If your baby is catnapping, they are most likely having consistently short naps usually between about thirty and forty five minutes long. This is developmentally normal and becomes apparent for babies some time between eight weeks and six months of age. It happens as a response to the baby’s circadian rhythm and sleep cycles developing. If your baby sleeps well and wakes up happy after these short stretches and is sleeping well overnight, you can probably conclude that your baby is perfectly happy with those short naps and is getting enough sleep. However, although your baby might be functioning well on those short sleeps now, there often comes a time when catnaps just aren’t enough.
The problem is that many babies are just not rested enough after a short sleep. It can also make for a very long and tiring day when mum or dad don’t get any time for a rest themselves. On top of that, there is never enough time for parents to get things done during the day because much of the day is spent settling baby. Even if short naps work for your baby and your family right now, more often than not, a baby’s sleep will deteriorate over time due to a build up of sleep debt. Signs that short naps are not enough include:
- Baby’s temperament changes from generally happy to grumpy and irritable
- Baby can’t stay awake for as long between naps
- Baby struggles to settle during the day due to increased levels of stress hormones
- Baby may begin to wake frequently at night or early morning due to overtiredness
If you start to see any of these signs, it could time to begin working on consolidating a couple of short naps in order for your baby to get more restorative sleep. This means teaching baby how to link sleep cycles. To do this, your baby firstly needs to be developmentally ready to learn to self-settle, usually sometime after four months of age. For younger babies around three months of age, you can begin to reduce the amount of hands on settling you are doing in preparation for baby learning self-settling skills when they are older.
There are certain things to address before working on consolidating naps. Once put in place, these things will have a positive impact on how successful your baby is at extending a nap and they will help minimise any crying. Use the following checklist as a guide:
☑️ Ensure baby’s room is very dark
☑️ Use low pitched, ‘rumbly’ white noise at a relatively loud volume
☑️ Timing: ensure enough wake time between naps so that baby is tired enough to sleep
☑️ Timing: do not keep baby up for too long between naps (avoid overtiredness)
☑️ Timing: aim for naps to start inside ‘biological sleep windows’ (9 to 10am and 12 to 2pm)
☑️ Consider positive sleep associations like a sleeping bag or comforter (when age appropriate)
☑️ Ensure baby isn’t hungry or in pain
☑️ Teach baby to sleep independently (from four months)
Remember, catnapping is very common and happens as a consequence of your baby’s normal development. It’s never a problem until it’s a problem. If short naps are affecting your baby’s temperament and night sleep is deteriorating, it might be time to make some changes.
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