How to Lengthen Short Naps

Do you feel like your child is stuck in a 38-minute nap cycle forever? Like no matter what you do, your child is destined to take short naps?

When you’ve got laundry to fold and dishes to clean, and you still have to take a shower, and the only time you can do anything is during nap time, it can be frustrating when your child wakes up after only 30 minutes or so.

Before we get into how to lengthen short naps, I’m going to get a little science-y on you.

A baby’s sleep cycle is different from an adult sleep cycle. For adults, we complete a sleep cycle in about 90 minutes. For babies, their sleep cycle is much shorter, clocking in around 30-40 minutes.

In fact, here’s a graphic of a baby’s sleep cycle:

We want children to get at least 1 hour of sleep during naptime, but if they’re waking up after 30 minutes, then we know they aren’t connecting their sleep cycles. Once they start approaching the end of one cycle, they wake up without slipping right into the next.

As children get older, they will become better nappers as their sleep cycles naturally lengthen to become more like our adult sleep cycles. But you can take steps now to ensure they have everything they possibly need to connect those sleep cycles on their own.

Make sure the nap environment is set up for sleep

Newborn babies (and even up to 3 months old) can sleep pretty much anywhere. The TV could be blaring, other kids could be screaming, and your little one would be snoozing away. Not all children continue to nap well in those environments once they hit the 4-month mark. 

Around 4 months old, you might notice your child needs more of a quiet room to nap in. So this is the first step: make sure you have a quiet room that your child can sleep in. It doesn’t have to be 100% quiet, but it should be distraction free.

Consider sound machines if you have other children or if you’re working from home to buffer the noise between the room and everything else going on.

Aside from the noise level, you want to make sure the room is dark. It doesn’t have to be pitch black, but any light can disrupt a sleep cycle and tell your child’s body that it’s time to wake up. You can look into blackout curtains or products like the Slumberpod to help prevent light from disturbing your child’s sleep.

If your child is older than 1 year, you also want to be mindful of any distractions in the room, like toys scattered on the floor. Even if your child is in a crib, if the room is cluttered with FUN, it will be harder for your little one to fall asleep.

Once you know the environment is good to go, you can move on to our next strategy.

Don’t immediately intervene when your child wakes up from their nap early

When your child wakes up from their nap, what do you do?

If you rush in to get them, I want to encourage you NOT to do that. We know that babies will cycle through multiple sleep cycles, so let’s give your little one a chance to do that.

You can implement “Crib Hour,” which means that your child stays in their crib for at least an hour from the time you place them in there at the start of naptime. If they wake up after 40 minutes, for example, you would leave them in their crib for 20 minutes before going in to get them, which gives them time to fall back to sleep.

This also means you’ll want to make sure your child is well fed before naptime. If they’re waking up after 30 minutes and it’s already time to eat, they won’t sleep longer. You may need to offer a small bottle before nap time to make sure they are nice and full. Or if you’re a parent of a toddler, you can offer them a snack before naptime.

Check your child’s wake windows to optimize nap time

If your child is overtired or undertired, their bodies will have trouble sleeping for any longer than 30-40 minutes.

Stay on top of their wake windows. Here’s a wake windows chart — find your child’s age and see how long they should be awake between sleep.

If you notice that you’ve been putting your child down AFTER their wake window, you know they’re overtired and that’s causing them to wake up after one sleep cycle.

If you notice you’ve been putting them to sleep before their wake window, they need to stay awake longer to build a good amount of sleep pressure.

Once you’ve gotten the three key elements down — their sleep environment, not immediately intervening, and their wake windows — then you need to stay consistent. Nap training takes longer than nighttime training and can take weeks to shake out.

Stay consistent, keep practicing, and your child WILL begin to link those sleep cycles and get more daytime sleep.

And if your child isn’t getting enough sleep during the day, consider moving bedtime up by about 30 minutes to make up for the sleep they missed.

If you feel like you need some 1:1 support while you work on lengthening your child’s nap, let’s set up a time to chat. You can reserve a spot on my calendar at this link.

Still have questions about short naps? Message me on Instagram!

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I’m Katie

certified pediatric sleep consultant

Fueled by equal parts caffeine and passion, I spend my days helping exhausted mamas get their babies the sleep they need. 

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