Why Your Baby’s Naps Are So Short & What To Do About This

April 21, 2023

baby napping; what to do about short naps for babies and toddlers

At some point, almost every parent has asked: why is my baby sleeping so little during their nap? Maybe your baby always took naps that seem too short or has suddenly started waking up after only a short time. Read this article to find out why this might be happening and what you can do about it. 

Are Short Naps Really a Problem?

I guess there might be people who are not bothered by their baby’s catnaps… but almost anyone I’ve ever spoken to is. Here are some problems with short naps:

  • Babies and toddlers who take short naps are often overtired later, causing a cascade of tantrums and melt-downs for the rest of the day. Yuck. 
  • Short naps can also impact nighttime sleep, which in turn impacts naps during the day (sleep begets sleep) and so on in a vicious cycle.
  • Parents whose children take short naps become ‘nap-trapped’, unable to leave the house since their child always seems minutes away from a nap. Or they wind up holding their baby or toddler during naps to make them longer. I too was once a victim of this. I get it.  
  • Who amongst us parents does not look forward to that glorious time when your child is in bed for their nap? When you can take a shower, make yourself breakfast, take a nap of your own, or do any number of other things you don’t get to do with a baby in your arms. 

Now that we have established that short day-time naps are absolutely a problem, let’s take a look at some reasons why your baby or toddler might be taking them and what you can do about it. 

Too Tired or Not Tired Enough?

It seems counterintuitive, but your baby might have trouble taking a good, restful nap both if they are too tired or not tired enough. I know, weird. 

Once your baby is around 6 months old, their nap schedule will start to become more predictable as their brain matures into napping. When that happens, it’s very important to make sure that your baby is awake long enough between sleeping times. This is called a wake window. If your baby’s wake windows are too long they will become overtired and have trouble falling asleep. If your baby’s wake windows are too short they will not be tired enough yet and will also have trouble falling asleep. Check out more information about wake windows below. 

If your baby is consistently taking only short naps it’s very likely that the wake windows between the naps aren’t long enough. Try lengthening the time between sleep by 5-15 minutes to see if it helps. 

You also need to make sure that you are keeping your child active between naps. Get them outside to run around (if they are old enough) or at least breathe fresh air and see new things. Play actively at home. Your baby will be more tired and will sleep better if they do and see more things between naps. 

Your baby might also be taking such short naps because they are overtired. You might think that sounds crazy – shouldn’t they sleep better if they are so tired? Alas, no. When your baby or toddler doesn’t go to sleep on time, their body produces stress hormones that then keep them up. Then, when you then try to lay your child down for their nap they physically cannot sleep for a long time and wake up after only a short while. So make sure you are using the wake window guide to ensure that your child’s wake windows are appropriate to their age. 

Don’t Do a Bait-N-Switch

Usually if you wake up for a few seconds after sleeping for a while, you might open your eyes, fluff up your pillow and then go back to sleep. But how would you feel if you fell asleep in your cozy bed and woke up in a different room on the floor? You would probably feel pretty shocked and become fully awake to figure out what’s going on. 

That is exactly what is happening to your baby when they fall asleep in your arms and then wake up in their own bed or bassinet. The same goes for rocking or feeding your child to sleep. If they fall asleep when something is happening they expect the same thing to be going on when they wake up. 

Most people, including children, wake up between their sleep cycles, usually for just a few seconds. To be able to go back to sleep quickly, the environment they wake up in should be the same as when they went to sleep. 

Routines Are Key

Most parents know that it’s important to have a bedtime routine in the evening. But did you know that having a naptime routine can be just as important? Doing the same things, in the same order before each nap time, lets your child know that it is time for a nap and helps them get psychologically and physically ready. Most parents find that having a modified, shorter version of their bedtime routine works well before a nap.

bedtime routine diagram

Sleep Environment

Another common culprit to short naps could be factors in their sleep environment. We already talked about how important it is for children to fall asleep and wake up in the same environment. Babies and toddlers also sleep best when their rooms are dark, quiet, and cool. 

People, including children, sleep best when their sleep environment is completely dark. Make sure to check how dark your baby’s nursery (or wherever they sleep) is by doing the hand test. Go into the room and close the curtains and door. Put your hand out in front of you. If you can’t see it – it’s dark enough. If you can still see your hand, consider whether you can put blackout shades on the windows and remove any additional light sources. Common light sources include: humidifiers, wake clocks, and white noise machines. 

Noise could be another thing keeping your baby or toddler from taking long restful naps. There is naturally much more noise during the day than at night. Whether from outside or inside your house, people are doing more and this creates more sounds. I highly recommend that you use something that creates white noise, whether a portable white noise machine or something like a fan. 

Last, but not least, keep your child’s sleep environment cool. Most babies and toddlers, when appropriately dressed, sleep best when it is 68-72 degrees Fahrenheit. 

baby dressing guide diagram

Mama, you can conquer those short naps and get you and your child the sleep you both need if you follow these tips. If you find that you need more help, please reach out for your free consultation and let’s get you some longer naps. 

Hi, I’m Jenn. Mom, Sleep Boss, and Finder of Lost Loveys.  I have more than 10 years of experience in guiding families from sleep deprived to sleep-revived. I help exhausted families around the globe find the right sleep solutions for their children through one-on-one coaching. Read more about me and my philosophy.   

Are you ready to get off the Crazy Train and have the whole family sleeping better? Follow the link below to schedule your complimentary consultation with Jennifer today!

Free Sleep Resources

Ready to hear not-a-peep from that nursery? Snag access to my massive variety of baby & toddler free sleep training resources now!

You may also like…