Tell me if this scenario sounds familiar to you…
Your baby wakes up in the morning after a rough night’s sleep. You feed her, change her, play with her a little, take her for a little walk outside, then rock her to sleep and put her gently into her cot for her morning nap.
You make yourself a nice, big cuppa, flip on morning telly and make yourself comfortable on the sofa. You start to scroll through Instagram (we are all guilty of it) and have a think about what to make for lunch and dinner. Just as your mind starts to wonder into recipe ideas, you hear your little one. You look over at your monitor and sure enough, there she is, eyes wide-open, and just like that, the 30 minutes are over.
So after half an hour of trying to put her back down, you finally give in, hoping she’ll be that much more tired when her afternoon nap rolls around, only to have the exact same scenario play out again. Your little one, my friend, is officially categorised as a “chronic catnapper”.
So… Let me explain to you what is going on…
Babies, just like the rest of us, sleep in cycles. We start off in a light state where we’re easily woken up, then gradually fall into a deeper stage where even loud noises or movement might not be able to rouse us. This, incidentally, is the good stuff. This is the restorative, restful sleep where our brains and bodies do all of the maintenance work that leaves us refreshed, clear-headed and energetic when we get enough.
Once we’ve come to the end of the deep-sleep cycle, we slowly start coming back to the light stage again, and typically we wake up for a few seconds and then drift off again, and the whole thing starts again.
In adults, one of those cycles typically takes about an hour and a half. In babies, it can be as little as 30 minutes, sometimes 20 minutes.
So, the fact that your baby is waking up after only 30 minutes is actually completely natural. In fact, if she wasn’t waking up regularly, that might be cause for concern.
“But,” you’re thinking, “I have friends whose babies nap for two or three hours at a time.” Well, that’s partially true. But in a more literal sense, they’re stringing together several sleep cycles in a row. The only difference between their baby and your baby is…
They’ve learned how to fall back to sleep on their own!! They have mastered how to knit their sleep cycles together.
That’s it. Once your baby can fall asleep without help, they’ll start stringing together those sleep cycles like an absolute pro. That’s going to make your baby a whole lot happier and, let’s be real here, leave you with and hour or two to do what you like. Yep, that may be the monumental list of household to-dos…but hey, it’s time to yourself!
So, remember back at the start of that scenario, there you were, getting ready to put baby down for her nap, gently rocking her to sleep and then putting her down in her cot.
Stop!! That’s where you need to make some changes. Because in this scenario, you are acting as what we in the sleep consulting business refer to as a “sleep prop.” No, no, no – baby needs to learn to fall asleep on her own.
Sleep props are basically anything that your baby uses to make the transition from awake to asleep. Other examples are feeding to sleep, rocking, bouncing, cuddling.
Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t rock your baby, or sing to her, or read her stories, or love her like crazy. You absolutely should.
Just not to the point where she falls asleep.
When it comes to bedtime, whatever time of the day that might be, put your baby down in her cot, while she’s still awake, and let her fall asleep on her own. If this concept just seems like an impossible task, this is where we need to talk. So, let’s talk and let me help you!
If your baby IS able to fall asleep on her own and is still a “chronic catnapper”, here are a few things you can try to extend her naps. It’s very important to note that these strategies can only be used if baby is able to sleep on her own. If she is catnapping and is also relying on a dummy, breast, bottle, or motion to fall asleep, this is a whole different approach that needs to be corrected before extending the nap.
Here are some strategies to try to extend your little one’s naps:
1. Keep the bedroom as dark as possible :: Using blackout blinds indicates to the body that it’s time for sleep. Keeping all sleep environments consistent helps to cue the body to increase the melatonin which is our sleepy hormone.
2. Use a white noise machine :: White noise machines are useful if baby is woken easily. Just make sure it’s not too close to their ears and not too loud.
3. Give baby a chance to re-settle :: For older babies, allowing her the opportunity to chill out in the cot increases the chances of her falling back asleep. Studies have shown that babies can re-settle back to sleep within 12 minutes. Again, this strategy should only be used if baby is already able to sleep independently.
So, there you go… hope you have found this helpful! Catnapping is a common challenge and I work 1:1 with families who struggle with this exact issue. If you feel you have tried everything then get in touch!
Don’t forget to follow me on Instagram for contact tips and support – head to @countingsheepbabysleep