45 Minute Nap Report
Why is it important for our babies to nap?
Day time naps for babies and toddlers are fundamentally important for their development, health and behavior.
Babies who don’t nap well i.e. their naps are not consolidated, (45 minutes or less all day) become tired and unhappy, they lose the ability to concentrate and may become fussy.
Tired babies can appear grumpy and they may lose the ability to learn new information, they are less tolerable of wind reflux symptoms.
Tired babies who consistently take short naps can appear colicky as they cry more.
But there is good news once we teach our babies to take consolidated naps longer than 30/45 minutes.
Naps longer than 30 minutes are especially important because after 30 minutes your baby is in a deep sleep (see chart below) and a whole host of benefits have been recorded by scientists.
Memory is strengthened
Immune system is strengthened
Bones and tissues are repaired
Appetite is regulated
Growth hormone is released
Energy levels are restored
Stress is reduced
After 1 hour or more babies get into REM sleep and we observe even more amazing things happening inside your little one.
Short term memory is transferred into long term memory
Newly learnt skills are secured
Brain connections are made
Vision is sharpened
Babies process emotions
Reduce stress levels again
Why does my baby have 45 minute naps?
When your baby was first born they were neurologically very immature, they had no sleep cycles and often either slept for long periods easily, or are very wakeful and content.
Between 6-12 weeks you might have started to notice these short naps (cat naps) emerge, your baby was beginning to develop their sleep cycles and their circadian rhythm was just starting to mature.
You can see below that babies unlike adults fall immediately into light sleep which is a restless sleep, your baby might twitch, or open their eyes occasionally, or move their head or limbs. They are asleep, they are just in a light sleep and are very easily woken. Avoid vacuuming at this stage!
After 15-25 minutes they will move into a deeper sleep, for some babies this is quite a jolt and if they are very over tired they will wake up crying at this stage.
If your baby is having 20 minute sleeps and then crying, they are very over tired.
They have probably been cat napping for a while and their sleep debt has accumulated and resulted in these even shorter sleeps.
As you can see below, after your baby has completed their 20 minutes of light sleep, they move into deep sleep. If they successfully make this transition they usually stay asleep for a total of 45 minutes. If they sleep for 35 minutes or less, this again is usually due to severe over tiredness. The above description applies to them.
After 45 minutes your baby’s sleep cycle has ended and they fully wake up. This is where the fun begins!
Some babies will always close their eyes and go back to sleep, others will cry at this stage and need your help to learn to go back to sleep.
It is developmentally normal for your baby to have 45 minute sleep cycles, but it is not the ideal sleep pattern for them.
If you can’t change this cycle try to ensure they are getting four 45 minute sleeps a day, rather than the usual 2-3 naps (depending on age).
My baby cat naps but sleeps really well at night..
We hear this a lot, that people can tolerate the short naps, due to long night sleep. This is great until you lose the consolidated night sleep and you’re left with fragmented night sleep and short naps.
Why does this happen?
As your baby’s sleep cycles develop to become 45 minutes long during the day, they are 4-6 hours over night. So your baby might just wake once a night to eat at the end of 6 hours and sleep through another 6 hours until morning.
Around 4/6 months old, their night sleep cycles change in length and level of arousal between cycles increases. Previously they might have only partially awoken at the end of a sleep cycle. After this 4/6 month change they will fully wake up and their night time sleep cycles are shortened to two hours long.
This means a lot of babies begin to wake every 2 hours at night.
Unfortunately the two are linked, short cat naps in the day and broken fragmented night sleep.
The solution is to tackle both at the same time.
Over tired or under tired?
Both being over tired and under tired can cause a baby to cat nap. Often the baby who sleeps really well over night early on is a chronic cat napper. This is due to being less tired or under tired during the day.
Perhaps mum is still following a 1 hour awake, 2 hours asleep rule, yet a baby who sleeps well at night just isn’t tired enough after 1 hour to consolidate their nap.
Their under tiredness is waking them up.
Conversely a baby who wakes frequently at night and has fragmented night sleep wakes up more tired than the baby who sleeps for long periods. This baby will easily get over tired. If mum is keeping baby awake too long throughout the day, then baby will struggle to link sleep cycles together due to over tiredness.
Getting the balance right, or even knowing which way to go – more awake, less awake time is a tricky balance, and one lots of mums struggle with this and are often surprised to learn what the answer is!
I suggest you try keeping a sleep log for 3 days.
Day and night.
Once you have done this, sit down and have a look at awake windows and see if you can see any patterns where you think baby might be over tired or under tired.
Looking for their sleep props…
Another point to consider when you are filling out your sleep log is how your baby gets to sleep. If they are reliant on a sleep prop like a dummy, or rocking perhaps, then often after a full complete sleep cycle your baby is looking for the same prop to get them back to sleep.
This is fair enough, your baby has no idea how to get to sleep without that prop, so looking for support is to be expected.
Depending on their age and your parenting style we can begin to teach them to settle to sleep more independently and less reliant on sleep props. This will naturally mean they are more likely to go back to sleep after a short sleep cycle, as they have that ability.
Teaching your baby to self-settle, once age appropriate, is one of the key factors in achieving the illusive naps longer than 45 minutes.
A lot of parents think that CIO (cry it out) is synonymous with self-settling, teaching your baby to self settle, doesn’t have to involve CIO, this is just one option just as no cry sleep training is an option. We can help you with either.
Our online sleep program covers a spectrum of strategies to teach self settling, and none of these are cry it out.
Case study 1
Juliette was 5 months old when her mum first phoned us. She had always been a cat napper and mum had believed her coffee group friends who told her some babies just take short naps. Although Juliette was a happy smiley baby, by 4.30pm she was grumpy, demanding and easily upset. She would not let mum put her down, she either needed to be in the front pack, or on mums lap.
The novelty of not being able to cook dinner until after 7.30pm was wearing thin and mum was convinced Juliette was tired and needed more sleep.
The motivator which really drove Mum to call us was that Juliette who previously slept 6-8 hours a night from bed time to 1/2am had begun to wake as early as 9pm, and then midnight, and again around 2 or 3am.
We looked at Juliette’s day routine and it was clear from mum’s sleep log she was spacing out her naps too far. Mum believed she needed to space out Juliette’s naps to fit with the routine her nurse gave her, which was sleeping at 8.30am, 1pm and 4.30pm. This meant Juliette was awake from 9.15am-1pm, as she never slept longer than 45 minutes. She was then awake from 1.45pm to 4.30pm.
Juliette was also dependant on her dummy to get to sleep, and was swaddled so had no way of putting her own dummy in.
Mum had resorted to feeding Juliette each time at night, as understandably she was exhausted and needed some rest herself. This increase to 3-4 feeds a night had meant Juliette was becoming fussy with her day time feeding, and mum was worried hunger was contributing to her short naps.
We discussed Juliette’s temperament and mum felt her determination and persistent nature would not lend well to no cry sleep training. We implemented sleep training with Juliette, gave her a new routine which addressed her night time reverse cycling and her over tiredness.
Together we came up with a night time strategy to get Juliette back to her usual 1-2 feeds a night, with the idea to drop them completely once she was established on solids.
Mum was nervous as she felt she had tried everything to tackle Juliette’s cat naps.
Within 2 days her morning sleep was more than 45 minutes, and her night sleep had consolidated back to at least 5 hours between wake ups. The next week was challenging, but saw her second nap consolidate and we weaned her off her swaddle. Juliette was taking 2 great naps a day, and 1 quick power nap before dinner. She was weaned off her dummy and swaddle and mum was elated that she was back to 5-6 hours between wake ups naturally at night.
Case study 2
Sam was 11 months when we stayed the day with him to help mum with his naps. He had cat napped since he was 3 months old, and mum had given up trying to fix it since he was 6 months old. He dropped to two naps early at 6 months old, but this lead him to sleep through the night so mum was happy with the status quo.
At 10 months he started day care as mum went back to work. The distraction of the other babies meant Sam would not settle some days until after 11am, this led the day care to advise mum that Sam should drop to one sleep a day.
So mum did; and Sam was napping from 11am – 11.45am, he still would not consolidate his sleeps. He was falling asleep on the drive home at 4pm, and was crying through his bath and bottle before bed.
He was unpleasant to be around, and mum was devastated that the only time she spent with Sam he was grumpy and difficult.
He then started to wake crying at 1am, and demand a bottle, then he started waking between 5-5.30am to start his day. Clearly over tired, but would not go back to sleep.
We see this accumulation of over tiredness causing night wake ups and early rising very frequently. The solution is to work on the cat napping.
There is no way that a 45 minutes day sleep and 10 hours of night sleep was enough for Sam, this was evident with his behaviour.
Sam could self-settle, but always woke up crying after 45 minutes. We established a new routine over the weekend, so by the time Sam went to day care on Monday he was at least back to having 2 naps a day. It took Sam another 7 days to extend his second nap beyond 45 minutes, but he now sleeps for 1.5 hours in the afternoon and has stopped his early wake up and his night bottle.
Mum is much happier that Sam is happy when he comes home from day care, and they get to spend quality afternoon’s together, not grumpy unpleasant ones.