Yayy!! It’s nap time, ready to sit down and put your feet up? But wait, cat nap strikes again!
If you’re stuck in a cat nap cycle, I want to help! Let’s take a look at what might be happening.
What is the definition of a "cat nap"?
Cat naps are typically ones that do not last longer than one sleep cycle (45/50 minutes). A nap longer than this, means your baby has transitioned into another sleep cycle. For babies under the age of 3-5 months sleep can be very disorganised and short naps are developmentally appropriate. Newborns tend to nap anywhere from 20 minutes to 3 hours. But you can always try and support them to resettle with some rocking/patting/holding to lengthen a nap.
So, why can cat naps become a problem?
· The odd cat nap is not a problem, however if your baby is over 4/5 months and they are consistently only sleeping for one sleep cycle or less all day, they may begin to get a bit overtired. Leading to them being cranky and harder to settle during the day and night.
· These shorter naps can also cause your bub to be more wakeful overnight, which then lead to cat naps again the next day, and it can become a bit of a cycle.
So, what can you do to help lengthen these naps?
Of course, the exact answer is going to be different for every baby, but let’s take a look at some simple adjustments to support your baby to consolidate their day sleep.
Firstly, have you created a calming environment that is conducive to sleep?
Is it dark in their nursery?
· Try to ensure the room is as dark as possible during day sleep, as light sends signals to the brain that it’s time to wake up and is very stimulating. Think about how much better you sleep in a pitch-black room, then when the lights are beaming down on you. You can use blackout curtains, or even tape a black sheet up over your window. Try to make it dark enough that you wouldn’t be able to read the pages in a book!
· Don’t worry about your baby being addicted to sleeping in the dark, when they start napping better you can be more flexible and incorporate naps on the go.
Is it loud, could there be noise disturbing your little one?
· Try using white noise to block out external sounds, your little one spends a lot of time in light stages of sleep meaning they can be easily woken. I suggest turning this on as part of your wind down for naps and having it played for the duration of sleep. Make sure it’s played around 60-65 decibels, you can use an app to check the level!
Are they dressed appropriately for the season?
· Try to place your baby in a TOG rated sleep sack or swaddle and follow guidelines from the company you purchased them to dress baby appropriately underneath.
Top tip: If you have a mobile hanging over your baby’s cot, try moving it above your change table, as it tends to be too stimulating!
Have you started a wind down routine before naps?
Your baby needs time to calm their nervous system and prepare themselves for sleep! It would be really difficult for us to go from a very stimulating activity, straight to falling sleep. This is the same for your baby, they need time to calm down and get ready for sleep.
This process doesn’t need to be long, try aiming for around 10-15 minutes depending on how overwhelmed or overstimulated they get. Try having the routine in the same order each day, such as; change nappy, into sleep sack/swaddle, white noise, read a story, lights off and snuggle, then into the cot.
Tip: Try and have the whole wind down routine in the same room they sleep.
It’s all about timing…
Prior to 3 or 4 months it’s really helpful to watch sleepy cues and pop your baby down at the first signs of readiness to sleep (red eyebrows, vacant look, disinterest in play, yawn). However, once they are over 4 months, I suggest trying to find the balance between sleep cues and time spent awake.
Are you following an age appropriate routine? Is your little one truly ready for sleep when you are trying to put them down for a nap? It’s really important to make sure your baby has adequate wake times to build up sleep pressure to allow them to fall asleep and then sleep well. If you’ve already signed up to my mailing list, you should have my wake windows guide to follow to help you with this.
· If you are finding your baby doesn’t quite seem ready for sleep at their desired nap time, it’s perfectly fine to push this wake window by 10-15 minutes until they are truly ready!
· Equally if your baby is overtired from too long wake windows, they will also likely take short naps! So, it’s all about finding the right balance.
Tip: If your baby is taking a short nap for their last sleep of the day… this is perfectly fine! If they are 4-6 months and still on 3 naps, we only want that last nap to be around 30 minutes.
Are they falling asleep during feeds right before their nap?
If your baby having a micro nap whilst they are feeding, then waking on transfer and no longer exhibiting tired signs? This little nap has reduced their sleep pressure, and now they may not feel quite ready for sleep. If this is happening, try feeding 20-30 minutes before the nap to keep your baby awake.
Have they got a full tummy?
It is appropriate for your baby to feed every 2-4 hours throughout the day to meet their caloric requirements. If your baby hasn’t fed for 2-3 hours they may wake mid nap from genuine hunger.
Try offering a top up feed 20-30 minutes before a desired longer nap, to reduce the chances of waking.
Are they falling asleep in your arms and then waking on transfer?
Newborns’ spend 50% of sleep in “active sleep” during which they can move a lot and make noises and are very easily woken. It can take them up to 20 minutes to reach a deeper stage of sleep, so try and wait a little longer before you do your transfer. Alternatively, you can try settling them all the way to sleep in the bassinet.
Top tip: Wait for your baby to feel heavier in your arms and more relaxed before transferring, if you lift their arm and it flops down, you’re good to go. Also, try transferring them side first and roll them onto their back for sleep as this prevents waking from the startle reflex.
How is your baby falling to sleep?
If you are currently having to use a carer led association such as rocking to sleep, your baby may wake after another sleep cycle and require the same support back to sleep again. If your baby is over 4 or 5 months, try to slowly work on supporting them to settle more independently. Get in touch via Direct message or email if you need more information on how to go about this.
If your baby is below 4 months and they wake after a short nap, try for 15-30 minutes to support them back to sleep again, with some rocking/patting/contact nap. If they don’t go back to sleep, simply start your next wake window.
Lastly… night sleep tends to consolidate into longer stretches prior to day sleep. So, if your little one is waking frequently overnight still, try to work on this first and then move onto your days.