Extending Your Baby’s Nap

Mixed-Race Baby Napping

Tell me if this scenario sounds familiar…

Your baby wakes up in the morning after a good night’s sleep. You feed her, change her diaper, play with her, take her for a little walk outside in the stroller, then rock her to sleep and put her gently into her crib for her morning nap.

And then, 30 minutes later, she wakes up fussy and irritable and, despite your pleading, rocking, pacifier, bottle, she refuses to go back to sleep.

So after twenty minutes of trying to put her back down, you finally give in, hoping she’ll be that much more tired when her afternoon nap rolls around, only to have the exact same scenario play out again, and baby is a fussy ball of unhappiness for the rest of the day. Then the cycle continues.

Sleep, like food, is one of those elements where baby’s got the final say on whether or not they’re going to cooperate, so there’s no sense trying to force the issue. If they’re not sleeping, just leaving them in their room usually won’t fix things.

So here’s what’s going on, and how to fix it.

Babies like the rest of us, sleep in cycles. We start off in a light stage of sleep, where we can be easily woken up then gradually fall into a deeper stage of sleep. This is when the restorative sleep occurs, where our brains and bodies do all of the maintenance work that leaves us refreshed, clear-headed and energetic when we get sufficient sleep. Once our time in the deep sleep cycle is over, we slowly start coming back to the light stage again, and typically we wake up for a few seconds and then drift off again, and the cycle repeats.

Once we’ve come to the end of the deep-sleep cycle, we slowly start coming back to the light stage again, and typically we wake up for a few seconds and then drift off again, and the whole thing starts again.

In adults, one of those cycles typically takes about an hour and a half. In babies, it can be as little as 30 minutes.

So the fact that your baby is waking up after only 30 minutes is actually completely natural. In fact, if she wasn’t waking up regularly, that might be cause for concern.

“But,” you’re thinking, “I have friends whose babies nap for two or three hours at a time.” Well, that’s partially true. But in a more literal sense, they’re stringing together several sleep cycles in a row. The only difference between their baby and your baby is…

Drumroll please…

They’ve learned how to fall back to sleep on their own.

This is the heart of the issue. Once your child learns to fall asleep without any help (rocking, pacifier, bottle, nursing, parent assistance) they will start connecting those sleep cycles and start sleeping like a superstar!

So remember back at the start of that scenario, there you were, getting ready to put baby down for her nap, gently rocking her to sleep and then putting her down in her crib.

Stop right there. That’s where you need to make some changes. Because in this scenario, your baby is relying on a “sleep prop” to fall asleep and relying on that prop, not her own skills.

Sleep props are basically anything that your baby uses to make the transition from awake to asleep. Pacifiers are the most common example, but there are many others, including feeding, rocking, singing, bouncing, snuggling, and car rides.

Now I’m not saying you shouldn’t rock your baby, or sing to her, or read her stories, or give her a lot of cuddles. You absolutely should. It is not the sleep prop’s fault, but the association between the prop and sleep. You may just need to make some schedule changes as far as when to give the prop and to make sure it is not used to get your child to sleep.

Just not to the point where she falls asleep.

When it comes to bedtime, whatever time of the day that might be, put your baby down in her crib, while she’s still awake, and let her fall asleep on her own.

Think about that. Changes to your child’s sleep habits usually take a few days but if you stay consistent, the whole family will enjoy the extraordinary benefits of proper sleep! She’ll be happier, healthier, more energetic, and you’ll both sleep better at night to boot.

Some other pointers for extending baby’s nap time…

  • Keep the bedroom as dark as possible. Buy some blackout blinds if the sun is getting in, or if you’re on a budget, tape some black garbage bags over the windows. It doesn’t have to be pretty, it just has to be functional.
  • White noise machines are useful if baby tends to wake up due to the neighbor’s barking dog, the inconsiderate delivery guy ringing the doorbell, or any other noise that might startle them out of their nap. Just make sure it’s not too close to their ears and not too loud. 50 dB is the recommended limit.
  • If you’re running into trouble applying these suggestions, give me a call and set up a free 15 minute discovery call. The solution might be simpler than it appears, and most of my clients see a dramatic improvement in just one or two sessions.


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