One of the most common frustrations with scheduling and sleep training your child is inconsistent or troubled naptimes. Why do they take a two hour nap one day and thirty minutes the next? Trying to find that “sweet spot” for naps may seem impossible, but there are some things you can look out to help adjust and find it.
First of all, whenever you make changes in your baby’s schedule, I really encourage you write everything down. Write down what time they eat, what time you put them down, and what time they actually fall asleep. Note anything that might be happening in their environment from the lighting to the temperature. Writing things down will help you recognize patters that might help you figure things out for a happy nap time for your little one.
The other thing to remember is to not change too many things at one time. And after you change something, try it consistently for a few days before you determine whether it works or not. One day might not do the trick.
These are some factors to troubleshoot for problem naps:
1. Is your baby/child hungry?
Especially for smaller babies, it is really important to make sure that the reason your child is waking is not because they are hungry. Consider whether they are taking a full feeding and not just snacking during meal time. Offer a feeding if they wake early and if they take it and act hungry then you need to consider adjusting your schedule.
2. Is your child going through a growth spurt?
Growth spurts can really wreak havoc on a schedule. But as we want our babies to grow, it’s important to keep this in mind for causing schedule problems. Time, soothing, and cluster feeding were the best things to help my babies through those spurts. Remember these will not last forever even if it feels like it.
3. Is your child overly tired?
The most common reason for early waking for naps is because your child has had too much awake time and are overly tired. This is easily remedied by shortening awake time in 15 minute increments. If there was ever a “quick fix” this is going to be it. Even though it doesn’t make logical sense, sleep begets sleep, and oftentimes, more sleep equals more sleep.
4. Has your child had enough awake time?
For my youngest child, the answer to his problem naps was that he was not stimulated enough and needed more awake time. I would not try increasing awake time significantly until after you have tried shortening it.
5. Is your baby developing a new skill?
Is your baby just learning to turn over or sit up or stand up or crawl? Developing new skills absolutely has an affect on sleep. I remember my daughter for a week had terrible naps because she would lay in her crib turning her hands over from front to back. Such a simple thing to us, but was a big enough deal to capture her attention and distract her from sleeping. The solution to this is typically waiting it out a couple days. Take good notes especially of new skills during awake time.
6. Is it an intruder?
The 45 minute nap, or “short nap”, or not-long-enough-for-me-to-even-catch-up-on-laundry-much-less-my-sanity nap, is one of the most dreaded things with a newborn. At least it has been for me with two of my four kids. The root of the problem with the short naps is the inability to self-soothe. The reason it typically happens around 45 minutes is because that is when their sleep cycle restarts (Some babies is shorter and some is a tad longer). A baby who is better at self-soothing will have more success in staying asleep or falling back asleep after that restart of the sleep cycle. You can read a little bit more about how I found success with the intruder in this post: “Conquering the Forty-Five Minute Nap”
7. Is it an environmental factor?
Is your baby too hot or too cold when they sleep? Is there a vent pointing towards their bed? Did you move the furniture around recently? Is it too bright in the room? All of these are things you can consider making changes too. I will be honest and say this has rarely been the problem for my kids. But I think about how some of us adults have strong preferences in our sleep environments so the same can absolutely be true for these little people too.