Short Naps: the Night Sleep Killer
By Maggie Moore
Short naps can be a daily schedule and night sleep killer. They leave parents frustrated and feeling defeated.
But what is considered a short nap?
Any nap between 45 to 30 minutes is considered a catnap.
A nap under 30 minutes is considered a micro-nap.
And a nap under 20 minutes is a total nap refusal.
If a baby is on a three or four nap a day schedule, we are aiming for the first two or three naps to be at least one hour, respectfully. The last nap of the day (on a three or four nap schedule) is typically a catnap. It has the least restorative value and is considered a “bridge to bedtime.”
If baby or toddler is on a one or two nap a day schedule, we are aiming for those naps to be at least one and a half hours.
On a one or two-nap a schedule, there is longer a “bridge to bedtime.” These naps have both physical and mental restorative value.
One of the most common mishaps parents make is rushing to baby at the first noise.
While this is important when a baby is less than 16-weeks adjusted age; once a baby has passed this age it is important for the baby to learn how to self-soothe and connect sleep cycles.
After your little one is 16-weeks adjusted age, we can begin to practice “crib hour.” This gives the baby a chance to connect sleep cycles and make those naps longer.
If the baby wakes from a short nap instead of running to them, give them an opportunity to put themselves back to sleep. Crib hour means we will leave the baby in his/her crib for one full hour from when either they were placed in the crib OR from when they fell asleep.
Example: We put the baby down at 8 am, he falls asleep at 8:30 am, but only sleeps in the crib until 9:15 am. We leave the baby in the crib until 9:30 am. Or, if we place baby down at 8 am, and he never falls asleep we would leave him in the crib until 9 am to complete crib hour.
This concept is used to teach short napping babies and toddlers to extend their naps past the first sleep cycle, which is typically 30 to 45 minutes.
The same principle can be applied for a toddler nap, but instead of an hour in the crib - we use 90 minutes.
As a point of reference, we do not use the crib hour for the last nap of the day on a three or four nap day.
Environment plays an important role in the quality and duration of your little one's naps.
Following these four simple rules will improve both the restorative value and length of naps.
- Dark – on a scale of 1 to 10 in darkness, we want the room to be an 8 to 10.
- White noise – should be mild, boring and continuous.
- Temperature – keep your little ones room between 68 and 72 degrees.
- Over-night diapers – size-up in your child’s nighttime diaper.
Short naps can be a result of a child becoming overtired.
This can happen if parents are not adjusting their child’s wake windows based on the previous nap.
If your child takes a nap over 45 minutes, there is no reason to adjust their next wake window.
However, if they wake after a cat-nap or a micro-nap, then we want to make sure we are putting them down for their next nap sooner rather than later.
The exception to this is if the catnap happens on the last nap of the day on a three or four nap day.
If your child has a nap refusal, we want to aim to have them down within an hour of getting them out of the crib.
It’s also important to remember on days when naps are short an early bedtime is key!
Night sleep is the most restorative sleep your child can get.
Bedtime should not be a set time every day. It is dependent on the quality and the duration of the naps for the day.
For more information on helping your little one learn to self-soothe and what schedule they should be on, be sure to check out my guides - here.
Maggie Moore is the Founder and Head Sleeper at Moore Sleep. She is a certified pediatric sleep consultant through the Family Sleep Institute, which means her sole focus and objective is getting your baby on a healthy sleep schedule so the whole family can get the sleep they need.
Like many parents, Maggie and her husband struggled with getting their son on a healthy sleep schedule and he was unable to fall asleep independently. As a result, her family was losing precious sleep every night.
Maggie became a firm believer when, shortly after hiring a certified pediatric sleep consultant, her son began sleeping independently at bed and nap times. It was a turning point that resulted in not only restful nights, but waking up fully rested with the energy to face the day. Maggie knew right away she wanted to become a certified consultant herself so she could help other families struggling to get the sleep they need.
Maggie and her family reside in Southern Indiana (near Louisville, KY). She received her bachelors in Journalism and a second concentration in Communications & Culture from Indiana University in Bloomington, IN. Follow Maggie on Facebook and Instagram.
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