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Extending your baby’s naptime

Updated: Aug 30, 2023

Does this scene sound familiar?

Your baby wakes up in the morning. You feed her, change her diapers, and spend some time with her. When she’s due for her nap, you rock her to sleep, and once she’s in deeper rest, set her gently in her crib, SUCCESS!!!!

Only, just 30 minutes later, she wakes up fussy and refuses to go back to sleep no matter what you say or do. After a long time of trying, you finally give up on the nap. Your hope? When her afternoon nap arrives, she'll be that much more exhausted, enough for her to rest and sleep a longer time…

The only problem is… when that afternoon nap rolls around, the situation just repeats itself. Same for the evening nap. And you’re getting frustrated, and can’t get anything done in the day.

Let me explain what’s going on.

Babies, like everyone else, sleep in cycles. We all start to sleep in a light state before going into a deeper state, where even loud noises or activities may be insufficient to rouse us. (By the way, this is excellent stuff. When we’re in this peaceful deep sleep, our brains and bodies handle all of the maintenance work, leaving us refreshed, clear-headed, and energized.)

However, once we reach the end of the deep-sleep cycle, we always return to the light state of sleep. Oftentimes, we will rouse for a few seconds before drifting back to sleep. With good sleep skills, this awakening can be brief, and oftentimes as adults, we won’t even remember it come morning.

Each of these cycles of light sleep, deep sleep, light sleep, takes around an hour and a half for adults, but it can be as little as 30 minutes for babies. So it's perfectly natural for your baby to wake up after only 30 minutes of napping.

So why’s it that my baby doesn’t nap 2-3 hours at a time like my friend’s baby, you might ask? The reason for that is because those babies have mastered the art of stringing together numerous 30-minute sleep cycles in a row whilst your baby has not yet.

Going back to the earlier scenario - remember you were putting your baby down for her nap by softly rocking her to sleep and then placing her in her crib? Therein lies the problem. Because what you’re doing here is acting as her "sleep prop," (as the sleep consulting profession refers to it).

A sleep prop is anything your baby uses as a strategy to go from being awake to asleep. Some common examples I regularly encounter would include feeding to sleep, rocking, bouncing…but the possibilities are endless.

Now, please don’t get me wrong. I'm not saying you shouldn't rock your baby, sing to her, read her stories, or express your love for her. Without a doubt, you should do so. But don’t allow this to be the means by which she falls asleep.

Instead, place your baby in her crib while she is still awake, and let her fall asleep on her own, no matter what time of day it is. Although there may be some resistance for a day or two, the vast majority of my clients see improvements in two or three days.

Take some time to think about that. In as little as two or three days, you and your child could be receiving the benefits of good sleep. You'll have more time to do the things you need to do in the day, and she'll be happier, healthier, and more energetic.

And because good naps beget good bedtime sleep, both you and your baby will be resting better at the night too.

If you’re baby’s already sleep 100% independently, then some other pointers you can consider for extending nap time would be:

  • Maintain as much darkness in your bedroom as possible. If the sun is sneaking in, acquire some blackout blinds or, if you're on a budget, cover the windows with black garbage bags. It doesn't have to be beautiful; all it needs to do is function.

  • White noise machines can help if your baby wakes up due to the barking dog next door, the rude delivery guy ringing the doorbell, or any other disruption that wakes them up from their nap. Just be careful not to play it too loudly or too close to their ears.

If you're having trouble putting any of these concepts into action, just give me a call. The remedy may be more straightforward than it appears, and most of my customers notice a big difference after just one or two sessions.

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