Frustrated when your catnapping baby takes ridiculously short naps? Take a look at these 5 ideas that can make a huge difference with your baby’s naps.
Is this normal? I thought. Is this just his temperament? Do babies even grow out of this?!
My baby hardly slept during the day—maybe 30 minutes at a stretch. He was tired and cranky when he wasn’t asleep, which only meant he’d take an even longer time to fall asleep at night.
One thing was certain: we were both exhausted from these catnaps.
Nothing that seemed to work for every other baby was working for mine. He didn’t take to the pacifier, finding it more frustrating than soothing. I knew he couldn’t be hungry since I had just fed him minutes ago (and he’d fall asleep during nursing, anyway).
Even strollers and car drives didn’t work—he’d wail the entire time instead of feeling soothed by the motion.
5 ideas to help a catnapping baby sleep longer
As if being a newborn mom wasn’t hard enough, dealing with a catnapping baby just adds to the challenge.
You can’t exactly “nap when the baby naps” when you can barely fall asleep during those short stretches. Putting the baby to sleep (sometimes up to an hour!) takes longer than the actual time he falls asleep.
It’s enough to make any new mom feel alone, angry, and even resentful.
As frustrating as it is, not giving up is key. In fact, by trying a ton of things, I was able to find a few strategies that helped my catnapping baby sleep in longer stretches. These hacks were so simple, but made a huge difference almost immediately.
Take a look at these five ideas to try to help your baby sleep longer:
1. Shorten your baby’s awake time
You might already think that your baby is hardly awake, especially when you barely pass an hour and a half and it’s already time to sleep.
But I’m willing to bet that if you experiment with shortening his awake time even more, you just might have more luck with his catnaps.
If he’s normally awake an hour and a half between naps, try shortening that to an hour and 15 minutes, or even one hour. Adjust his awake times by 15-30 minutes and see if that can prevent him from taking a catnap when it’s finally time to put him down.
Relying on newborn sleep cues may not always be reliable, and waiting until he’s fussy means he’s already overtired. Try a little earlier than usual before he’s overtired and see if that can stretch his nap.
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2. Comfort your baby after the first sleep cycle
None of us go straight to deep sleep, only to wake just as abruptly on our own. Instead we—including babies—enter and exit sleep cycles, whether during naps or at night. When one sleep cycle ends, you and I can choose to welcome another one if we want to keep sleeping.
But newborns don’t always know how to fall back asleep after these cycles, even if they want or need more rest. That’s why many of us find predictable patterns to our babies’ sleep. Whether 15, 30, or 45 minutes at a time, we can almost pinpoint to the minute when they’ll likely wake up.
The trick then is to comfort your baby just as that first sleep cycle is about to end, so that he can start a new one. Catch him as he’s starting to stir but before he has completely woken up. That way, instead of one 30-minute nap, you can now hope for a 60-minute (or longer) nap.
How can you comfort him between sleep cycles? You can:
- Turn the white noise higher
- Reinsert the pacifier (or give it a slight “tug” to encourage him to suck harder)
- Rock the bassinet he’s sleeping in
- Pat and shush him
- Catch and constrain his flailing arms to prevent him from hitting himself
You can also experiment with different nap times. If this trick doesn’t work for the morning nap, you might have better luck with the afternoon one.
3. Have an earlier bedtime
Does your baby go to sleep after 8:30pm? That might be too late of a bedtime, leading to poor night sleep and therefore erratic and short naps the following day.
Just as you did with his awake time, experiment with moving bedtime earlier to catch him when he’s ready for sleep, not when he’s overtired. If he’s already sleeping earlier than 8:30, try putting him down 15-30 minutes even earlier.
Sleep begets sleep, so the better sleep he has—especially at night—the better quality sleep he’ll have for the next day’s naps.
4. Use the right sleep aids
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Many of us have a love-hate relationship with sleep aids. We love how effective they are, but hate how reliant we become on them.
Yes, you should encourage your baby to sleep on his own and give him as many opportunities to do so. But at the end of the day, you’re also in survival mode during the newborn stage, and sometimes that means reaching for whatever sleep aid works.
As I say in my book, Baby to Sleep:
“Sometimes, we need help, especially when we’ve been trying to put the baby to sleep forever only for him to wake up 10 minutes later. Or worse, his eyes fly wide open the instant his head touches the bed.
We turn to sleep aids to help them fall and stay asleep, and not always in our arms.”
So, which are the ones I found most effective? Start with these:
- Baby wrap. I used the Moby Wrap, which kept my babies close to me while leaving my hands and arms free. Being in this snug position and close to you will help your baby sleep longer.
- Swaddle. A ready-made swaddle like this one is perfect for quickly putting him in a snug swaddle. Plus, they’re less likely to come apart than regular blankets. Like the baby wrap, swaddles keep your baby tight and cozy for longer sleep.
- Sleep suit. If your baby fights wearing a swaddle, a sleep suit like the Magic Sleepsuit is a fantastic option. His arms are free but still somewhat contained, preventing him from flailing his arms and waking up.
- Swing. If he likes sleeping with motion, putting him in the swing like this one can help lull him to take longer naps.
- White noise. Prevent loud or sudden sounds from startling him awake by using white noise. Use a white noise machine like this favorite among parents, or even simply a fan, heater, or an audio app.
5. Give your baby one of your old shirts
Does your newborn wake up screaming because he’d rather be with you? One trick that has worked for me and several other parents is to wrap him in one of your old shirts.
Pick a shirt you’ve worn a few days and has your unique scent. Then, keep it near him (make sure to monitor him while he sleeps!) so he can feel comforted by a familiar item that feels and smells like you.
You’ll be surprised how quickly he’ll feel comforted with a familiar scent from your clothes!
Caring for a catnapping baby is no easy feat—especially for the exhausted new mom—but you’re not without options!
Experiment with your newborn’s schedule, from shortening the time he’s awake more than usual or putting him to bed earlier than you normally do. Once he does nap, comfort him after the first cycle to prevent him from fully waking up.
When all else fails, use the right sleep aids to help him stay asleep longer, from swings to swaddles to suits. And finally, try offering him one of your old shirts so he has a familiar item to comfort him as he sleeps.
In hindsight, I can see now that the sleep patterns of my catnapping baby were normal, however frustrating they were. And thankfully, I found simple hacks to help him take longer naps—even when strollers and car rides didn’t do the trick.
Get more tips:
- Clever Solutions to the Newborn Witching Hour
- How to Get Your Baby to Take Longer Naps
- Smart Ways to Cope When You Feel Tired All the Time
- The Best Baby Sleep Books You Should Be Reading
- Baby Not Napping? Here’s What to Do
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