Before trying to extend a nap, first make sure you have read over the post Short Naps and have ruled out some of the common causes of short naps (hunger, over tiredness, light etc.). Take note that if a baby has slept for 30 minutes or more the chances of him
falling to sleep again are decreased (especially unassisted) because he has had some of the tiredness "knocked off".
How to extend a nap
- As a mini-nap is nearing it's end you can attempt to go to your baby and soothe him back to sleep. You can either go in shortly before your baby normally awakens and begin the soothing routine, or go in as soon as you hear your baby awaken. It is sometimes better if a dad rather than a breastfeeding mom does this as baby may smell mom's milk and want to eat (even if he isn't very hungry). Also, this method is sometimes stimulating to a baby rather than soothing, it just depends on your child's personality. How will you know the mini nap is coming near an end? Well, if your baby is waking up after the first sleep cycle (see Sleep Transitions) then most likely you will have figured out, almost to the minute, how long your baby will sleep before arousing. If your baby is waking up at random times, then listen in for arousal sounds of your baby. The soothing method you choose do do depends on you and your baby's preferences. You could do the shush-pat, hold your baby quietly, rock your baby, do part of your wind down routine, place a hand on your baby's back and offer comforting words or whatever seems to work for you. Sometimes all baby needs is a firm hand on his tummy/back as he goes through the sleep transition to prevent his body from jolting awake.
- You can put your baby in the swing (if he likes it and it is soothing to him) to help soothe your baby back to sleep. If you want the swing to work, you need a decent one or baby will just be uncomfortable or aggitated. IMO, this is the best one out there right now.
- You may want to try The Baby Whisperer's method of shush-pat, wake to sleep or P.U./P.D. (if over 3 months of age and shush-pat doesn't work).
- You may leave your baby to CIO (well, some babies may actually play instead of cry at this time) when they wake early from a nap in hopes that they will eventually be able to put themselves back to sleep and no longer fully awaken when they reach light sleep. Generally, the less time they sleep during a nap before awakening the more time you should leave them alone to CIO after the awakening. How long should you let them CIO? This depends on which method of sleep training (see index) you choose to follow and what you are personally comfortable with. Generally, if baby isn't asleep after 20 minutes, he won't be falling back asleep. Make sure your baby doesn't have any needs such as hunger or gas when attempting this and that you are not expecting too much from your baby (e.g. 3 hour naps).
- I am generally not a fan of doing CIO at this time (at least not for more than a few minutes) for very young babies because with many young babies it doesn't work very well and can even take months to work. Often, if you soothe baby back to sleep he will over time (assuming you are putting baby to sleep awake) be able to make it through this sleep transition by himself. If not, you can try some form of CIO to lengthen naps when he gets a bit older. Four to six months is a common time that many babies start to extend out their naps, either on their own, or with some form of sleep training. So this is a good time to try out CIO for short naps either for the first time, or again if the first time didn't work. If it doesn't work at this age, then wait a while longer and try it again. The right timing (which trial and error helps you figure out) is often all you need to end this "problem" in a matter of days.
- If you are trying to stick with a schedule like eat/wake/sleep you could 1) leave your baby until the next feeding time (he may stay happy or you may have to do CIO--see above) or 2) get him up and either shorten your routine for the day (go to 2.5 hours instead of 3.5 hours etc.) or 3) play with him for a bit then put him back down for a short nap after which you feed him and start your routine over again. Keep in mind that babies that are awake instead of sleeping are probably going to get hungrier sooner, especially if they breastfed and by their food source--good ole mom.
- If you normally get your baby from a nap after so much time, sometimes leaving him to sleep as long as he wants for all naps for a few days can 1) help make up some sleep debt and 2) help him get out of a troublesome waking pattern with naps.
- You can leave baby for a few minutes to see if he'll go back to sleep by himself. If he doesn't, then you can go in and help baby go back to sleep. This method's effectiveness depends on the baby. Some kids will become wide awake and not easily go back to sleep if they try (and fail) to go back to sleep by themselves.
Something to keep in mind
Extending a nap doesn't always work. As it mentions in the short nap post, some babies are simply short nappers. There are also quite a few babies that have a hard time with nap transitions (going from one sleep cycle to the next) while they are young but are able to get through them on their own when they get older (often closer to 6 months of age), which allows them to sleep a longer stretch.
If your baby is able to sleep a long stretch when you help him out (hold him, use a swing, are on a car ride), then I wouldn't consider him a chronic short napper. He has the potential right now to be a long napper, he simply has a hard time with sleep transitions on his own. You can help him get through the sleep transitions by using the methods above. Keep in mind that this isn't always successful. Sometimes you have to try these methods out again when baby is a bit older. And remember that consistency makes all the difference :)
Don't get too worried if you have to use some sleep props (swing, etc) to help your baby take a long nap right now. Yes, it would be great if baby could do it on his own, but right now, the most important thing is a good sleep. And often, the naps will extend on their own without any interference from you when baby gets older (assuming baby can fall asleep on his own). IF your baby is older than a few months of age, you may want try a more aggressive method listed above (cio) to see if it helps baby take a long nap without a sleep prop.
If your baby is a short napper no matter what you do, please try not to stress out too much about this. I know it is frustrating, I know it makes you daily schedule hard, but if you can't do anything about it, then you have to try to accept it and be happy with it. Fighting it and being upset about it just makes things harder. I know, I've been there!
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Short Naps aka waking early from naps