Naps tend to be a huge pain point for my clients as well as my mom friends out there. Let’s face it, as parents we look forward to an hour plus of “free time” in the middle of the day when our children are napping. There is not much more frustrating than when you put the baby down for a nap and just when you are getting into the groove of cleaning the kitchen, or you are half way through a chapter of the book you have been attempting to ready for the last two years, or more likely… you are just getting to a good part in the Bachelor where you are already 3 episodes behind… and you hear the baby crying. It’s only been 30 minutes! There is no way they are done sleeping! Sound familiar?
So here’s what’s going on, and how to fix it.
Babies, just like the rest of us, sleep in cycles. We start off in a light state where we’re easily woken up, then gradually fall into a deeper stage where even loud noises or movement might not be able to rouse us. That deep sleep is the really rejuvenative, restful sleep where our brains and bodies do all of the maintenance work that leaves us refreshed, clear-headed and energetic when we get enough. 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.
Maybe you’re thinking, “I have friends whose babies nap for two or three hours at a time.” Well, that’s partially true. Really, those babies are stringing together several sleep cycles in a row. The only difference between their baby and your baby is… They’ve learned how to fall back to sleep on their own.
That’s it. That really is the heart of the issue. Once your baby can fall asleep without help, they’ll start stringing together those sleep cycles. That’s going to make your baby a whole lot happier and leave you with two hours at a time to do whatever you like.
The key to teaching your baby how to string those sleep cycles together and fall back to sleep on their own, is in helping your baby practice to fall asleep without a “sleep prop”.
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. So while these sleep props may not affect some babies, they can really disrupt sleep in others. So if your baby is one that is having a difficult time staying asleep, you can start practicing allowing them to fall asleep at the beginning of the nap or bedtime without any sleep props. There might be a little bit of protest for a day or two, but for the majority of my clients, the results start to materialize in about a week.
Think about that, you and your little one could be enjoying the extraordinary benefits of proper sleep. She’ll be happier, healthier, more energetic, and you’ll both sleep better at night as well. If you are looking for more support and a step by step plan to help your baby fall asleep without sleep props, I can help with this, don’t hesitate to reach out.
Some other pointers for extending your baby's nap:
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.
Don’t rush in. If it’s been less than an hour since your baby fell asleep and they are already making some noise, give them a few minutes in their crib to see if they may settle themselves back to sleep before you come in and call the nap over.
Lastly, if your child had a poor nap day, it is probably safe to say that they are going to be extra tired going into bedtime. Move bedtime earlier on these days to prevent overtiredness.