Can the “Wake to Sleep” Method Help Lengthen Your Baby’s Short Naps?

Wake to Sleep method For Naps

An older, wiser friend once told me, “Baby naps are God’s way of saying to parents, ‘I love you. Now go take a shower.’” Pretty accurate, right? Most parents look forward to naptimes. Ahhhh… Those brief interludes when you can actually pause for breath, do the never-ending chores, or have a little “me” time.

Of course, when it comes to naps, not all babies are created equal, are they? Some of you may have babies who are marathon nappers. They may even provide you with hours of uninterrupted time each day to shower and eat and pay bills and waste spend time on Facebook. Some of us, though, may not be so lucky. You may have a cat-napper who never sleeps for more than 30 or 40 minutes at a time. She may always seem to wake as cranky and exhausted as when she started too. And even if your baby’s sleeping through the night, short naps can still be frustrating, especially if you’ve worked hard for those 30-40 minutes putting baby down in the first place!

Some people recommend the “wake to sleep” method as a way to extend short naps. But does it work? Can your baby’s short naps be lengthened with this technique?

What is the “Wake to Sleep” Method?

Tracy Hogg first introduced the concept called “wake to sleep” in her book Secrets of the Baby Whisperer: How to Calm, Connect, and Communicate With Your Baby. Tracy suggests in her book that a number of babies who wake frequently at naptime and at night are habitual wakers. That is, they’re waking out of habit, and not out of hunger or distress. According to Tracy, habitual wakers tend to wake at roughly the same time each night, and they tend to wake from their naps about 30 or 40 minutes after falling asleep.

Does this sound like your baby? If so, she may be a habitual waker. This would explain why her naps are so short, why she often wakes up tired and cranky, and why you just can’t get her on a nap schedule. She’s waking out of habit, and not because she’s actually had enough sleep. It’s not a coincidence, however, that it’s 30 to 40 minutes later. Your baby may not be able (yet) to transition to her next sleep cycle without your help, or she may not expect to be required to do it on her own. She wakes 30-40 minutes because that’s how long her sleep cycle is and some people can set a clock to it!

It’s important to remember that the “wake to sleep” method is used to solve the problem of habitual waking. Before using this method, it’s important to make sure that your baby isn’t waking out of hunger, illness, or discomfort. If you’ve ruled out those causes, however, it’s safe to try the “wake to sleep” method.

How You Can Use the “Wake to Sleep” Method to Lengthen Naps

The idea behind “wake to sleep” is that you’re “supporting” your child through the transition from one sleep cycle to the next. The first 20 or so minutes of a nap are light sleep, or REM sleep. After that, baby transitions into deeper, or non-REM, sleep. It’s during that transition period that babies often wake and aren’t able to get back to sleep.

With the “wake to sleep” method, you lightly rouse your baby (rubbing his back, making shushing sounds, gently tickling his feet, stroking his hair, or simply turning on the light and whispering his name, if he’s a light sleeper) before he begins that transition, and then you help him make the transition, gently easing him into the next stage of deeper sleep.

Should You Use the “Wake to Sleep” Method to Lengthen Naps?

At The Baby Sleep Site, we do our best to empower parents in their sleep training decisions and to remain judgment-free when it comes to offering advice. “Wake to sleep” is obviously a very gentle method that would support a no-cry sleep training philosophy. If you’re a parent with a very young (or newborn) baby, or if you have a strong aversion to any amount of crying, “wake to sleep” might be a good option for you to try. (It doesn’t typically hurt to try!) In those early months (when it’s too soon to begin formal sleep training, but you’re so tired you feel like you might fall asleep driving your precious cargo around), it helps to have every tool available in your toolbox!

One recent client shared with us that she successfully used this method with her son (before seeking our help with her nighttime issues) when he was 2 or 3 months old. He was waking from his naps after exactly 45 minutes of sleep. She said this:

“At the 40 minute mark, I would gently jiggle his Pack and Play so that he would transition from one sleep cycle into the other. I did this for a couple of weeks and it worked…Now, he rarely wakes at the 45 minute mark.”

For her, “wake to sleep” was a nice solution to her problem, especially since her son was still too young for formal sleep training. The “wake to sleep” method can be a good way to help your newborn nap longer.

Although this method works for some families, we generally don’t recommend using the “wake to sleep” method as a way to extend short naps. First, it is risky in that you may inadvertently wake the baby you’ve worked hard at getting to sleep! And, if your baby is anything like Nicole’s, the moment he saw you there, he’d be up! Second, if your baby is taking short naps due to a schedule problem, wake to sleep likely won’t work.

And finally, we don’t want to help our babies create any sleep associations that involve lots of work on our part, whether it’s rocking or nursing the baby to sleep, replacing a pacifier every 15 minutes, or easing the baby through every transition between sleep cycles. Ultimately, the goal is for your baby to learn to fall asleep and stay asleep by herself. Of course, all babies (and parents!) are different. What you mind “doing” at nap time, and how often you do it, will differ from another parent.

Furthermore, many people acknowledge that while “wake to sleep” can work, the results aren’t necessarily permanent, since you aren’t teaching the baby any new habits. You’ve probably heard the old saying, “Give a man a fish and feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and feed him for life.” This same principle holds true for many parents using “wake to sleep” to lengthen naps. The “wake to sleep” method may help you extend today’s nap(s), but teaching a baby good sleep habits will likely mean good naps every day.

How To Help Your Baby Take Better, Longer Naps (Once And For All!)

bss_ebook_7napmistakes_left-transShort or non-existent baby naps can be so frustrating! But you don’t have to suffer through them any longer! We have a ton of nap resources. 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 too-short naps. So download your free guide today, and start putting the tips to use as early as your baby’s next nap!

Special VIP Members-Only Nap Resources

bss_ebook_masteringnaps_left Mastering Naps & Schedules — For starters, all Baby Sleep Site® VIP members receive unlimited access to all our e-Books. That’s right! For the price of your VIP membership, you can read all our e-Books at no additional cost!

This includes Mastering Naps & Schedules. With over 45 sample schedules (all available for you to read in the VIP Members Area), Mastering Naps & Schedules is THE e-Book for tired parents of non-napping kiddos! We tackle all your top napping issues! Topics include how to get your baby or toddler to take longer naps, how to get your child’s naps to be more consistent and predictable, how to manage nap transitions, how to encourage good napping while traveling – and more! Become a VIP member today, and access the e-Book instantly. No download necessary!

Tele-seminarNap Audio Courses— Another great VIP members-only resource? Our audio courses. Hosted by Nicole herself! These audio recordings offer you insider information and our trademark sleep coaching philosophies, methods, and techniques. We have several awesome nap-focused audio courses, including one that’s all about lengthening naps! Listening to these mini-courses is like getting a coaching session from Nicole! She’ll walk you through the basics of dealing with common nap problems and give you tried-and-true strategies you can implement at home.

For more details about all our VIP member benefits (including chats with a veteran sleep consultant), visit our membership page. Consider becoming a VIP member today!

Personalized Baby Nap Help

While our VIP Members Area is great for DIY moms who prefer to tackle sleep challenges mostly on their own, we know that other parents might prefer to go straight to one-on-one help. Well, good news… We offer that! You can start getting the personal help you need NOW! You can teach your baby a new way to nap. And we can help! We’ve helped thousands of families around the world with their babies’ nap trouble, and we can help you, too! Take a look at our consultation packages, and see which one looks like a good fit for you.

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20 thoughts on “Can the “Wake to Sleep” Method Help Lengthen Your Baby’s Short Naps?”

  1. Hi,

    Iv been reading some of your articles online and someone mentioned googling ‘wake to sleep’ so I did. Reasons being I have twins and every night at the same time they start crying. Without fail same time, it doesn’t help they don’t sleep through the night either. I’m not sure what’s worse the newborn night feeds are this. They are 15months old would trying the sleep to wake be to late now?
    Thank you x

    • Hi Danielle,
      Thanks for visiting The Baby Sleep Site! You can certainly try wake to sleep at any age, as it’s a very gentle method with no real downsides. Based on your description of what’s going on, though, you are more likely to be dealing with a scheduling issue that’s causing the night waking. If you like, please feel free to email us at [email protected] with a brief outline of your babies’ schedules and what’s going on at night, and we can take a look! I hope this helps!

  2. Please help! My 23 week old son is finally “out” of his four month sleep regression. We recently transitioned him from a bassinet in our bedroom to his crib in his bedroom because he likes to sleep with his arms out and was waking himself up by hitting the sides of the bassinet. We typically walk/bounce him to sleep and are trying to STOP this! He is a BIG baby and it is a workout!! He catnaps – roughly 30-45 minutes, 3 times a day. Sometimes the last nap is a little longer. He usually goes down like clock work, every 1.5-2 hours. Please help us figure out how to make his naps longer. We are starting the pick up, put down sleep method.

    • Hi @Chelsea, thanks for writing to us! I am glad to hear things have gotten better with his sleep as you’re getting past the 4 month regression and beginning to teach him how to fall asleep on his own. To encourage you, it can take a bit longer for them to get the hang of naps, so know that even when you’re doing everything right, it can still take a bit to catch on. (Both of my son’s didn’t really get a good nap schedule down until between 6-9 months.) We do have a free guide available to help with naps that you can download here to make sure you are doing all you need to be doing right now:
      If you want more specific advise along with tons of sample schedules for your baby, you may want to check out our ebook, Mastering Naps & Schedules which you can read about and purchase online here:
      I hope this helps! Please let us know if you have any other questions!

  3. My son, 3 years old now, was exactly like this when he was small. He has always been good night sleeper but a tricky one for naps, he still is.. He would wake up from nap after 30 minutes, not 25 and not 35. My solution was breastfeeding. He would go back to sleep after that to complete 2 hours. When he had two naps a day, I would do this only in the morning, and just allow him to wake up for the second nap. In fact this breastfeeding was the very last one we dropped, when I was cutting him from my milk. And then when we cut it, he woke up for the frst two days then dropped that habit altogether.

  4. My daughter who is 11.5 weeks old is relying on the dummy to sleep. We are keen on weaning her off the dummy as we think it is disrupting her sleep. She has had it since week 3 as she needed it to help with Breastfeeding as she was a small baby at birth. We did not think to remove it once latching problem was solved as we did not have foresight that it will form sleep association. Now, she sleeps 20-40 mins during the day depending on whether the dummy’s fallen out. She rarely makes it past 40 mins. If we replace the dummy fast enough she might go on for another cycle, otherwise it is resettling all over again. The initial settling doesn’t take long. She asks for the dummy when she is sleepy and soon after she would be out. It is the resettling that can take up to an hour. So yes, I agree that settling and resettling require 2 different sets of techniques.

    In one of my mother’s group meetings, I asked the Childcare nurse if the dummy is the reason for the catnap. She seemed to think that the dummy is not really the problem here. I am sure hunger and wet nappy is not the problem as it was just not too long ago. As she naps poorly in the day she can usually only last about 40-45 mins awake.

    I am keen on helping her sleep better but I am also worried if it is too early to sleep train at this age as some literature have suggested sleep training at past 6 months only due to possible impact on their psychological development. I am no expert so I don’t know.

    I hope I can find some answers and encouragement here.


    • @ Lee — well, 11-12 weeks is fairly young, but you definitely can work on building healthier sleep habits! I’d recommend you take a look at our special newborn book, Essential Keys to Your Newborn’s Sleep. This is an awesome resource for parents of newborns – and there’s a whole section in their on pacifier use! Sounds like this may be the perfect resource for you.

      Hope this helps, Lee! Best of luck to you. 🙂

  5. @ Nicole Clancy — you ask really good questions here! Ultimately, there’s no “standard” method of getting a baby to take longer naps; what works for some won’t work for others. Sounds to me like sleep training was the trick for your daughter, and the same might prove true for your new baby. Of course, at 6 weeks old, he’s really too young for a set schedule.

    @ Christina — thanks for sharing this tip! Glad you found a solution that worked for you. I think many of the moms here can identify with doing whatever you have to do to get some rest when you’re pregnant with your 2nd (or 3rd, or 4th…!!)

  6. My son was a chronic catnapped even though he was great at independently fall asleep. I struggled endlessly and tried “everything”. The problem was finallly resolved when I feel pregnant and in exhaustion after his initial catnap I would lay down with him and sleep together for another couple hours. I was always against doing so before this time in fear of developing an unhelpful sleep association. But surprisingly this did not occur and my guilt turned to joy because after a while he stopped waking at the 20 or 45 min mark. Based on my experience, I now believe that settling versus resettling require different skills and helping with one is not necessarily at the detriment to the other. I hope this experience helps another mother out there struggling with similar issues. It certainly helped me with my second who also was inclined to catnap. I always helped her through the transition in whatever way i could (rocking, feeding, stroking, eyc.) and she quickly learned, needed and expected long naps independent of my intervention.

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