Your Baby’s Short Naps Explained

Baby Short Naps Explained
Catnaps. Mini-naps. Micro-naps.

Whatever name you give them, short naps can feel like the bane of your existence as a mom or dad. It may seem like you spend an eternity trying to help your baby fall asleep at nap time, only to have her wake 20 minutes after you lay her down. Not exactly restful for anyone!

So why do some babies tend to take short naps? Is there an underlying reason? And (most importantly) – is this a problem you can fix? Those are the questions we are tackling in today’s blog article.

Short Baby Naps: What Is Normal, and What Is Not

First, let’s define our terms. A short nap is a nap that’s less than an hour long. It can be as short as a few minutes! A long nap is one that’s 60 minutes or more. Most parents can expect 1 – 1.5 hours for a long nap, although some babies and toddlers will take longer naps (especially toddlers who have transitioned to just one afternoon nap – those naps can be as long as 2-3 hours!)

Second, let’s be clear about something: short naps are not unusual, or abnormal, for newborns. Remember, during the newborn stage, babies need to eat every 2-3 hours, so it is understandable that newborns take lots of mini-naps throughout the day.

As your baby grows, and as his brain and body develop, his short naps should begin to consolidate into several longer naps. And those naps should gradually organize themselves into a semi-predictable daytime schedule. Over time, your baby will continue to drop naps, and the naps themselves will gradually become longer. By the time your baby is a toddler, she will be taking one long nap in the middle of the day.

Third, remember that older babies may take a catnap each day when they’re approaching (or in the midst of) a nap transition. For instance, many 7 month olds take a third catnap late in the afternoon, as they transition to a two-nap-a-day schedule. This catnap is not a problem, provided the other 2 naps are an hour or more.

Not All Babies Naturally Consolidate Their Naps

Note the ‘shoulds’ in that last section. Not all babies consolidate their naps easily (or at all, for that matter!) Some of this nap consolidation is dependent on your baby’s unique growth and development patterns; the simple fact is that some babies are biologically ready (and willing) take longer naps much sooner than other babies. Some babies will begin this process of nap consolidation quite early – as early as 4-6 weeks. Other babies will do this much later – more like 5 or 6 months. So if your baby is past the newborn stage, but continues to take mini-naps, understand that some of this may be due to biology.

Of course, you don’t want to spend the next 3 years blaming biology for your little one’s short naps! 😉 So, what’s the cut-off point at which you can consider your baby’s short naps a problem to be solved, and not simply an indication that she’s just not ready for longer naps? Generally, if your baby is less than 6 months old, consider her catnaps normal, and a sign that she’s still figuring out how to nap. After the 6 month mark, though, if your baby is still taking constant catnaps, you can work on improving naps.

Why Does Your Baby Take Short Naps?

So, why do babies who are older than 6 months continue taking short naps? There are several possibilities, including…

  • …schedule problems. Ensure that your baby’s daily nap schedule is one that jives well with her sleep needs, and with her bedtime and morning wake-up time. Need help creating a schedule that’s optimized for sleep? Check out our suggested sleep and feeding schedules by age.
  • …inconsistency. Unpredictability in the daily routine tends to mess with naps, especially for babies who are sensitive to change. If your baby is napping at different times each day, or in different places, it will be even harder to help her take long restorative naps. If this is a problem in your home, work to establish predictable daily routines, and strive to make sure that naps happen at home, and not naps on-the-go.
  • …too much wake time between naps. It may seem like stretching your baby’s wake time will help him take longer naps (since, theoretically, he would be nice and sleepy when nap time rolled around). But the opposite is actually true; keeping your baby awake too long will make him overtired, which will, in turn, make naps even worse. You’ll know your baby is overtired by his cues; if he’s rubbing his eyes, yawning, looking glassy-eyed, and fussing (or possibly wailing), then he is likely overtired.
  • …sleep associations. This is probably the biggest reason why babies who are over 6 months take short naps. If your baby still relies on being fed or rocked to sleep, or if your baby needs you to replace the pacifier every time it falls out in order to fall back to sleep, then take this as a sign that your baby doesn’t know how to fall asleep on her own. And if she can’t fall asleep on her own, then when she wakes in between sleep cycles during her nap, she will cry. If sleep associations are a problem for your baby, then it may be time to consider changing those associations through sleep coaching.

Nicole’s Note:
“One of the most misunderstood facts about baby sleep, in my experience, is that waking is not normal. We ALL wake briefly between sleep cycles and a baby’s sleep cycles at nap time will be about 30-45 minutes. The key is not to wake ‘too much’ for something to be replaced such as a bottle, pacifier, breastfeeding, bounce on a yoga ball, etc.”

How To Lengthen Your Baby’s Naps

bss_ebook_7napmistakes_left-transShort or non-existent baby naps can be so frustrating – but you don’t have to suffer through them! We have a ton of nap resources – and one of those nap resources is our free guide, 7 Common Napping Mistakes. Are you making any of these common nap mistakes? If so, they may be the cause of your baby’s non-napping. So download your free guide today, and start putting the tips to use as early as your baby’s next nap!
Whatever the reason, rest assured that if your baby is past the newborn stage, then short naps are an issue that can be solved.

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Is your baby taking short naps? How are you working to solve the problem?

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51 thoughts on “Your Baby’s Short Naps Explained”

  1. Hi there. My baby turned 5 months a few days ago. Over the past month her sleep has progressively gotten worse. She only naps for 15-25 mins 3x/day and it’s hard to put her down and she wakes up crying from all three naps. At night she had progressively slept shorter and shorter amounts. Used to be 7p-7a with 1-2 wakes up. Now it’s at least 3-4 wake ups and no stretch longer than 3 hours. I thought it was just a regression but we are going on a month now and it’s not improving at all. Any advice?

  2. Hi! I have a four month old who lately has been taking very short naps. He goes down fine but then wakes up within 30 min or less every time. I have him in a dark room and do the eat play sleep method with him. He sleeps well at night 6-6 with one feeding in between. He isn’t fussy when he’s not napping but I feel like he needs longer naps! I’m not sure what to do. I’ve let him cry it out but after 20 min he still doesn’t go back down or he will be quiet for several minutes and then cry again. Any suggestions? Thanks!

  3. hello,

    My almost 8 month old has never napped for longer than 35 minutes at a time. He is taking 2-3 30 min naps per day, and only sleep 11 hours at night. Should I be concerned? We have tried all of your tips! help please!

    • Hi @Hannah –
      Thank you for writing to us! Sorry to hear that your baby is taking such short naps, even though you’ve been using our tips!!! At 8 months of age, your little guy should be able to lengthen those naps, but he might need more help from you!
      On average, babies at this age will sleep a bit more overall, and take longer naps. Please check out our free recommended schedules for more info on this, if you haven’t already:
      Getting longer more restorative naps is a good thing though, so don’t give up on continuing to work on those naps if you can!
      We’d love to help you through this Hannah! Please just contact us for more info about our free 15 minute evaluations or our one on one consultation options!

  4. Hi!
    I am struggling with our almost 9 month old taking only 20-30 min naps for the past 3 weeks, in addition to suddenly waking every two hours at night.
    He has self settled in his cot since 11 weeks and would previously take a 20-30 min nap, a 90 min nap and a 30 min nap, with 2-2 1/2 hours between! I have not been able to drop his afternoon nap as he never takes a long 12:30pm nap.

    He still falls asleep by himself in his cot, dark room, white noise, but will not resettle again after 20-30 min.

    Any thoughts..? He is definitely tired! And the overnightvwakings used to be 1-3 wake ups, feed and sleep 7-6:30am or 7am!

    I don’t know what to change!

    Thank you:)

    • Hi @Lani – Thanks for writing to us! Yikes! Sorry to hear that your baby is taking such short naps AND now waking so often at night! Since you mentioned this happening suddenly, you may want to check in with your son’s pediatrician, to rule out any illness or discomfort causing the waking. Once he gets a clean bill of health, you can then think about why he is waking like this now, and what to do about it to help those naps lengthen and to help minimize those night wakings! We do find that many babies at this age start to have sleep issues. You can read more about this and how to handle here:
      Good luck and please contact us if you need some one on one assistance!

  5. Hi,
    I have 6 weeks old, It’s difficult to make him nap. When I lay him down he wakes up after 15 – 20 mins.
    He sleeps during breastfeeding. Once i put him down, he gets up. he can nap once for 2 hours. To make him nap this 2 hours i take him on my chest or go on a car ride or walk in the carrier. Other than that he can’t nap.
    At night I managed to have routine and he can sleep 5 to 6 hours in a row then he gets up ever 1.5/2 hours to be feeded.
    Is this Sounds normal?

  6. Hi, I have a 3 month old baby and he only naps for 10-15 minutes several times a day but sleeps for 6 hours at night and wake every 2 hours to feed after that. Is this normal?

    • Hi @Wendy – Thanks for writing! Every baby is different, so there is a very wide range of normal sleep patterns where babies are thriving and growing and resting! At this age, short naps are quite common, but it may be a good time to work on helping him lengthen those naps a bit – 10-15 minutes is very short! You may be able to help him lengthen those naps a bit. And this sample schedule may help too:
      Thanks again for visiting us, and keep reading! : )

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