleep windows:
Know how much sleep your little ideally needs at his age and how long he can manage to be awake in any one stretch. Your baby may appear to be okay for longer stretches than are actually suitable for him.
If your baby is awake for too long in one stretch, he will get overtired and it may take time for this to build up in a way that is noticeable to you. An overtired baby or child will find it much harder to settle to sleep, may have more disturbed sleep or wake prematurely form that sleep (see article on Over-tiredness here).
When you put your baby down in his optimal sleep window, he is more likely to settle easily, sleep longer and get better quality sleep too.
2. Practice the skill of self settling:
Your baby is more likely to wake too soon from sleep if he did not put himself to sleep in the first place. If you put your baby down for a nap already asleep or very drowsy, he will have little to no awareness of what’s happening. When he partially wakes in cycle transition, he will quickly become aware that things have changed and not know how he got there or how to get back to sleep (what he ultimately wants).
When a baby or young child self settles to sleep at the onset of the nap, he is fully aware about where he is and what he is doing. He is less likely to wake during the transition between deep sleep and light sleep and even from one cycle through to the next, because he can naturally knit the cycles together.
As the skill of self settling improves at the onset of sleep, so will the ability to resettle if he wakes up too soon. To practice this, you can reassure your child and encourage a resettle rather than just get him up as soon as he cries. It may not be a success right away but practice goes a long way and he will soon get the hang of it.
Learning to self settle is vital. It is a learned skill and many of us need some guidance in the best way to teach our unique little one how to self settle. Prior to 18 weeks of age it is purely about practice but from around 5 months you can begin to encourage your baby and support him in learning this skill.
There is no set way to teach this skill. In fact, it is different for every child and every scenario. A lot of the principles apply to everyone but require adjusting to suit the individual temperament, personality, parenting style and so forth.
30 minute naps are tough but you can certainly help your baby to stretch these out. If your baby wakes up grumpy, this is a sure sign he hasn’t had enough sleep so keep practicing at least once every day and you will get there.