One of the best things about having kids age 0-3 are naps! When fully maximized, it can be a reliable break for a parent or carer which can make a full day with young children much more manageable. Naps are often overlooked, and the focus is placed on nighttime sleep. However, a consistent structure to daytime naps is highly crucial to nighttime sleep.
If you’ve been wondering why your baby takes short naps, struggles to go down or doesn’t nap at all, it is most likely due to one or a combination of these six factors;
1) Developmental milestones. These are major changes a child experiences as part of normal growth, but which can interfere with their sleep. They occur around specific periods so you can know to look out for them. Teething at different points, crawling around 8-9 months, maturing sleep cycle at 4 months and socio-emotional growth at 18 months. These changes can affect your baby’s ability to settle easily. However, keeping a consistent routine will ensure it doesn’t interfere too badly or for too long.
2) Undertired-ness. This is quite intuitive. If your baby has not had enough time between when last they woke and when you’re trying to put them to sleep, they naturally will be unable to sleep, because the sleep pressure has not built up enough. Awake times will guide you to know when you should be putting your baby to sleep to avoid doing so too early or too late. The older your baby is, the longer they can stay awake between naps
3) Overtired-ness. I know this sounds counterintuitive like “how can a baby be too tired to sleep? If they are so tired, why won’t they just sleep?” The mantra “sleep begets sleep” is true. When kids sleep well enough, they are more likely to be able to sleep better. The opposite is also true: when kids do not sleep as often as they should for their age, it becomes considerably harder to get them to do so. Using the appropriate awake time for your baby will help prevent overtiredness
4) Sleep associations. Because it is quicker and easier to do, there’s the tendency to use sleep associations such as feeding to sleep, strapping to the chest or back, rocking etc., to put babies to sleep. A common analogy used in this situation is: if you an adult slept in your bed and woke up on your doorstep, how freaked out would you be? It’s the same for babies. If the condition they went to bed is different from the one they woke up to at the end of a sleep cycle they will express confusion and shock in loud cries and will need you to repeat what you did before to be able to continue sleeping- feed, rock, strap.
Let me mention here that the end of a sleep cycle does not necessarily equal the end of sleep. A baby’s sleep cycle lasts for about 40 minutes before they need to go into the next sleep cycle.
5) Hunger. It is possible that babies genuinely wake up from naps out of hunger. However, this often happens when a baby passes out from exhaustion before they could eat and now, they are hungry early on into their sleep. Keeping a structured routine for eating, playing and sleeping will ensure your baby doesn’t go into a nap hungry. Also, never worry about overfeeding kids until they are two years and older and only if a doctor mentions that their weight is indeed a problem. A full belly, makes for better sleep
6) Picking up a baby too soon. If your baby wakes up crying after napping for only a short while, they are most likely trying to link sleep cycles. However, picking them up too soon then prematurely signals the end of the nap, barely getting the full rest they need. If your baby cries out, offer some gentle comfort without picking them up. They may either fall back asleep or at least get additional rest, which makes them less tired.
It’s always a good idea to curiously observe your baby and notice what your specific baby’s patterns are within the overall framework/guidelines of baby sleep.
If you have any questions or comments, please drop them below!
Hang in there!..xx