10 Ideas to Help Your Catnapping Baby Sleep Longer

Frustrated when your catnapping baby takes ridiculously short naps? Take a look at these 10 ideas that can make a huge difference with your baby’s naps.

Catnapping BabyIs this normal? I thought. Is this just his temperament? Do babies even grow out of this?!

My baby hardly slept during the day—30 minute naps were the norm. 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 short 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 fed him minutes ago (and he would 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.

10 ideas to help your catnapping baby sleep longer

As if being a newborn mom wasn’t hard enough, dealing with a catnapping baby adds to the challenge.

You can’t exactly “nap when the baby naps” when you can barely fall asleep during those short stretches. Putting him to sleep (sometimes up to an hour!) takes longer than the actual sleep time.

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 catnapper 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.

If you experiment with shortening his awake time, you 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 wake 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 makes a fuss means he’s already overtired. Try a little earlier than usual before he’s overtired and see if that can stretch his nap.

Newborn Sleep Cues

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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 infants—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 a newborn baby doesn’t always know how to fall back asleep after these cycles, even if he wants or needs more rest. That’s why many of us find predictable patterns in our babies’ sleep. Whether 15, 30, or 45 minutes at a time, we can almost pinpoint the minute when they’ll likely wake up.

The trick 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 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 the quality of sleep he’ll likely 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 or carrier. 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 can help your baby sleep longer.
  • Swaddle. A ready-made swaddle like this one is perfect for quickly putting him in a snug swaddle. Plus, it’s less likely to come apart than a regular blanket. Like the baby wrap, swaddles keep your baby tight and cozy for longer sleep.
  • Sleepsuit. If your baby fights a swaddle, a sleepsuit like the Magic Sleepsuit is a fantastic option. His arms are free but still contained, preventing him from flailing his arms and waking up.
  • Swing. If he likes sleeping with motion, putting him in the swing can help lull him to take longer naps.
  • White noise. Prevent loud or sudden sounds from startling him awake with white noise. Use a white noise machine, or even a fan, heater, or an audio app.
  • Dark room. Draw the curtains as part of your nap routine to help extend his sleep.

Newborn Stage

5. Give your baby one of your old shirts

Does your newborn wake up screaming because she’d rather be with you? One trick that has worked for me and several other parents is to wrap her in one of your old shirts.

Pick a shirt you’ve worn for a few days and has your unique scent. Then, keep it near her (make sure to monitor her while he sleeps!) so she can feel comforted by a familiar item that feels and smells like you.

You might be surprised how quickly she can feel comforted by a familiar scent from your clothes!

6. 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 him 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 should’ve been.

Later, I learned the importance of keeping your baby’s wake windows fairly short. The younger the baby, the less time he should remain awake.

Because he’s less overtired, you can put him down for a good, long nap. Fussing doesn’t mean he’s only now ready for a nap—it usually means he’s already overtired. To prevent that from happening, be mindful of the time he’s awake so he’s not exhausted come nap time.

You can also base it on sleepy cues, from yawns to eye-rubbing. These are tell-tale signs that he’s ready to sleep.

7. Prevent factors that wake your baby 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 or creeping sunlight can shorten naps. Help him stay asleep longer by preventing those wake ups in the first place.

Install blackout curtains to block sunlight and create a dark room. Use a white noise sound machine to muffle loud and startling noises, even the ones you make around the house. Avoid pacifiers that he can’t find himself (or at least, re-insert it mid-nap when you notice it come loose).

These little changes can help him sleep longer than if he tried to nap without them.

8. Insert a pacifier before your baby needs it

One of the common complaints of parents who rely on pacifiers is that babies 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 up to us to find and offer the pacifier again, hoping it does the trick.

But as any parent knows, soothing an already-crying baby back to sleep is a challenge, 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 again, lulling him back to sleep and stretching his nap for another sleep cycle.

9. 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 preferred sleeping in other snug arrangements, whether in my arms, a swing or even a stroller.

The trick that worked? I transferred them from their original sleeping arrangement to a second one they preferred once they began stirring. For instance, I’d move them from the crib to the swing or a baby wrap to lull them back to sleep.

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.

10. Lay your baby down 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 him—why is he now in the crib when he had fallen asleep in your arms? He also doesn’t have the chance to put himself to sleep if you’re rocking him every time.

Instead, put him down awake, before he has a chance to sleep. That way, the transition to sleep can feel normal and expected.

Use the timing technique mentioned earlier to get him down at an optimal time. The goal is to lay him down awake so he can practice self soothing, but sleepy enough to make that process easier.

Conclusion

Caring for a catnapping baby is no easy feat—especially for the exhausted new parent—but you’re not without options!

Experiment with your newborn’s schedule, from shortening the time he’s awake to 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.

Newborn Schedule

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2 Comments

  1. This may be a question for my pediatrician, but my now one month old can eat 4oz every 1.5-2.5 hours. I’ve read that the ideal timeframe is 2.5-3 hours. He’s passed his birth weight, he seems healthy, but my question is do you think this is normal? The reason he eats so often, in my opinion, is because he still takes short naps. I try doing a 45-60 min awake window, but by the time he wakes up (which he does scream crying) it’s only been about an hour and a half since his last feeding, and the only thing to calm him down is a feed. It’s hard to do that “EASY” method when you don’t have an easy baby. Any tips?

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Yes, definitely check with your pediatrician just to make sure all is well with feedings and weight gain. But from what you’re saying, it sounds like he’ll be awake, say, 60 minutes, then sleep for a short 30 minute nap, and by the time he wakes up, it had only been 1.5 hours since he last ate.

      If you think that he can stretch his nap longer, try to make that your goal, especially if his naps are only 30 minutes. Usually the first few naps of the day are the longest, with the later ones being shorter cat naps. So, if he wakes up 30 minutes and your goal was for him to take at least 1 hour, try to get him to go back to sleep for the rest of that 30 minutes until his “official” wake up time.

      Of course, if he is showing signs of hunger when he cries, and he absolutely won’t sleep even though you’ve tried the swing, the pacifier, the baby wrap, etc., then he really could just be hungry at that point. But hopefully you can try to stretch out his naps so that his feedings will also stretch out.