Absolutely everything you need to know to fix short baby naps and get baby taking good naps. Know common reasons for short naps and how to fix them.
One of the most important skills you can learn as a parent is how to troubleshoot issues. It is easy to pay someone to fix your issues or to ask someone else to solve your issues. While you may find a time and place for those solutions, you really need to be mindful about intentionally learning how to troubleshoot as a parent.
Sleep troubles are hard. But they are actually much easier than a lot of other issues that come up as your little one grows into a tween and then teen. These early parenting issues help you learn how to be a parent and how to problem-solve. They help you get to know your child as an individual and prepare you for solving bigger issues later on.
The issues never stop coming.
If you have a baby, you will face sleep troubles at some point. You will probably face sleep troubles at many points. As you have more children, each of them will have their own sleep troubles. Some will be the same or similar to older siblings, but many will be new and unique to that new and unique little person.
This post will walk you through learning how to troubleshoot short naps. As you learn to troubleshoot naps, you will learn tools to troubleshoot the next nap problem with this baby and future babies. You will learn how to help others troubleshoot when they have troubles. You will also learn how to troubleshoot in general so you are more prepared to face the parenting issues that will come in toddler, tween, and teen years.
Fixing Short Naps
During the first year (at least) of your child’s life, there is probably little else that will cause you stress than sleep issues. Naps are a big part of the day. If baby doesn’t nap, mom is exhausted and baby is understandably fussy.
By the time my third child was born, I could really quickly and easily identify reasons for waking early from naps. This is a skill you develop with practice, unfortunately. Let’s discuss things to consider when trying to fix short naps.
BABY WAS SLEEPING WELL, BUT NOW WAKING EARLY
If your baby was taking 1.5-2.5 hour naps and is now waking early, here are the first things to check.
The first thing to try is to feed your baby. Every time McKenna woke early, I fed her. We never had consistent or persistent nap problems with her. Once the growth spurt was over, we went back to normal naps.
I noticed that my girls had days where they were hungrier. For Kaitlyn, it was Thursday. For McKenna, it was Friday. I could count on those days having short naps during the newborn months. They just needed to eat more often for one day.
Read this post packed full of everything you need to know about growth spurts.
This is slightly different than a growth spurt. Maybe the baby is hungry and just needs the food increased. This happened with Kaitlyn around 8 months. On day two of short naps, I started troubleshooting. She wasn’t at a growth spurt where she needed more food for a while then backed off, she just needed more solids offered at each meal from that point forward. Then the nap situation was fixed.
Once you are positive baby does not need more food, move on to these possibilities:
A simple thing to consider is sickness or teething. Children handle these situations differently. These things didn’t affect Brayden or Kaitlyn. Sickness only makes McKenna sleep better. When her first tooth broke through, she had one day of off naps.
It is very common for babies to wake up early when sick or teething. When this happens, do what you can to soothe and wait for the pain/sickness to pass. Do what you can before the nap to create a successful nap by alleviating the pain/discomfort.
Babywise says this is one of the most common reasons for waking early. Be sure your baby is not in pain when your baby is not sleeping well.
If your baby was sleeping well and is suddenly waking early, then gas is one of the less common culprits unless baby’s diet has changed (which includes yours if you are breastfeeding).
Baby might need a longer waketime length if naps are not going well.
I always increase waketime length in five minute increments. I know some (probably most) moms do more than that at once. I strongly suggest you never add more than 15 minutes at a time. I obviously think 5 minute increments are the best to work with. This way, you avoid adding too much waketime.
If baby falls asleep quickly, waketime length is usually good, but if baby takes a long time, then you usually need to tweak it.
Too much waketime causes nap problems even more than too little. If you add too much waketime, you risk jumping right over the perfect window and creating a sleep deficit.
Read: Optimal Waketime Length
If you need help getting your nap schedule down better, be sure to see my sample schedules posts. From my sample schedules for the first month post, you can get to all 12 months of the first year of life. You can find sample schedules for 12-15 months here. You can get sleep schedule ideas for everything from your 0 month old on up through your 15 month old (and beyond).
Is your baby learning a new skill? Sitting, standing, walking, a new word or consonant….babies like to practice their skills, and many times those new skills take precedence over their naps. This is very common. Your baby might not have naps disrupted with every new skill, but will likely have them disrupted with at least one skill.
Read up on How To Stop New Skills from Disrupting Naps and Sleep here.
Get a free printable checklist for how to fix short naps here:
If your baby was sleeping well and is now consistently waking early, it is unlikely baby is overstimulated, but it is something to consider if you have gotten this far down the list and still haven’t found the reason baby is waking early.
Think over the days since baby started waking early and be sure she isn’t overstimulated. A better possibility in this situation is baby is understimulated. This happened to McKenna. I was very careful with her stimulation levels. As she got older, she needed more stimulation and exercise and I wasn’t increasing it. Her naps got shorter. I realized this was the problem, added stimulation and exercise opportunities (basically tummy time at that age), and her naps went back to normal.
Exercise and stimulation are important for solid sleep. As your baby sleeps, the body recovers physically and processes information mentally. If there has been little activity and no mental stimulation, baby won’t sleep as well. Understand this concept before trying to stimulate your little one. Read these posts:
- How To Calm Your Overstimulated Baby
- Why You Shouldn’t Overstimulate Baby During Playtime
- Overstimulation for Toddlers
- Importance of Exercise and Stimulation
Is there some noise that could be waking the baby up? A dog? I have a friend whose son woke up whenever she cooked. The smells got him up.
Pay attention to your environment. If you suspect an environmental factor, you really need to focus in on what has changed around the time short naps started. Is it warmer? Colder? Is there a new dog in the neighborhood? You need to be observant to catch environmental factors.
There are typical times during a baby’s development when she is grumpier and can’t sleep as well as usual. It is very normal for sleep to be disrupted during a wonder week. The wonder weeks perfectly explain the four month sleep regression.
I definitely noticed this to be true during McKenna’s baby life. Once she was over the wonder week, she is back to normal! Read up on the Wonder Weeks and Sleep here.
45 Minute Intruder
It could just be the 45 minute intruder. Read up on How To Finally Stop the 45 Minute Intruder here.
Sometimes props suddenly become a problem for sleep.
Many moms find the pacifier to suddenly become a problem around 3-4 months of age. Baby won’t sleep through a nap without it. If that is the case, you can continue using it and wait for baby to be able to put it back in, or you can break the habit. Read up on how pacifiers disrupt sleep here.
Your little one might be waking early because daytime sleep is off. Your little one might need to drop a nap. Babies move from four naps a day to three naps a day right around 4 months old. The third nap is dropped around 6-8 months old typically.
If you have a toddler, you might need to move to one nap a day. That would mean dropping the morning nap and just having an afternoon nap each day. Read up on dropping naps here.
Sometimes your baby just can’t sleep. I have nights like that. I am not personally a napper unless I just gave birth, and in those times I also have days I can’t sleep (even when I really want to). So if an adult who wants to sleep can have a hard time on occasion, then a baby will, too. They are just learning.
Babies are humans. Therefore, they aren’t perfect. Even if your baby is really good at sleeping, she is going to have difficulties at it at times.
I have a whole eBook to walk you through everything you need to know to have great naps. You can get there here.
BABY HAS ALWAYS TAKEN SHORT NAPS
If your baby has basically always taken short naps, here are some things to consider. All of these suggestions are assuming you have done Babywise (or some other routine) for quite some time.
If you are just starting a routine, it will take time for your baby to learn to take longer naps. Read up on Starting Babywise Late here to know what to expect.
The first thing to check is a need for food. Notice I put this first for both categories.
Try feeding your baby every time she wakes early for a week or so. This might fix the short naps. If she started a growth spurt and you have been fighting against it, bad naps have and will continue until she gets the food she needs.
You should look into your milk supply if breastfeeding, also. Better safe than sorry. A lactation consultant can help you–they can even test the number of calories per ounce in your milk.
If you are bottle feeding, you might need to increase the number of ounces of formula or pumped milk. Your baby might also need to start or increase the number of solid foods eaten.
Once you are sure it is not a food issue, consider the following:
Be sure your baby does not have reflux. If your baby does have reflux, know that a baby with reflux will often take short naps. If so, help your baby make it through a longer nap by using whatever means necessary.
A reflux baby is difficult with sleep and you just have to do the best you can. Kaitlyn, my second child, had reflux. She took many naps in the swing, but she is an amazing sleeper today. Read Babywise and Reflux for all of my tips in helping a reflux baby sleep.
Other Medical Condition
Make sure there isn’t some medical condition causing short naps. These can include allergies and eczema. If baby is having chronic short naps, it is wise to have medical conditions all cleared before continuing to troubleshoot.
Babywise says gas is one of the most common reasons for waking early. If your baby is in chronic gas pain, I suggest you use gripe water or gas drops. Also, evaluate baby’s diet and yours if breastfeeding and eliminate foods that are causing pain.
Once you have covered food and possible pain, easy fix number one is to analyze the amount of waketime. If your baby is up too long, he will wake up early. If he isn’t up long enough, he will have trouble napping.
For a young baby, being awake 5 minutes too long can be enough to cause a short nap. Babywise suggests moving your waketime back by 15 minutes if your baby isn’t sleeping well. Try it. It is an easy thing to fix. Read more about this in An Easy Short Nap Fix that Works.
It is possible your waketime length is too short, but in this situation when a baby has always taken too short of a nap, I think it is best to first shorten the nap. If that doesn’t work, try lengthening it. Read Optimal Waketime Length for more.
Since your baby has always been taking short naps, I suggest you first tone down stimulation levels. Monitor noise levels and visual stimulation. Overstimulation is more damaging to a nap than understimulation.
Age also has something to do with this. The younger the baby, the less stimulation she needs and the more sensitive she will be to overstimulation. If your baby is older than 6 months, it is unlikely overstimulation is causing problems unless you live in a casino or circus.
Be sure there is no television watching–for a baby, that is quite stimulating. Be sure exercise levels are where they need to be, too. By exercise, I mean natural exercise that happens when a baby is allowed to be a baby and play. I am not suggesting baby yoga or anything.
Read these posts to understand stimulation levels:
- How To Calm Your Overstimulated Baby
- Why You Shouldn’t Overstimulate Baby During Playtime
- Overstimulation for Toddlers
- Importance of Exercise and Stimulation
Your baby needs to be able to put herself to sleep if she is going to take a nap longer than 45 minutes long. Falling asleep independently is a vital skill.
Most babies will not sleep through the transition point in sleep (45 minutes) if they are unable to soothe themselves to sleep. Teach your baby to self-soothe in whatever method you think is best for your family.
Once she is capable of soothing herself, she should start making it through the transitions. Read up on what a sleep transition is here so you can understand it fully.
Is the baby too hot? Too cold? Be sure to dress the baby appropriately for the season and for your home. Does baby like to wear socks? McKenna sleeps much better with socks on her feet. Kaitlyn hated to have socks on her feet. Find out what your baby likes.
If your home is noisy, I suggest you use white noise of some sort. If you have other children, they might be waking baby up. If you live in a noisy neighborhood, there are lots of things that can be waking baby up. You can’t control your neighbors or the garbage man.
You can’t really expect your other children to tip-toe around the house. You can put a humidifier, fan, or white noise machine in your baby’s room to block things out.
Is your baby sensitive to light? I had some who needed the room dark to nap well. That is fine if this is your baby! Some people want baby to nap with blinds open so he can do that if he is away from home without the blackout blinds. While this makes sense, it makes more sense to have baby sleeping well for those 90% of naps at home and not as well for those 10% away from home rather than the other way around.
Is your baby comfortable enough? I sometimes had Kaitlyn nap in her play yard, and those naps often were not as good as her naps in her crib. This made sense because the play yard mattress was not as comfortable as her crib mattress.
This doesn’t mean go buy your baby a feather bed (and that wouldn’t be safe). But a crib mattress is more comfortable than a “mattress” in the pack and play.
Are you consistent with your schedule? Are you usually home for naps or are you are usually out and about?
A baby won’t sleep as well out and about as at home, so if he is used to being out and about, his body will be trained to short bursts of naps rather than nice long naps. Also, if he typically is napping in a carseat, he will be used to sleeping with the help of motion rather than by himself.
Some babies are naturally more flexible than others. If you have a less-flexible baby, accept that and work with that.
Evaluate your use of props and if they are interfering with your baby being able to make it through a transition (every 45 minutes) on her own. Refer to When Sleep Props are Okay and When To Avoid Them to know when sleep props might be ruining your baby’s sleep.
Lack of Routine
Do you have a good routine for your baby? Evaluate your nap routine and be sure it is best to help your child sleep well. Read up on sleep routine ideas to get your baby sleeping well here.
Consider the issues listed in the “suddenly waking” section. It is possible your baby has just had one issue after another.
PRO TROUBLESHOOTING TIPS
While you are troubleshooting, try to address only one problem at a time. Give each “fix” a few days to work before moving on to something else. If you try to fix more than one thing at once, you might be fixing it in one way, but ruining it by changing something else. Troubleshooting takes careful patience.
It really helps while you are troubleshooting to be able to identify when the sleep trouble started. You then think through what in life changed at that point. If nothing changed, you can think about what might need to change.
Also, I find keeping logs to be really invaluable. I used this book of logs to track everything with my babies and can’t recommend it enough:
FREQUENTLY ASKED NAP QUESTIONS
My baby only sleeps one hour for the last nap of the day–is this okay? Yes, it is okay and it is normal. If your baby is going to sleep only one hour try keeping them up until it is one hour before the last feeding. If they are too fussy for that, put them down when they need to and just play with them after they wake up until dinner time.
My baby is waking early from naps. Should I get him up or let him cry it out? First, let’s address all of the issues listed above. Let’s be sure the early waking can’t be fixed easily. If baby is crying for one of these reasons, CIO isn’t going to help because you are addressing the wrong problem.
I also don’t really think it is a good idea to do CIO mid-nap with a newborn. There are so many growth spurts in those first three months and you are just getting to know the baby. Most moms who do cry it out mid-nap and find success have babies who are 4 months old or older.
With McKenna, if I didn’t think it was a growth spurt, I would give it 10-15 minutes to see if she was just having a rough transition and were going to fall back asleep. If not, I got her. So you can wait 10-15 minutes before getting baby.
My baby is waking early but is happy. What do I do? This is a nice thing–when the baby is at the point that they wake up and play and wait for you to get them. If it is early and they are happy, I leave them there. A baby will be more patient for food if he isn’t staring in the face of the one who provides it. It is also more relaxing and restful in a bed than out playing and getting stimulated. Don’t leave your baby in there forever, but give them more rest time if they are happy. When my kids wake early and are happy, I let them play in their beds until nap time normally ends.
My young baby just can’t seem to sleep through the 3 hour cycle. Why? So far as sleep through a cycle goes, I thought about this when Kaitlyn was not sleeping through, and came to a conclusion. I think it is nearly impossible to expect a baby to sleep through on a 3 hour when they are so young.
The way the cycle is described in the book seems impossible to create in the real world. Here is why. The routine is 2.5-3 hours. Your young baby can stay awake at best for 1 hour. The nap is to be 1-1.5 hours on the routine. So, if they are awake for 1 hour, the best you can expect according to BW would be 2.5 hour routine all day, and that is if they took the 1.5 hour nap. Some babies can only be awake 45 minutes.
What is the answer? Don’t sweat it. Keep to the schedule as closely as possible and with time your baby will get it. With McKenna, I let her do short waketimes and long naps, and it worked really well. I did this with Brinley, also. I would let both of them take 2.5 hour naps and both of them were my best sleepers.
WORD TO THE WEARY
Something good to realize is that sleep issues are not the main and end-all point of parenting. It is more about raising children who have self-control, are respectful, are able to focus and self-entertain, and most of all, are moral.
You are teaching your child to be able to live on her own in the real world. You are raising adults, not children.
It seems things eventually just work out as far as sleep goes so long as you stick to the schedule the best you can.
Is it important to have good sleep habits? Yes! Is it worth working on? Absolutely! Having daytime sleep down helps lead to having nighttime sleep down. I always say fix your days and your nights will follow. Work on the baby nap.
You will have much bigger fish to fry as your child gets older. If they are good sleepers, they will have an advantage and so will you. But remember, parenting is more than sleeping. Sleeping is the first stepping stone to bigger and better things. Don’t let short naps ruin your life.
Enjoy your baby. Cherish every moment. It really does go so fast and these days do not come back.Don’t get so caught up in stressing about things you forget to enjoy what is in front of you at the moment.
RELATED BLOG POSTS
- Chronic 45 Minute Naps
- The Cornerstone for Good Naps
- What To Do When Baby’s Nap Was Only 20 Minutes
- What To Do When Baby Wakes Early from Naps or Won’t Fall Asleep for Naps
- What To Do When Your Pretoddler Is Taking a Short Morning Nap
- 10 Reasons Your 5-8 Month Old Has Stopped Sleeping Well
This post was originally published in 2007 and revised in December 2009
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