What is the deal with short naps ????
There is nothing more frustrating than when your baby naps for a solid twenty-seven minutes on the dot after a fun outing which certainly should've tired them out! It's left you baffled as to why in the world they refused to nap longer!?
So you think, "ok, this is just one short nap, the next one HAS to be longer for sure". Respectfully, you put your baby down for their next nap at their appropriate time and BAM, twenty-seven minutes later you hear a cry from their nursery. Now you're left completely confused and stressed out, wanting nothing more than to get your baby some more sleep!
In the world of parenting, the challenge of deciphering a baby's sleep patterns can be both mystifying and exhausting! One main common puzzle that many parents encounter is the phenomenon of short naps. Just as you settle into a moment of tranquility or attempt to tackle that ever-growing to-do list, your baby decides it's time for a brief siesta.
While short naps can leave you feeling frustrated and questioning your parenting knowledge, it's essential to understand that they are a very normal part of a baby's sleep development. Yep, totally normal! So next time you're little one takes a twenty-seven nap, remember to breathe in and out, don't stress and carry on.
This blog post explores the reasons behind short naps, offers practical tips and tricks for parents dealing with this nap time conundrum and reassures them that navigating the world of infant sleep is a journey filled with both challenges and triumphs.
HOW SLEEP DEVELOPS IN BABIES
Babies undergo significant changes in their sleep patterns and development during their first year of life. Newborns experience shorter sleep cycles that last up to 50 minutes or so, transitioning between two distinct stages, active (REM) and quiet (non-REM) sleep. They typically enter REM sleep first right as the fall asleep
Around 3-5 months, babies sleep cycles begin to develop from two stages into four with REM sleep staying the same, and the non-REM stage dividing into three phases so it looks a little like this:
light sleep (drowsy)
active sleep (dreaming)
The first two stages of non-REM sleep are light stages of sleep, whereas non-REM 3 is considered our "deep sleep". At about three months of age, babies will enter non-REM sleep first and then plunge right into a deep sleep quickly.
WHY IS IT DEVELOPMENTALLY NORMAL FOR BABIES TO TAKE SHORT NAP
Babies under the age of 6 months may take short naps as their sleep cycles are evolving and maturing. There are heaps of developmental changes going on in their brains and the development of their circadian rhythms! It's a completely normal and healthy part of growing. Our human bodies our so cool..
So because of all these changes in your baby's development, they likely haven't figured out how to connect their sleep cycles together.. YET! Therefore, they are taking twenty-seven minute naps "to a tee", which is the length of just one of their sleep cycles. Important to note: babies sleep cycles vary in length but typically last about 50 minutes. It may take them some time to figure this out in order to consolidate a good nap, which usually happens after six months of age.
Ahh, our beautiful and radiant sunshine. It's a crucial external factor that influences our circadian rhythms, or our "internal clock" which regulates the sleep-wake cycle. Exposure to natural light during the day, encourages our circadian rhythms to develop and promote a healthy sleep pattern.
However, the fact that daylight is telling us "to be awake", does not help our nap situation. It is much more difficult for babies to sleep during the day when they think they're supposed to be awake.
Another sneaky developmental reason why naps can be tricky is the role that hormones play in our bodies. At night time we produce a hormone called melatonin which signals our body to shut down for the night, thus making it easier for babies to fall asleep at night time and sleep longer stretches. Unfortunately, during the day babies are not gifted with the presence of melatonin and this makes napping more difficult.
Increased Awareness & Learning
Additionally, short naps may align which a baby's increased sensitivity to environmental factors (doors shutting, mom or dad leaving the room, siblings running around, too cold of a room etc.) or developmental milestones (you know... those dreaded sleep regressions where you stock your fridge with extra wine). Well, what's crucial to remember here is that short naps are a sign of a healthy, active mind and body, that reflects the ongoing development of a baby's sleep-wake cycles.
OTHER COMMON CULPRITS FOR SHORT NAPS
So we dived into the sleep science behind short naps. Now lets explore some other reasons (that CAN be fixed!) your baby might be siesta-ing for only half an hour.
Is your baby's room set up with good sleeping conditions? Maintaining a comfortable sleep environment that is safe could impact your baby's sleep quantity and quality.
You'll want to ensure their room is calm, and quiet. It should also be dark and at a temperature that is not too warm (our body temperature drops naturally when we sleep so if it's too hot, it makes our bodies work harder to cool down, thus making it tough to fall asleep or sty asleep), so keeping the room between 68º - 72º C is recommended.
Sleep Onset Associations
How does your little one fall asleep? Are they being rocked, patted, or fed to sleep? These are considered sleep onset associations in which your kiddo requires in order to fall asleep, so when they awake between their sleep cycle, they're going to be calling for you to help them back to sleep.
By implementing independent sleep skills early on, it is likely you'll see those naps consolidate sooner! Unless you are blessed with a "unicorn" sleeper who just figures it out on their own.
Appropriate Awake Time
How long your baby is awake for between naps plays a significant role in their sleep duration. If they're undertired because their wake window was too short, well they just aren't going to have enough sleep pressure (more on sleep pressure to come) to sustain a long nap.
Alternatively, if your babe has been awake for too long (been there, done that many times as a first time mama) and they're overtired (arching back, extremely fussy, rubbing eyes etc.), this causes an elevation of cortisol in their bodies which interferes with their sleep and makes it difficult for them to stay asleep. Equalling a twenty-seven nap.
While short naps can leave you frustrated and questioning your parenting, It's essential to understand that they are a VERY normal part of a babies sleep development. Yep, totally normal! They're going to happen regardless of what you try and it's ok. Even a short nap helps relieve sleep pressure and is better than no nap. So next time your baby takes a twenty-seven minute nap, remember, breath in and out, don't stress and carry on carrying on. It will be just fine!
1. Ferber, R. (1985). Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems. Simon and Schuster, New York.
2. Weissbluth, M. (2021). Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child 5th Edition. Balantine Books, New York.
3. Jiang, F., Ann Nutr Metab (2019) 75 (Suppl. 1): 44-54. Sleep and Early Brain Development. Karger.