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Why does my baby only take short naps?

Updated: Aug 11, 2021

Naps that are less than one sleep cycle are referred to as ‘cat-napping’. Cat-napping can be quite frustrating as you may have spent a good half an hour getting your little one to sleep and by the time you have gone to the bathroom, put some washing on and made a cup of tea…you hear a cry.

Newborn: Cat napping begins to emerge at around 8 weeks. This means your little angel has gone from sleeping 2-3 hour chunks to sleeping around 30-40 minutes. This is SO COMMON. Naturally newborns at this age do not have the skills to move back into another sleep cycle. This means they make noise asking for some help, but are often so happy to see Mum come back in the room they will look wide awake. Mum takes this as a sign baby has had enough sleep. Mum realises after 10 minutes that baby in fact didn’t have enough sleep and will need to be put down before the age appropriate awake window. The cycle then continues as little cat-napper will not have enough sleep debt to consolidate their nap. Do whatever you can to get your baby back to sleep.

3-4 Months: By this time the cat-napper has become really over-tired. They are now living on 4-5 short naps a day and are probably starting to have nightly wake ups as a consequence. It is still really hard for babies of this age to re-settle ESPECIALLY if they have been taught they will be picked up when they cry at the 30-40 minute mark. Cat-napping is normal for this age but that doesn't mean you have to put up with it. 4 months is a great time to start teaching baby they must fall back asleep at the lunch time nap!

5-6 Months: Baby still hasn’t learnt to re-settle and baby is likely to be severely over-tired. Baby should be having short-long-short naps at this age. The first nap being no earlier than 9am. Sticking to age-appropriate awake windows will help tremendously.

Older babies and toddlers: If your baby is catnapping around this age it’s no doubt you’ve got a cranky little human on your hands. This is where you see the child falling asleep on the play mat, in the car, in the pram etc. They then fall asleep late into the afternoon and their bedtime is now as late as yours. Implement a routine with focus on awake time.

2.5+: They may not need a nap anymore if they are sleeping well at night and happy in the late afternoon!

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