Frustrated with your baby’s short cat naps? Get practical tips and learn how to get baby to take longer naps.
I felt like I was doing something wrong. Every time I’d hear about these “two-hour” naps other babies seemed to take regularly, I wondered why mine wasn’t. Was I missing some secret technique? Was my baby just never going to take longer naps?
I then learned a few simple changes I could do to lengthen his naps, even if just a bit longer than his usual cat naps. He went from napping (or skipping naps) for a few minutes to at least 45 minutes to an hour.
And when his twin brothers came a few years later, I vowed to do my best to get them to take longer naps from the start. While an hour nap for their older brother was “long,” I was able to get my twins to nap for those two-hour stretches I had once thought impossible.
How to get baby to take longer naps
Here are the techniques I applied to lengthen their naps as well as the sleep habits I implemented from the start:
1. Time your baby’s naps
Before I became a mom, I thought kids would fall asleep when they needed to. After all, you see so many pictures of babies fast asleep, or toddlers who fell asleep in a highchair halfway into their meal. I figured my baby would know when he felt tired and would just fall asleep.
Except that’s not exactly what happened. I ended up making my baby overtired by not putting him down for a nap consistently, and often. I’d take him out for social gatherings where he’d stay awake far longer than he could.
Later, I learned how important it is to not keep your baby awake for too long. The younger the baby, the less time he should remain awake. With my twins, I made sure they were only awake for 90 minutes, max.
Because they were less overtired, I was able to put them down for a good, long nap. A baby fussing doesn’t mean he’s just now ready for a nap—it usually means he’s already overtired. To prevent that from happening, try not to keep your baby awake for too long.
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2. Insert a pacifier before your baby needs it
One of the common complaints of parents who rely on pacifiers is that babies often cry when they wake up and realize it’s fallen out of their mouths. They can’t pick it up and re-insert it themselves, so it’s often up to us to find and offer the pacifier again, hoping it does the trick.
As any parent knows, it can be a challenge to soothe an already-crying baby back to sleep, even as we keep trying to offer the pacifier.
Instead, keep an eye on your baby as he naps. If you notice that his pacifier has slipped from his mouth, re-insert it at that point instead of waiting for him to wake up and cry. He’ll likely sense the pacifier in his mouth and begin sucking, lulling him back to sleep and stretching his nap further.
3. Move to a new sleeping arrangement
I often laid my babies to nap in a crib or bassinet because that’s where I wanted them to get used to sleeping. Problem is, they often preferred sleeping in other snug arrangements, whether in my arms, a swing or even a stroller.
So one strategy I began doing was to transfer them from their original sleeping arrangement to a second one they preferred once they began stirring. I’d move them to the swing or a baby wrap and lull them back to sleep that way.
If they were hungry, had a soiled diaper or were ready to wake up, then the secondary sleeping arrangement wouldn’t be much help. But if they woke up only because they needed help falling back asleep, moving them to the swing or a baby wrap often did the trick.
4. Lay your baby down drowsy but awake
See if this sounds familiar: You rock your baby to oblivion then set him down in his crib. A few minutes later, he wakes up crying wondering why he’s no longer in your arms. Then you’re back to rocking and repeating the cycle over and over.
I did this, too. And I felt like I had to, especially when it seemed my baby wouldn’t fall asleep if I laid him down. Problem is, waking up in a new environment can feel confusing to a baby. And he doesn’t have the chance to put himself to sleep if we’re rocking him.
Instead, put your baby down drowsy but awake. Use the timing technique you learned in the first tip to get him down at an optimal time. Then, lull him to sleep with mild rocking, just enough to get him drowsy. You want to lay him down awake, but sleepy enough to fall asleep on his own.
5. Prevent factors that wake him up from a nap
Think about all the different factors your baby is up against as he tries to nap. Noises—from loud car horns to slight creaking doors can startle him awake. Bright lights can shorten naps. And, if he still has the Moro reflex, he might even wake himself up with his own hands.
Help your baby stay asleep longer by preventing those wake ups in the first place. Install darkening curtains to block sunlight from outside. Use a white noise machine to muffle loud and startling noises, even the ones you make around the house. And swaddle him to prevent his hands from smacking him in the face.
These little changes can help your baby sleep longer than if he tried to nap without them.
6. Sleep train your baby
Some babies take to putting themselves to sleep all on their own, enough to sleep 11-12 hours a night. For most babies, they need a little bit of help. Check with your baby’s pediatrician to see if he can sleep through the night without feedings. If so, consider sleep training your baby not just for nights but for longer naps as well.
Sleep training isn’t letting a baby cry as the way to fall asleep. Crying is just his way to communicate his frustration at not having his usual rocking or nursing routine. Instead, sleep training is a way for your baby to learn how to fall asleep on his own.
When he has relied on so many sleep aids to do so, it can be tough to wean him from them. Sleep training gives him the opportunity to learn to sleep on his own, including the times he wakes up halfway through a nap.
I sleep trained my kids, including my twins, with success. I even wrote a guide on how to sleep train twins for parents like me who wanted a resource just for twins. Even if you don’t have twins, check out the guide for tips—they work for single babies as well and not just twins.
Short naps are never pleasant, for either you or your baby. And unfortunately, not all babies sleep two hours for every nap. Some are prone to shorter naps while others sleep too much (jealous!).
Still, regardless of how long your baby normally naps, you can try different techniques to help him take longer naps.
Time your baby’s naps to avoid feeling overtired, and use those windows as opportunities to put him down drowsy but awake. Use simple tricks like re-inserting pacifiers or moving him to a new sleeping arrangement. Create the sort of environment that makes it conducive for your baby to fall asleep. And finally, consider sleep training to help your baby learn to fall asleep on his own.
Most importantly, let go of the guilt or comparison trap. You are not a failure because your baby takes short naps (or sometimes, no naps). We put too much pressure on ourselves, as if our competence depends on whether we can get our babies to nap or not.
In the grander scheme of things, it’s just a nap, after all. But now, with a few tricks up your sleeve, hopefully a longer one.
Get more tips:
- How to Get Your Baby to Sleep without Being Held
- Helping Your Toddler Transition from Two Naps to One
- How to Wake a Sleeping Baby or Toddler Peacefully from a Nap
- Staying Calm when Your Baby Won’t Nap
- How to Sleep Train Twins: The Ultimate Guide
Tell me in the comments: What is the biggest challenge with getting your baby to take longer naps? What techniques have you tried, and which ones worked best?
Get your baby to sleep
Struggling to get your baby to sleep anywhere else but your arms? Get a free chapter of my guide, "How to Get Your Baby to Sleep without Being Held." Learn the strategies, habits and routines I used to get my babies to sleep.