By Kristy Griffiths
If you are a parent, you will more than likely be familiar with the term catnapping, and equally familiar with just how frustrating it can be!
Just because your baby loves power naps instead of long stretches, doesn’t mean you have to put up with it. There are things we can do to get those unicorn two-hour naps happening, and it doesn’t have to be as stressful as you think.
Before we discuss how to fix those pesky 40-minute naps, it’s good to understand why catnapping occurs. From around 12 weeks, babies start to produce their own sleep hormones and their sleep cycles change to reflect more adult-like cycles. This means they will transition between deep and light phases of sleep roughly every 40mins during day sleeps and every two to four hours during the night. While you’re probably not as aware of the night cycles, the 40-minute cycles during the day can start to wreak havoc with your sanity once bub hits the four-month mark.
So why do they wake at the end of a sleep cycle?
Well, there are three reasons.
1. You are more than likely assisting your little one to sleep, by rocking, feeding etc. (which is absolutely ok by the way) then placing them down in their bed to nap. At the end of their sleep cycle (around the 40-minute mark) when they start to reach the light phase of sleep, they will have a partial wake and look for this same prop again to assist them back to sleep. But most parents can find it tricky to resettle again as the drive to sleep isn’t as high off the back of the nap compared to when initially settling.
2. The second reason we commonly see catnapping is when a baby can 100% self-settle, but still hasn’t developed the ability to resettle. As mentioned before, it is much harder to resettle after already having some sleep under your belt, but also because the resettle is a completely different skill to self-settling.
3. The third reason you may be finding cat napping occurring is if your baby’s awake windows aren’t quite right. You may need to tweak them to ensure they are age appropriate and there is enough sleep pressure for your little one to clock up a lengthy nap.
Now the million-dollar question:
How do we fix a catnapper?
Whilst catnapping works for some families, for most it can become unsustainable, and many families notice their babies are much happier (and so are they) when they are getting consolidated sleep. It also makes it much easier to achieve a consistent routine when bub isn’t having sporadic naps, so parents find this works better for them.
So, how do we encourage these two-hour naps that parents dream of? First off, we want to teach our little ones the skill of falling asleep independently, a.k.a. self-settling. This can take some time, but it is only normally a couple of days and is so worth it.
1. Understand age-appropriate awake windows. This means understanding when your little one is ready for sleep and getting them down before they become overtired.
2. Create a conducive calm and relaxing sleep environment by removing any stimulation. You can do this by using white noise and ensuring the windows do not allow any natural light in.
3. Remove any sleep associations with a settling method by removing any exterior methods that involve yourself, such as shooshing and patting, and replace them with comforters such as blankets or music that indicates to your baby that it’s time for rest.
With these three factors in place, you should be well on your way to ensuring your little one can master the skill of self-settling. Once bub can confidently self-settle, we are going to want to teach them how to resettle which is what babies learn to do when they wake from the initial sleep cycle. This takes a little more time and a lot more patience than teaching them self-settling.
Tips for resettling:
1. Be consistent (and patient). It won’t happen immediately, but with time it will get easier. Once your baby is self-settling, you’re halfway there to resettling.
2. Pick up and put down ensuring your little one is resettled before trying to leave the room or sit quietly, without making eye contact, with your hand gently on their chest.
3. Follow through for at least 30 minutes. If crying escalates, pick them up and try again at the next nap; there is absolutely no reason to stress yourself or your little one through this process.
As sleep consultants we do find it much easier to work on resettling after five months of age. Before this time it is a little tricky as sleep cycles are still maturing so you may feel like you are banging your head up against a wall trying to lengthen those naps.
When teaching your little one to resettle, you want to use a similar settling method to the one that you used when teaching the self-settle method as your baby will be familiar with this. Keep in mind that this time, they will already know how to sleep independently so they may require a less hands-on approach and a little more space than they did before.
I recommend using a video baby monitor like the CuboAi. This will allow you to confidently watch on and see if your little one does need some assistance to resettle or if they are just rolling around and trying to get comfy, transitioning into another sleep cycle. If we offer that little bit of space and don’t rush in and stimulate them, this is often where the magic happens!
Teaching a little one to resettle and consolidate sleep cycles can take around two to three weeks of consistency. Try for 30 minutes once a day. We recommend working on the lunch nap.
Over this period, you will start to notice the resettle time get shorter and shorter as your baby is given the opportunity to try and resettle and is learning the behavioural pattern of going back to sleep as opposed to getting up.
Mother to three girls, Kristy is a certified child and infant sleep expert and CuboAi ambassador.