10 month old cat napper and bedtime struggles.

by Megan S

Question: It's hard to know where to begin. I guess firstly our 10 month old takes terrible naps which I am guessing is why his night sleep isn't the greatest, he has been a 30 minute cat napper since he was about 5 months old. He was on a 3-30 minute naps a day routine for awhile but now since he's a bit older I dropped the later afternoon nap because he just wont go down for it anymore.

In the mornings he will go down for his first nap after 2 hrs of his awake time, almost to the minute. He is rubbing his eyes and getting sooky. The naps are not a struggle, he is nursed until almost asleep, layed down on his tummy but will wake at the 30 minute mark almost every time. I have tried extending his awake time, still 30 minutes, I have tried shortening his awake time.....again, 30 minutes. I have tried going in, shushing, patting his back but he will have no part, he is standing up jumping around excited as anything. I have tried rocking him back to sleep, but he wakes the second I try to lay him back down. I have tried laying down with him, again only 30 minutes. I have tried going in before he wakes up, no go. His room is pitch black, there is no noise, he is fed, changed, not in pain. I do not drink caffein, or smoke or eat chocolate.
This is the same routine for the afternoon nap, usually around 1:30-2. Where his nap time in the morning is only early I find it hard to figure out a good second nap time, I don't want him under or over tired. A scatter time here and there he will stir at 30 minutes, toss and turn and sleep for 45-1hour. I wrote out a sleep schedule for 2 weeks to try and see if I was missing something but the circumstances can be the exact same and some days he will nap long, some days it will be 30 minutes.

So bedtime, where his second nap is short, knowing what time to put him to bed is difficult as well.
We do have a bedtime routine, bath, dressed, stories and boob. I don't mind nursing him to sleep but he no longer falls asleep that way so I think we are in need of a new routine but just don't know how or what.
We tried early bedtimes at 5:30, 6:30,7-7:30.....it seems no matter when we do it there is a struggle. It takes about 1-1.5 hrs to get him asleep, this is by rocking, singing and some times nursing. We tried leaving him in his crib, he doesn't cry, he just plays, stands, jumps, crawls, no sign of sleeping. To which we go in after a little while and rock him/nurse him to sleep because I believe surely he would outlast us. He is tired, sometimes even exhausted, but he won't sleep without a lot of help. I'm not sure how I feel about CIO...it makes me a little uncomfortable just to let you know.
After he finally goes down he sleeps anywhere from 3-5 hrs (usually 3 hrs on the dot) then wakes to nurse, we bring him into our bed for the latter part of the night. I love this part time co-sleeping, it works for us, for now. He is up again 5:30 and most times I nurse him back to sleep until 6:30-7.

I feel like I have used up my entire maternity leave stressing and trying to get him to nap longer, its exhausting. And now that he's older his bedtime routine which used to take us 30 minutes or less is taking forever and both my husband and I are stressed. I have work in a few months and then he has to go to a babysitter....in need of some advice please!!!

Heidi's Answer: Hi Megan,

I am sorry to hear about the stress for the longer naps, I know how frustrating that is.

You have tried a great amount and really good set of techniques to lengthen the naps, well done for trying different strategies. Now there are two possibilities: either he is fine with those 2 short naps, or the techniques were not an ideal fit at the particular moments you tried.

Being fine with 2 half hour naps is not the most common but it does happen. The surest way to know is his behavior: is he happy and content throughout the day, in spite of those cat naps? Not extremely tired (often comes out as over-active) by the end of the day?

If that is the case you can relax about the nap length and just let him wake after 30 minutes and no more trying to lengthen.

You don't mention it so I am not sure how he makes it through the day … On the other hand the struggle you have to get him to settle for the night, is typical for an over-tired child. So I will assume going forward that he really does need more sleep hours during the day.

His room is pitch black and silent, how about you leave the blinds/door open to let in a little light and make a habit of not keeping the house (or the area near his room) entirely silent (a dryer, vacuum, … are good background noises to experiment with).

It is true that in the first couple of months most babies don't care and sleep best in pitch black rooms, but that changes so definitely something to try.

Going in before he wakes is usually one of the more effective techniques, especially since the 30 minutes is so but you mention that it did not work. Have you re-tried it recently? If not, it's definitely worth doing. Experiment with going in a few minutes earlier/later, …

If no success, do option 1 below and only do option 2 if still necessary.

Option 1:

Re-arrange the nap schedule. The morning sounds well-timed but do try to start it 10-15 minutes earlier or later for a couple of days. See what happens. Same for the afternoon nap. Use my Sleepy Signs journal to adapt the schedule nicely to his needs (based on behavior, not time) if you are unsure. Small timing changes affect sleep patterns directly (physically) so can make a big change.

Option 2:

A technique you don't mention trying is keeping him on the move, i.e. in a baby carrier, stroller, car seat. Being on the move helps with staying asleep and can be a great way to install a nicely regular nap. If that works out practically for you, decide on an afternoon nap time, around 2pm sounds about right from what your write.

At that time, do the nap bedtime routine but put him in the sling/stroller/car seat at the end of the routine and get moving, for at least an hour or an hour and a half if you can. Don;t worry if the first few times he still wakes after half an hour. If he does sleep for a bit longer, do the exact same thing for 5 days. Then move back to the crib for naps.

Then on to night time bedtime.

First off, does your son have a transitional object, like a favorite soft toy, lovey, blanket, …? If not, definitely good to introduce one.

Secondly, have you verified for teething and separation anxiety, 2 typical sleep disturbers at this age. Relieving his physical discomfort and/or his fear will also be important to improve the nights.

My main advice for your evening routine would be to shorten it. And I am not referring to the long time it takes for him to sleep, but the things you do before that. Can you do the bath at another time, for example in the morning? Although it can be relaxing, it is an “activity” and might trigger too much.

So then at night it is just change, a story (singular, short), nurse and then bed. If not already, add a brief hold/cuddle while saying goodnight to the toys in his room (or similar) and a (always the same) night-night sentence. (This will help later on with putting back to bed when waking at night, repeating only this last part of the routine).

Choose (and keep stricly fixed for at least a week or 2) the earliest bedtime at which he is readily tired (first yawns and eye rubbing). Launch the bedtime while he is still “almost tired” (staring, losing interest in surroundings, seeming a little distracted) so that you are right on time for bed.

Since he does not doze off at the breast, nurse him until he has enough, then hold and cuddle. Two options, depending on what happens:

1. Either he falls asleep within 5-10 minutes, then hold for a little longer, put down and work with the progressive Gentle Self Soothing Method.

2. If he does not fall asleep at all, but as you describe plays, crawls, … in his crib: I would like you to experiment with leaving him: of course he must be absolutely safe, and not get upset, also not have any toys in his crib etc. But as long as he is happily babbling, let him be. That gives him the time to wind down and settle, and seeing that is apparently relaxed about being in the crib alone for a while, he can learn to do that all by himself.

During this (I know this is not easy!) try not to worry about when he will finally fall asleep. It may take a long time, but once he finds his way, it will come faster and faster.

For the second part of the night, you will also want to keep him in his crib, but you can wait to do that until the rest (naps and first night time bedtime) have started improving.

Best of luck to you, I'd love to hear how it goes!
Kindly, Heidi

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Update at 12 months
by: Megan S

Hi Heidi,

I have tried everything you had suggested a couple of months ago and nothing seemed to work, then all of a sudden last week I got so frustrated with being kicked and shoved away while trying to rock him that I layed him in his crib to take a breath. Low and behold 10 minutes later there was silence and he had put himself to sleep. The 30 minutes nap have changed to 2 hours a day. I was amazed and everyday since then and even at bedtime we have been putting him to sleep awake but drowsy. I will usually nurse him before. Most times he will cry for a few minutes and go to sleep, some days he just won't stop crying and I can tell by the sound that he won't, so I rock him. The days he puts himself to sleep himself he sleeps great. Overall his sleep has improved, I obviously don't expect every day to be perfect but its an improvement.
I just have a question about nap transitioning. Because he is sleeping for 2 hours in the morning now I cannot get him down for his second nap. He usually is super tired 3 hours after wake up time, so generally he is awake by 12. We try to get him down for nap 2 between 3-4 even 4:30 but he will not go down, and if he does then his bedtime is extremely late. Bedtime when he doesn't nap is at 7 however be still seems over tired some nights and won't settle down. Is it okay to just have one nap, should we move the nap later? And how, if he's so tired mid morning? Thanks!

by: Heidi - BabySleepAdvice

Hi Megan, glad to hear you have found an improvement, you have found a nice way to accomodate him while giving him the opportunity towards independence, at a time when he was ready, great!

About the naps you ask about, the best guideline is how tired he is. So as long as he is tired mid-morning I wouldn't move that nap to later (because it will affect his well-being and sleeping the rest of the day and night). And as long as he does not make it to night bedtime without getting over-tired, a second nap will be best. Have you tried offering the second nap earlier than 3pm, i.e. before he's super tired? You may need to be very consistent for a week or two with offering it (even if he only rests/is in the crib for half an hour without really sleeping) to get him into the rhythm. 12 months is also a time when many "seem" not to need the second nap anymore, because they refuse it, but when offered consistently they go back to it, and show us how they need it. If nothing works to have him go down at all, and if you have the time you could go for a stroller walk (if he easily sleeps in it) around 2.30pm-ish, that will reveal how and if he needs that nap.

Another alternative is to stick with the one morning nap and bring bedtime earlier.

Hope this helps,

by: megan s

Thanks Heidi, he is just adjusting to a new babysitter so the naps have been disrupted, hoping he will get back on track. He still won't nap in the afternoon, every now and then I can manage to get him to nap after work at 4:30, not because he seems tired but just for the sake of having another nap .He will only nap 30-45 mins and wakes up screaming and seems worst off though. Not quite sure if the late nap is worth it. He won't nap for the sitter in the afternoon at all, the option for a stroller or car ride isn't available due to the kids she has to look after so I feel like I am out of options.If we don't do the late nap he usually isn't cranky or tired and he goes to bed at 7 on his own easily.

Happy with one nap then
by: Heidi - BabySleepAdvice

Hi Megan,

OK so if he makes it all the way through bedtime content and then settles well, that is great and no need to struggle for that nap anymore.

Going forward, just keep observing his behavior as he may automatically shift the one nap from mid-morning to wards later in the day. Or he may not, and as long as he is happy throughout that is good.


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