Question: My 5 1/2 month old baby has been a short napper since he was 6 weeks old. I tried various methods from the baby whisperer and the no-cry sleep solution to extend his naps until I realised I was spending more time each day trying to get him to sleep than he was actually sleeping. He is now able to cope with the short naps, though gets tired again after 1h 1/2 to 2 hours of awake time. If I catch him at the right time, or take him out in the buggy he falls asleep fine. My first question is whether you can think of anything else to help me extend the naps as I need to put him to sleep 3 (preferably) 4 times a day at the moment.
He is now able to self soothe and goes to sleep happily on his own at around 7pm after a bath, massage and feed. He then sleeps consistently till 10/11pm when we feed him (sometimes waking him to feed). He is still waking some time between 2am and 4am to feed but seems quite hungry and normally settles well so I'm fine with that. On a good day he'll then sleep till 6.30/7am. He then gets tired after just 1 hour/ 1 1/2 hrs so generally needs to sleep again by 8.30am at the latest. Should I try and stretch this to 9am to start a consistent regular day nap time routine? I am finding the unpredictability, depending on how well the night goes and wake up time quite difficult. He wakes a few times in the night and we leave him to cry for a max of 10 min (apart from the 1 feed) and he normally goes back to sleep again.
Heidi's Answer: Hi Gemama,
The easiest way to extend naps is to either sit by his side or be on the move with him at the moment he wakes up. Young babies have short sleep cycles of about 50 minutes, going from lighter into deeper sleep and then (half-)waking up briefly after each cycle. If for some reason they do not get into the next cycle without waking up completely, they’ll wake up truly and it is then hard to get back to sleep away right away.
The idea is to help him through to the next cycle, by anticipating to his waking up and help him to go on sleeping. If you do this consistently for a while, he (his body) will get used to sleeping longer stretches. You can either:
- Make sure you are at his side about 5-10 minutes before he’ll wake up (you know his timings quite well I’m sure …). Place your hand on his belly, or gently stroke his head – something you know comforts him but does not startle him. Do this for about 5-15 minutes, when you’ve hopefully got to the next cycle. If he does wake up completely and is not easily soothed or cries: just pick him up and then try again next time. You're absolutely right, it's not worth spending more time trying to make him sleep than that he actually sleeps. It may take several tries. Then when it starts working, keep doing it for several days, then try without to see if he got the new rhythm.
- Alternatively, or simply at different nap times, you can have him nap in a baby sling at home or out for a walk, or go for a walk in the stroller. That walk should then last for more than 45 minutes. The idea is the same as above: when he’s on the move he may get to the next cycle more easily.
One other possibility is, as you mention you do at night, to wait for a few moments before going in, he may just fuss a bit and then go on sleeping by himself.
Now, you may have already tried this all consistently, for long enough (at least a week), and recently enough; without success. That can mean that this is just how he is able to sleep during the day right now. It may indeed be tiring for you to help him to sleep 4 times a day (3 naps is still very average at this age, 4 is a lot). He will however, especially once he’s passed the 6 months, develop his sleep patterns further and make it easier on you.
It’s a very good sign that he sleeps longer stretches at night though. It shows that he really is able to, and that is important. The routine and his self soothing at night is really great so do keep that up (as I’m sure you would ;) )!
Yes as you say, a more regular nap schedule is a good idea. I would first try the ‘next cycle’ ideas above first but if they do not work right now, then work with the schedule first. I know what you mean about the unpredictability, that was always the hardest part for me too, worse than waking up at night is waking up at different times each night …).
You will have to keep some flexibility in the morning as he does not wake up at the same time each morning. You say sleeping till 7am is on a good day, so probably it’s often also earlier. Then why not stick to 8.30am: then it doesn’t become too much of a stretch on days when he woke earlier.
With 45 minute naps and 2 hours awake in between you will then have naps at 8.30am, 11.15am, 2pm, 4.45pm and then the night at 7-7.30pm. Try and be consistent (even sometimes putting him to bed when not very tired yet, or stretching a bit) but also flexible (if he’s really tired, don’t keep him up for another half hour, but start with 5 minutes. Next day you may win another 5 minutes …).
Summarizing: try to extend his naps to start with. Then work on a stricter daytime sleep schedule. That regularity will support his sleep pattern development and also help him sleep consistently at night.
Best of luck! Heidi
PS: You may also find my No Tears Naps (aka "Nap in a Snap") ebook helpful. It takes you through 3 easy steps to set up a the best-fit nap routine (including a log, sleepy signs explained, settling tips, ...).
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