How to Help Your Baby Take Longer Naps

Are you battling short naps with your baby or toddler? You know the ones, where you finally get them to fall asleep and then they wake up after only 20-30 minutes, only to be tired again in a few minutes? These short naps can be so frustrating! Here are a few things we can ask to figure out why your child’s naps aren’t getting longer:

  • Is this normal for their age?

  • Are they napping at the right time?

  • Is their sleep environment conducive to sleep?

  • Are they falling asleep independently?

  • Are they overtired?

  • Are they ready to drop a nap?

Naps by Age

As frustrating as they can be, short naps can actually be developmentally normal up until 4-5 months of age. A child’s circadian rhythms are not developed until 4 months after their due date. Around 4 months old, your child’s first nap (morning nap) will start to develop, meaning it will begin occurring around the same time each day and will lengthen. Once the morning nap is developed and consistent, you will start to see their second nap come together, and then their third (and final) nap. 

Napping at the right time

Some parents are surprised to hear that timing of sleep is just as, if not more, important than the amount of sleep your child gets. Not all sleep is created equal, and sleep at the wrong time is what we refer to as “junk sleep”. Just like junk food has calories, it’s not nutritious. “Junk sleep” is sleep, but it’s not as restorative as sleep at the right time. Using the body’s circadian rhythms and natural sleep windows, we can help them fall asleep quickly and stay asleep longer, and wake up refreshed and ready to go! When children sleep outside of their natural sleep times, then the result is less restorative sleep, shorter naps, and waking up fussy. 

Sleep environment

Creating an environment conducive to sleep will help promote deep, restorative sleep for your child. Their sleeping environment should be:

  • As dark as possible- Blackout curtains/shades are a great tool for naptime!

  • Quiet- Whitenoise machines help block out any house/outside noises that could wake the baby

  • BORING- We don’t want anything stimulating (ex: crib mobiles, toys, music)

  • Safe- Always follow the AAP safe sleep guidelines for your child’s age

Soothing routine

It may be hard for your little one to go from playing outside or with their stimulating toys, to falling asleep for a nap. Having a soothing routine serves as a cue that sleep is coming and helps prepare their bodies and minds for sleep. A soothing routine can include:

  • Turning the lights down and reading a book

  • Changing into PJs or comfy clothes

  • Singing a lullaby

Independent sleeper?

How is baby falling asleep for naps? Are they able to fall asleep on their own in their crib, or are they needing your help? If your little one is needing help to fall asleep, and then waking after 30 minutes, it’s likely that they are unable to transition into their next sleep cycle without the same conditions as when they fell asleep at the beginning of nap time (being fed, rocked, cuddled, etc.).  Once they learn how to fall asleep independently at the beginning of sleep, they are more easily able to link their sleep cycles and take longer, more restorative naps!

Overtired

Overtired children are children who think they don’t need to sleep! When we become overtired, our bodies produce cortisol, a stress hormone, which makes it much more difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. When they become overtired, we may see more bedtime and naptime battles, more night wakings, and early wakeups. Here are some ways to work off that sleep-debt:

  • Early bedtime

  • Be consistent with nap schedule, maybe even offer nap a few minutes earlier than usual!

  • Soothing bedtime routines

Nap Transitions

Babies tend to transition from 3 to 2 naps around 9 months of age, and then drop down to just one nap around 15-18 months of age. Most children will continue to nap until about 3-4 years old. If your child is consistently not taking one of their naps OR the nap is getting shorter and shorter, but we know that their schedule is appropriate for their age, it could be a sign that they are ready to drop that nap. 


Written by, WRB Consultant Kristen Northrop. Kristen can be reached at kristen@wellrestedbaby.com.

Well Rested Baby is a team of Family Sleep Institute certified sleep consultants that helps families like yours identify, address, and correct their children’s sleep issues (such as crib climbing and transitioning to a toddler bed) WRB works with moms and dads to create customized sleep plans that reflect a family’s comfort level and philosophies. When paired with WRB’s 360-approach, the entire family is set up for sleep success. WRB offers a variety of support packagesContactWRB today to schedule a consultation or learn more about how we can help you and yours get the sleep you need and deserve.