Catnap Advice

Overcoming The Dreaded Catnap

It can often start so well when you arrive home with a very cute, sleepy, newborn and you think to yourself “all she/he seems to do is eat and sleep”. Then all of a sudden your baby goes from doing long naps, to catnapping for only 45 minutes or less. You wonder what has gone wrong, what you may have changed, and what can you do about it now? The good news is that this is all very normal; so don’t feel like you are doing something wrong.

Why does it happen?
During a normal sleep cycle (typically 40-50 minutes) your baby will transition from a light sleep state into a deep sleep state after around 20 minutes. By the end of this sleep cycle they naturally start to come out of their deepest sleep state and will have trouble going back to sleep. Most, if not all, babies will experience this catnap where they wake up around the 45-minute mark. This is very common and will usually start to occur around 8-12 weeks of age where babies naturally start becoming more alert. This increased alertness makes it difficult for your baby to transition into another sleep cycle and reveals itself to us as a stirring/crying baby at the 45-minute mark. Sound familiar?

cat nap

Is it ok to let my baby only have these short sleeps?
Even though there are benefits to your baby having these short sleep cycles (having frequent arousals may protect against SIDS, and ‘active’ sleep is considered crucial for a baby’s brain development), it’s important your baby gets more than a 40-50 minute nap. Anything less than 1 hour of sleep is not going to be as restorative for your baby, and you will find they will get into an overtired state, making the next nap short as well. It may sound surprising, but babies actually do most of their processing and learning while they sleep, so if naps are short, they don’t have enough time to do the processing and the developing they need. In addition, it makes it difficult to get into a routine with your baby, and to plan those all-important outings like coffee group catch-ups, attend other baby activities, or to book appointments. But most of all let’s not forget about the rest every mother needs to recoup as well!
So what can I do about it?
Biologically, day sleep starts to become a lot more organised for babies between the ages of 12-16 weeks. Some babies will naturally start to lengthen their naps around this age, however some will need your assistance to help them develop this resettling skill and to learn how to lengthen their naps.
Here is my advice to help achieve a nice long nap for your baby:
  • Have a sleep environment which is conducive to sleep, including a blackened room, white noise and a firm swaddle (for younger babies).
  • Ensure your baby has the self-settling skills to fall asleep on their own. If your baby falls asleep with any sort of sleep prop (i.e. rocking or being fed to sleep), your baby will look for this same prop to help them fall back asleep after a short nap.
  • Ensure your baby is not overtired. If they are overtired it will be much harder for them to put themselves back to sleep when they wake after one sleep cycle.
  • On the other hand, make sure your baby is not undertired either, as this will likely increase their alertness level after one sleep cycle.
  • Ensure your baby is on an age-appropriate sleep schedule.
  • Be as consistent as you can in your settling approach, as your baby will learn quicker the more consistent you are. Give it a good 20-30 minutes of resettling, and if no luck, get your baby up. 
Don’t beat yourself up if the resettling doesn’t always work, it will take time. If you feel your baby is getting into an overtired state, use one of your back-up sleep options of a stroller ride, front pack etc. and try again the next day. Often the morning nap is the best time to work on the resettling, as your baby should be better rested from their long night sleep.
Hopefully the above advice will help you out but please remember that this is only a generalised summary of catnaps. After a Sweet Dreams sleep consultation I can determine exactly what the causal factors are for your baby and particular situation i.e. is it over/under tiredness, do we need to tweak your schedule, is feeding causing an issue, what settling technique will work best for your situation. Through this consultation process, I can help to understand all of these factors and provide specific advice for your situation. If you’d like specific advice regarding this issue click here to email us, we’d love to hear from you.

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After two weeks of implementing Emma’s Personalised Sleep Plan the feeding to sleep habit has been broken, day sleeps are lengthening and are now between 60 and 90 minutes long and he has started sleeping through the night!  

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