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Extending Naps of a Chronic Catnapper

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baby sleeping in a blanket - Learn Eat Sleep

Tell me if this scenario sounds familiar…

Your baby wakes up in the morning after a rough night’s sleep. You feed her, change her, play with her for a little bit, take her for a little walk outside, then rock her to sleep and put her gently into her crib for her morning nap.

You make yourself a nice, big cup of coffee (since the morning one is now an iced latte), flip on HGTV (because watching Chip and Joanna Gaines has given you a whole new appreciation for “French Country”) and make yourself comfortable on the couch. You take notes for your future home, flip over to the Pioneer Woman and start planning dinner. Just then, 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 categorized as a “chronic catnapper”.

So here’s what’s going on, and how to fix it.

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 really rejuvenative, 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.

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…

Drumroll please…

They’ve learned how to fall back to sleep on their own.

That’s it. That really is the heart of the issue. Once your baby can fall asleep without help, they’ll start stringing together those sleep cycles like an absolute champ. That’s going to make your baby a whole lot happier and, let’s be real here, leave you with two hours at a time to do whatever you like. (Granted, as a new mother, “whatever you like” might not mean what it once did, but still, two hours twice a day to catch up on motherhood-related tasks is something we can all appreciate.)

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 crib.

Stop right there. 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.”

Sleep props are basically anything that your baby uses to make the transition from awake to asleep. Pacifiers are the most common example, but there are many others, including feeding,rocking, singing, bouncing, snuggling, and car rides. Read all about how pacifiers can interrupt baby’s sleep here.

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 crib, 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 start. Let’s chat.

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 babe is able to sleep on her own. If she is catnapping and is also relying on a pacifier, breast, bottle, or motion to fall asleep, this is a whole different approach that needs to be corrected before extending the nap.

Here are five 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, the hormone that regulates sleep cycles, needed for sleep.

2. Use a white noise machine– White noise machines are useful if baby tends to wake up due to the neighbor’s barking dog, the inconsiderate delivery guy ringing the doorbell, or any other noise that might startle them out of their nap. Just make sure it’s not too close to their ears and not too loud. 50 dB is the recommended limit.

3. Go in quickly and coax back to sleep– This strategy usually works better for younger babies under 6 months. Younger babies have a harder time connecting sleep cycles and by going in to encourage baby to go back to sleep by “shhing”, or “patting”, you will help yo preserve that nap.

4.. Give baby a chance to re-settle  For older babies, allowing her the opportunity to hang out in the crib 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.

5. Wake to Sleep – This strategy is one that isn’t a promised strategy, but worth a try if all other strategies have been exhausted. If baby is consistently taking 30 minute naps, then you would put an alarm right before the 30 minute mark, go into the room, make environmental noise, and allow baby to come out of the last sleep cycle and enter a new one. This strategy is also commonly used for early risers. Make sure you don’t completely wake baby up, but just cause the floor to creak to help baby go into a new sleep cycle.

If you’ve tried applying these suggestions, and they don’t seem to be working give me a call and set up a free 15 minute consultation. The solution also needs to be age appropriate and other factors need to be considered for success.

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about anet

My name is Anet and I am a certified Sleep Sense™ sleep consultant located in Los Angeles. I help parents worldwide with their little one’s sleep challenges and I want to help you! With two little ones of my own, I understand the sleep challenges that arise at all ages. Let’s schedule a time to talk to help you and your little one start sleeping again!

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