Extending Naps

Short naps are particularly common with newborns during the first couple of months. Why is this when they are sleeping all of the time but in short little chunks of 30-45 minutes? Extending naps can be tricky and seem like an endless chore while newborns can be napping 6 or more times a day. Throughout my experience as a sleep consultant I always like to start with why. Why are these sleeps so short and why does a newborn have to sleep so often?

Newborns are born to sleep because they must for survival. Just like they have to have milk to survive they also need sleep to process everything they are taking in from this new bright world. Sleep allows the body to be able to restore, grow, and develop properly. Everything is new to them, and very stimulating.

They must sleep in order for their brain to process all that they are taking in, and this is why after 30-45 minutes awake they get tired and cranky. The world outside mama’s womb is exhausting! They are also growing and developing at a rapid rate. Think how quickly they outgrow their newborn clothes! This is the second reason they must sleep more often. 80% of a child’s growth hormone is released during deep sleep.

  • Newborn babies spend 50% of their sleep in REM sleep(filing all of these new discoveries and neural connections)
  • Newborns spend the other 50% of sleep in Deep Sleep(growing, restoring the body)
  • Sleep cycles for a newborn can range from 30-60 minutes long until around 12 weeks old.

Why is my baby waking up at the 45 minute mark?

If your child is waking up before an hour they most likely finished one sleep cycle and are unable to connect to the next one without assistance. Human beings all naturally wake up between sleep cycles(even as adults). Using self soothing strategies you can turn over and go right back to sleep and into the next cycle without even realizing you woke up. Babies however have to learn what self soothing strategies will work for them.

How can I extend a short nap?

Here are a couple of tricks to help support newborns in those early weeks of life.

1. Follow wake windows and sleepy cues.

Newborns can only tolerate 30-60 minutes awake. When you catch them before they are overtired, it helps them settle into a nap and get better quality sleep. Which in turn will help you to connect sleep cycles and extend the nap. Read more about how life changing wake windows are here.

2. Give them tiny windows to start figuring out how to soothe themselves.

This could be 30-60 seconds of lying awake in their bassinet or crib. As parents a lot of time we intervene too quickly without listening to the baby’s needs. If you hear the child in the night just wait one minute before responding(If they are hungry they will let you know!). One minute goes a long way with a newborn! They learn so much about themselves in 60 seconds of time.

3.Supported naps.(stroller, swing, car ride, contact)

I can hear people saying “but wait you’re a sleep consultant and you are suggesting bad habits?”. Yes, Yes I am! Supported naps are SO necessary with newborns. These little babies are coming from a warm, comfy, swaddled womb to the cold, very stimulating world. Being close to a human is essential and totally understandable. Soak up these moments because they are so precious. Sleep support isn’t what the world puts it out there to be. If you need support please reach out.

Tricks to extend the nap.

  • Use a pacifier
  • Start the nap in their bassinet and extend it with a supported nap. 
  • Gentle touch and voice.

Go in and gently talk to them, rub their belly and try to coax them back to sleep. A pacifier is also a great tool to extend a nap, as newborns sucking reflex instantly relaxes them. Worse comes to worse you can always start in their crib and to extend the nap you could use the supported nap strategies above.

One of the most important things to remember with newborn naps, they must sleep! It is essential for their survival and growth. Support and prioritize their sleep while giving them little windows of self-soothing and you will be on your way to an independent sleeper in the future. Around 4 months is when you will start to see a nap pattern really develop. If you are looking for customized sleep support for your family, contact us today. It is one thing to read all of this information and completely different to apply it to your baby’s life. We understand and are here to help! Schedule your free 30-minute call today!

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