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Turning Short Naps Into Great Naps

babies naps newborn podcast schedules toddler
talking about short baby naps

Hi! Welcome to the show notes. Below, you'll find links mentioned in today's episode.

Short naps blog post

If you prefer to read rather than listen, I've got you! I know how difficult it can be to finish a podcast as a mom of littles. To make life a bit easier for those of you who are readers, the transcript for today's episode is below. 


Hey, I'm Lauren Garmon, your friendly pediatric sleep consultant. Welcome to the Growing Great Sleepers Podcast. I am so glad that you are here. My joy is helping you solve your child's sleep struggles. Sleep is not just a want, it is a need. I strongly believe that every family deserves good sleep.

Tell me if this sounds familiar, you put your baby down for a nap. They fall asleep...and you can set your watch to somewhere between 30 and 45 minutes later that your baby is going to wake up.

Are you raising your hand? If you are like most parents, you have been there, done that, have the t-shirt for short naps; at least during some point of your baby's life. A lot of you are probably struggling with short naps right now. That is what we were talking about this week; we are talking about short naps.

First, I need to define what we mean by short naps because we want to make sure we're all on the same page here. When I'm talking about short naps. I'm talking about a nap that is less than 45 minutes long, and a baby who is over four months of age.

So naps that are under 45 minutes long, and babies that are over four months of age. Why is that? That's because when babies are four months of age and younger, short naps are developmentally normal. They can be frustrating for sure, especially the 10 to 20 minute ones. I get it. I've been there, done that, and it is not fun. I was very happy when both of my children moved on, got a little bit older, and started taking longer naps! But, short naps are very normal under four months of age. During that zero to four time window naps will vary anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes, up to 2 hours. Some days, you may have wonderful naps, and then you may go through a few days of lots of short naps. There are things that you can do to try to encourage longer naps, but it's important to know that short naps are developmentally normal. You are not doing anything wrong. Your baby is not behind. Short naps are just part of the territory at that age.

So, we're talking about babies over four months of age when we are talking about short naps. We are also talking about naps that are under 45 minutes long Why is that? Why 45 minutes? That's because we were talking about naps that last one sleep cycle or less. Babies have sleep cycles that are around 40 minutes, give or take a little bit. That is why, if your baby consistently is sleeping for only one sleep cycle, those are the naps that you can time it to the minute on your phone. You can say "I put you down at 12:00 PM, you are going to wake up at 12:38 PM. Sure enough, 12:38 PM rolls around what do you hear but baby waking up. That's because she's only taking a nap for one sleep cycle.

Sometimes, babies will take a nap that is less than one sleep cycle long also. Those would be naps less than 30 minutes long. They're taking a nap that is one sleep cycle long and then are not able to connect it to another sleep cycle to take a nice long nap.

Before we dive in and talk about what we can do to extend naps and help your baby take consistently long naps, let's quickly talk about what we mean by a "good" nap. I don't really like using the term "good" because that implies that there are bad naps. There are certainly frustrating naps, certainly short naps, but I don't really like calling them "bad" naps. Because, it's not that you messed up. It's not that your baby messed up. It's just that your baby had a short nap.

When we talk about a long nap, I mean an nap that is one hour or more. So, naps that are 60 minutes or more constitute a "good" nap. Which brings us to the question, why an hour? That's because when a nap lasts at least one hour, it is typically long enough to get us to the next nap (or to bedtime) without going too long between sleep periods.

Now, we would not want both naps to only be an hour. That would not be enough sleep for most children until they're over a year old. But, if one nap is an hour and the other nap is longer, that is perfectly fine. That leaves us with a gray area. What do we do with naps that are between 45 minutes and 60 minutes long? They're not short naps, but they're not nice long naps either. It all depends on your baby. Some babies do really really well with one nap that is under an hour. They may have a shorter morning nap and a really long afternoon nap or a long morning nap, a shorter afternoon nap. They will take that one app that is 45 to 60 minutes long and pair it with another nap that may be 2-2.5 hours long and get their total sleep needs for the day that way.

The 45-60 minute long nap is too short for some babies. These babies need both naps to be an hour or more to be at their best as far as sleep goes. But, other babies do really well having one of their naps being at 45 to 60 minute range. So, that's just something that you have to watch your baby and observe what works best for him or her.

Alright, so moving on, what can we do if your baby is having short naps? There are a few things I want you to take a look at. Don't worry about trying to memorize all of these points so you can go back and refer to them later. They will all be in the show notes and you can find them at, I know, it says blog, not podcast. That's a little odd thing with the way my website works.

So the first thing I want you to check if you're trying to lengthen your baby's naps is I want you to look at the napping environment. Is it sleep friendly? We want a napping environment that is dark, has white noise, a comfortable temperature and comfy clothes. Alright, so I said we want an environment that is dark. I know some of you are probably scratching your head and saying "but Lauren, my baby doesn't have a dark room for naps and she sleeps just fine". That likely is the case for your baby! A lot of babies will nap well in a room that is not super dark. If that is working for you, there's no reason to change it. Don't fix what is not broken, right? But, if naps are a struggle, sleep is a struggle during the daytime, and the room is not cave dark (like you can see some toys on the floor, you can see shadows on the wall, the room has some light coming in through the windows) I want you to make the room darker. Going darker may not be the fix in and of itself. But, it will not hurt things and typically is only helpful. So, definitely check and see how much light is coming into the room.

Add some white noise if you're not using white noise already. Make sure the room is a comfy temp, which is not an issue for most of us. Then, the last thing with a napping environment is comfy clothes. Sometimes we dress our babies up in these cute outfits that are super cute for the daytime when they're awake and playing but aren't so comfy for night. So just look at their outfit, say "hey, if I was wearing that, would I be comfortable to lay down and take a nap?" And if you would, they're probably perfectly fine. If you're think "yeah, I would not want to take my Sunday afternoon nap wearing that" then take those clothes off and change them out for something a little bit more comfortable. S,o that is the napping environment. Usually, when we make some tweaks there, that's where we can start to see a lot of improvement with naps.

All right, the next thing I want you to do if short naps are a struggle for your baby is to check the timing. This is a big one! This is typically where I see the most improvement come about with naps when I'm working with families. Typically, the timing is off and when we tweak that, naps tend to fall in place beautifully. Here's the deal with timing, you don't want to put your baby down too early. You also don't want to put them down too late. Both of those will cause problems and result in short naps for different reasons.

So, let's break that down just a little bit. If you put your baby down too early for a nap, your baby will take a short nap, because she was not sleepy enough to take a long nap. I like to say that babies have this thing called a sleep tank. When they wake up in the morning, their sleep tank is all the way full because they've just slept at night. As they go through the day, their sleep tank drops and drops and drops and drops until they get to their next sleep period where hopefully it is at the bottom. They fall asleep, fill it back up and they're good to go until their next sleep period. But, what happens if you put your baby down too early for a nap is that their sleep tank has not dropped all the way down to the bottom. It may be halfway empty three-quarters of the way empty, but it's not all the way empty. What happens is your baby is tired enough to fall asleep, but not tired enough to stay asleep. Does that make sense? Their sleep tank was not all the way empty.

So, they were a little bit tired because their sleeping tank was a little bit empty. They fell asleep but could not stay asleep because their sleep tank was not all the way empty. They fell asleep long enough to fill their sleep tank back up and then they woke up because they just couldn't sleep anymore.That is why we don't want to put your baby down too early for a nap.

On the flip side, we also don't want to put your baby down too late for a nap. Because, if you put your baby down too late for a nap, their sleep tank is beyond empty. It hit the very very bottom and your baby's brain went "Oh! I'm not sleeping! I need to stay awake!" And what happens is that you get a surge of hormones that I like to call "stay awake" hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, and their job is to help your baby stay awake You can think of it as a second wind. So, what happens is you do go to put your baby down for a nap, they have "stay awake" hormones that are surging and keeping them awake and it's really hard for them to fall asleep. When they do fall asleep, they don't sleep very long because they have those stay awake hormones that are trying to keep them awake.

So, that's why we don't want to put your baby down too early and we also don't want to put baby down too late for a nap. The sweet spot is right in the middle; your baby is tired, their sleep tank is empty...but it's not too empty. They haven't gotten that second wind yet. You'll know the timing is right if your baby falls asleep within about 10 to 15 minutes from when you put your baby down for a nap. If you're putting them down and they're taking 20 minutes, 30 minutes to fall asleep, something is off with the timing most likely. The same goes for if you put them down and they fall asleep instantaneously, the second that their head is mattress, the timing may be off a little bit.

That said, some babies do fall asleep right away and their naps are beautiful, perfect, nothing to change. Bu,t if your baby is falling asleep, the second their head hits the mattress AND they are taking short naps; hat's a sign that you need to look at the timing.

Alright, so the next logical question is, well, what time should I be putting my baby to sleep? How do I know when it's too early? How do I know it's when it's too late? That's whyI want you to go to the show notes. I'll have a chart there for you that talks about the typical wake times for each age that gives you the breakdown of how long should the interval be between each nap

You likely will need to experiment a little bit because no two babies are exactly alike. When you change your baby's schedule, give it a good three to four days before you try something else. So, say you have been offering a nap every 2.5 hours. You decide 3 hours maybe the more appropriate wake time. So, you change your baby's schedule to the 3 hour intervals. Leave it there for a good three to four days before deciding "Hey, that worked" or "Hey, that didn't work", because most likely you're not going to see a ton of change the first day. So, you do want to give it a good few days before you ask, "Hey, is this working? Is it not working for us?"

The third thing to look at with short naps is does your baby have the ability to self settle and fall asleep on their own without assistance from you? Now, it is not a bad thing if your baby does not have this ability. It just means your baby is more likely to struggle with getting from one sleep cycle to the next sleep cycle during naps and therefore more likely to struggle with short naps. So, if your baby does not have the ability to self settle and fall asleep independently, learning how to self settle can do wonders for lengthening naps.

If you're not ready to teach your baby how to self settle, do pay attention to how long your baby's naps are. If you can time it down to the minute go in your baby's room about five minutes or so before you know they are going to wake and watch your baby. When you see your baby start to stir, you may be able to do some calming. Pat her head, pat her tummy, you may be able to help her get back into that next sleep cycle. For some babies, that will work really, really well. Some babies will see you and they're like "Mommy!! It's time to get up!" So, you may have to try see what your mileage is with this. But, it can be helpful for some babies if you're not ready to do sleep coaching and help your baby learn how to self settle.

The fourth culprit of short naps that I want to mention his sneaky sleep. This is the little tiny cat naps that your baby takes either in the car on the way home for a nap they fall asleep for 10-15 minutes before you get home. Or, it happens during a feeding; you either nurse your baby or offer a bottle right before nap, they get drowsy, their eyes get really heavy, and they start to fall asleep. In both of those scenarios, even a few minutes of sleep can fill your baby's sleep tank back up just enough that they aren't tired enough to take a long nap.

So, do watch this sneaky sleep. If you're feeding your baby before nap, it may be helpful to feed your baby outside of the nursery. Make sure you have the lights on, you can talk to your baby, sing to your baby, play with their hands, whatever you have to do to keep them from getting drowsy before you put them down for nap. If the sneaky sleep is in the car, if you have flexibility in your schedule, that you can change your errands or whatever the reason is that you're typically in a car before nap; that is the best way to avoid the sneaky car sleep. Sometimes, our schedules are what they are; we can't change the time of preschool drop off and pick up for older siblings, that sort of thing. So, if that is your situation, it can be helpful to do a little bit of experimenting and see "Hey, if we get home and I put my baby right down for a nap, she has a short nap. It's not great" But, if you try keeping her up 15 minutes longer or 30 minutes longer, you may be able to find that sweet spot where her tire tank has gotten just empty enough again that you can put her down and she'll take a little bit longer of a nap.

That may take you a good couple weeks of experimenting if there is a consistent little cat nap in the car and you cannot avoid being in the car before nap. Do some experimenting with the time that you're putting your baby down at home. See if you can get that tired tang a little bit more empty and get a longer nap.

Alright, so those are the main culprits of short naps: the room is not super sleep friendly, the timing is off (either baby is being put down too early or too late for naps), baby has not yet learned how to self settle and therefore has a hard time getting from the first sleep cycle into the second sleep cycle, or there's some sneaky sleep going on either in the car or during a feeding before nap.

Now, I do want to mention that if your baby is on a three nap schedule, that means your baby is in that six to eight month window and they have not yet transitioned to two naps. If they're on a three nap schedule; that third nap we do want to be a short one. So if that's the one you're struggling with, and it's short, that one is okay! Ideally, that nap is 30 minutes, 45 minutes at the very most. We do not want it longer than 45 minutes. because that will mess with bedtime and throw off nighttime sleep. The first two naps of the day on a three nap schedule, we do want those naps over an hour. Last nap of the day on a three nap schedule, we do want that one to be a short nap.

The very last thing that I want to say is when your baby wakes up, if they're struggling with short naps, give them a chance to fall back asleep before you rush in there and pick them up and end nap time. Sometimes what happens is babies will wake up between sleep cycles, fuss for a few minutes and then go back to sleep and continue their nap.

My son does this to this day, he's 20 months old. A lot of times I'll hear him, he'll cry for five minutes, go back to sleep, sleep for another 45 minutes, sometimes an hour. It's just his thing that he's does. He's done it for a long time. He doesn't do it every day but he does it often enough that I know is his thing. He's getting himself back to sleep. Then, he'll sleep for a long time once he falls back to sleep.

So if your baby wakes up after their first sleep cycle, do give them a minute before you rush right in there to see if they're going to go back to sleep. A lot of times with this sort of crying, there's not necessarily that cry, get quieter, quieter, quieter, and then fall asleep. A lot of times it is Cry, Cry, Cry really loudly. Then they get quiet and fell asleep very suddenly. I'm not saying you need to give your baby an hour to see if they fall back asleep. But do give them a leave the length of time that you're comfortable with. It may be 5 minutes to start and maybe 10 or 15 minutes. I usually like to encourage parents to wait 15 to 20 minutes if you can, if that's something that you're comfortable with, to give your baby a chance to fall back asleep; especially if they have the ability to self settle.

A lot of times, you'll find that they do that fuss for a little bit and then they go back to sleep and continue their nap. The other thing is some babies, if your baby is the sort of baby that just cries out really quickly, they you know, give a loud cry, that's a minute, maybe two minutes....a lot of times these babies aren't even fully awake. They're just in that sleep cycle transition and they'll go right back to sleep. So if you ran in there after that first cry, you would have woken your baby up when if you had not gone in, they would have gone back to sleep. So, if your baby is struggling with short naps do give them that chance to go back to sleep. See if they can extend the nap.

Alright, so to wrap it up, if your baby is struggling with short naps; that's a nap that is less than 45 minutes and your baby is over four months of age: Check their napping environment. Make sure it's dark. You've got the white noise, the comfy temp the comfy clothes. Check the timing, make sure it's not too early, too late. And again, you'll find the show notes with the leap schedule charts to help you troubleshoot what time you should be offering your baby's naps. Next, does your baby have the ability to self settle? Are they able to get back to sleep after that first sleep cycle? Is your baby getting any sneaky sleep either in the car or during a feeding?

Oh, and one more thing while I'm thinking about it: sometimes dirty diapers can derail naps. So, we'll be talking all about that in a upcoming episode in a few weeks. But do know that if the poopy diapers are causing short naps for you right now, that is almost always temporary and it almost always will go away after a few weeks. It can be really frustrating during the time while you're experiencing it but it typically does go away.

Don't get discouraged if your baby is struggling with short naps. Short naps can be so frustrating because it feels like you finally you got your baby down. They fell asleep, you sat down to eat lunch, to work, to take a nap yourself; doo whatever it is you're going to do during your baby's nap time. As soon as you get started, they wake up. I've been there. I know how hard s hort naps can be but do hang in there!

Know that it can get better! Short naps do not have to stick around for forever. Also know that naps typically take a little while to fix. It's usually not an instant "Oh, we change this the next day naps are great, everything was perfect". Don't get discouraged if you're not seeing results right away. Know that it is not unusual for naps to take a good two to four weeks to come together and be consistently long. So, don't feel badly if you aren't seeing results right away.

You're maybe thinking "Lauren, I'm doing all these things. Why am I not seeing results?" If it's not been two to four weeks, give it a little bit longer, chances are that you will see things start to improve. If you're not seeing improvement, look at your child's night's sleep and see how that is going. If nights are tough, naps are typically going to be tougher. Naps typically don't get better until a baby is sleeping well at night. So, if your baby is struggling with sleep at night, I would start there. See what you can tweak to help your baby sleep better at night and then work on naps as night start to improve.

Alright, that is it for today! If you have found this episode helpful, I would love it if you would head over to iTunes or wherever you listen to your podcasts and rate and review my podcast; that would be super helpful! If you'd like to follow me on social media you can find me @growingsleepers. Again for the show notes for the sleep schedules that I was talking about. It's Talk to you later. Happy sleeping!


Are you ready to make sleep a thing at your house, but feel stuck or unsure how? Working with parents 1-1 to take the stress out of baby and toddler sleep is my joy.

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