“What has happened? My baby has gone from sleeping up to three hours to suddenly only sleeping 20 to 45 minutes per nap!”
This stage of sleep is known as CATNAPPING and is developmentally normal, although extremely frustrating and tiring for parents.
Within the first few months of birth, it’s likely that your child is going to be spending a lot of their time catnapping.
However, this sleep pattern is incredibly light due to the fact that babies often remain in REM (rapid eye movement) sleep and have a difficult time transitioning between REM, light sleep and non-REM, deep sleep. This sleep cycle is considerably shorter for infants as it is only around 20-45 minutes, adults have at least two hours of sleep during this stage. The significant difference between adults and infants is that whenever an infant passes through REM sleep, they tend to wake up.
Whenever an infant is put to sleep via bouncing, rocking, or drinking, they can become more prone to catnaps.
This is due to the fact that whenever they wake up, they’ll try to find what helped them fall asleep in the first place. If we can teach our children to self-settle between sleep cycles they will learn to stay sleeping for longer stretches as they get older.
So to help your infant get the rest that they deserve, here are a few excellent tips to assist their sleep patterns.
Tips to help when your baby is a catnapper
- Infant catnapping can be incredibly difficult for parents, so try to set up a nap schedule and a sleep routine before your infant becomes overtired.
- Watch the baby, not the clock. Keep an eye out for your young baby’s sleep cues like yawning, eye-rubbing or staring off into space, to prevent overtired fussy babies.
- Feed your baby when they are hungry, and not because they have woken from sleep and need you to help them settle.
- It’s possible to fix short naps by not rushing in on them right away when they become upset after waking up. Try it.
- Don’t try resettling your baby for hours. If they haven’t resettled after about 10 minutes, it is not going to happen. You will usually know after a short time if you are going to be successful.
- Pick your battles. If your baby is very upset, pick them up and if you have to rock them to calm them, then do so. Try to do the last bit of settling in their cot though.
- Avoid letting your infant sleep in their swing. Although it’s fine if this is a rare occurrence, if done regularly, this can have a negative impact on their sleeping cycle.
Most catnapping in the early months is biological. Babies from eight months and older that catnap might do so due to sleep crutches (bad habits), no routine, inconsistency or constantly missing their sleep window (overtired).
One last point that I would like to bring to your attention is that if your baby frequently wakes from a nap and is inconsolable even after feeding or rocking and this behaviour continues, I suggest you have a doctor rule out any medical condition, such as colic or reflux.