Frustrated with your baby’s short catnaps? Feeling stuck with naps no longer than 45 minutes? Learn how to get baby to nap longer with these 6 crucial tactics.
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 never going to take longer naps?
I knew I wasn’t alone, either.
Maybe your baby takes three naps for a mere 30 minutes each. He miiiiight wake up happy, but more often than not, he’s a crying mess and clearly needs more sleep. And while other babies his age are sleeping in two-hour chunks, yours has only done that on two occasions.
What gives? He’s already past the newborn stage—how can you get him to take longer naps?
How to get baby to nap longer
With my baby’s short naps, I knew I had to make a few changes so I could lengthen them, even if just a bit longer than his usual catnaps.
And… it worked. 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.
Here are the techniques I applied to lengthen their naps as well as the sleep habits I implemented from the start:
1. Give your baby a chance to self soothe
Some babies take to putting themselves to sleep all on their own, enough to sleep 11-12 hours a night. Most, however, need a little bit of help.
For instance, your baby might rely on you to rock or nurse him to take a nap. So, when you put him down, he startles himself awake and doesn’t know how to continue sleeping.
One truck? Give him a chance to self soothe, not just for the evenings, but to stretch his naps as well.
Yes, he might fuss and cry, but that’s not what puts him to sleep. Crying is his way to communicate his frustration at not having his usual rocking or nursing routine. Instead, self soothing is a way for him 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. Self soothing gives him the opportunity to learn to sleep on his own, including the times he wakes up halfway through a nap.
Want to learn more? Start by avoiding these 5 mistakes that are keeping him from self-soothing. Whether you’ve tried to teach him to self soothe in the past or are just now considering it, take a look at the 5 key mistakes to avoid. Join my newsletter and download your PDF—at no cost to you:
2. 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 not keeping 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 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.
3. Prevent factors that wake your baby up from a nap
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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.
Use a white noise 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.
4. 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 further.
5. 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.
6. 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 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 drowsy but awake. Use the timing technique mentioned earlier to get him down at an optimal time. Then, lull him to sleep with mild rocking, just enough to get him drowsy. The goal is to lay him down awake so he can practice self soothing, but sleepy enough to make that process easier.
Short naps are never pleasant, for either you or your baby. And unfortunately, not all babies sleep two hours for every nap—some are simply prone to shorter naps.
Still, regardless of how long your baby normally naps, you can try different techniques to help him stretch them as long as possible.
Time his naps to avoid feeling overtired, and use those 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 easier for him to fall asleep, and teach him to self soothe so he learns to fall asleep on his own.
Most importantly, let go of the guilt or comparison trap. You are not a failure because he 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:
- What to Do When Your Baby Wakes Up Crying from Naps
- How to Create a 4 Month Old Nap Schedule Using Real Life Examples
- How to Stay Calm when Your Baby Won’t Nap
- How to Get a Sick Baby to Sleep
- When to Stop Burping Your Baby
Don’t forget: Discover the 5 mistakes that are keeping your baby from self-soothing. Whether you’ve tried to teach your baby to self soothe in the past or are just now considering it, take a look at the 5 key mistakes to avoid. Join my newsletter and download your PDF—at no cost to you: