How To Extend Your Baby’s Short Naps


extend short napsDoes your baby take short naps every time you put them down? 

Are you wondering if they’ll ever sleep for more than 20 or 30 minutes at a time?

If your child is under six months of age and taking short naps all day long, it may be frustrating, but it’s normal. Sleep patterns in this age group are still developing, and most infants thrive on short, frequentnaps throughout the day.

But… if your baby is older than six months and still napping for less than one hour – and especially if they’re waking up tired and crabby – now is a good time to start teaching them to connect sleep cycles and take longer, more restorative naps.

There are lots of reasons why babies get stuck in a cycle of perpetual catnapping. My article about short naps covers the most common reasons, which include sleep associations, environment, scheduling problems, underlying medical conditions, and inconsistency. Before you start to work on extending your baby’s naps, set your little one up for success. Make sure that the environment is dark and quiet, that naps are timed appropriately and that your child knows how to put themselves to sleep and back to sleep at night and at the beginning of their naps. Once these important pieces of the puzzle are in place, you’re ready to try one of the following strategies:

1. Anticipate, soothe, and reduce.

Anticipating your baby’s wake up, assisting them back to sleep, and then reducing your support over time is a good choice if you’re comfortable with making changes gradually. Go to your baby a few minutes before you expect them to stir and when they do stir, use physical touch and/or verbal reassurance to keep them from waking up fully. You may need to experiment a bit to find what works best for your baby.

A firm hand placed on their belly or some quiet shushing may be all they need to get through the arousal. If your baby needs more assistance, even if it means rocking or holding, that’s ok, too. Use what works as a starting point to regulate their schedule. Once they settle into a longer napping pattern, you can gradually reduce the amount of support you offer. Keep doing a little less every few days until you’ve faded your intervention completely. This approach takes patience, and the slower you go, the longer it takes, but it generally works quite well for babies that respond positively to the comfort that hands-on support provides.

2. Teach your baby to wait.

Some parents know that once their baby stirs and sees them, all bets are off. They’ll snap to attention, and no amount of soothing will help them fall back to sleep. That makes sense when you stop and think about it. Some babies may assume that mom or dad’s presence means that nap time is over and might get upset when they don’t get taken immediately out of the crib. If you think that your child might react the same way, try staying out of the room and teaching them to wait for you instead.

The idea is that once your baby becomes accustomed to waking up and waiting for you, they’ll begin to relax while they wait, recognize that they’re still tired, and put themselves back to sleep. Most experts recommend that you start by putting your baby down for their nap and not going back into the room for one hour, no matter what time they wake up –  but if your baby wakes up after, say, 30 minutes. You’re not comfortable leaving them alone for another 30. It’s ok to start with 5 or 10 minutes and work your way up to longer “waits” over time. Your baby probably won’t go back to sleep at first, but they should start drifting back to sleep over time. Plan on this approach, taking a week to ten days if you go by the one-hour “rule” and two or three weeks if you work more gradually.

Be sure that when you get your baby up, you’re sending a clear message. Open the blinds, turn on the lights, and greet your baby with a simple phrase like “Hello Sweetie! Time to get up!” You want them to understand that you’re getting them up because it’s time to get up – not because they’ve been fussing. This simple ritual, if done consistently, will help your child understand that important point.

Sweet Dreams, and Happy New Year!

Alison Bevan – Sleepytime Coach

Pediatric Sleep Consultant – The Center For Advanced Pediatrics


  1. That’s interesting approach to naps. I alway thought that you need to start sleep training with the night sessions. My sleep training guru – Susan Urban from says so and I never thought about it. Although your tip seems to be leading to CIO method while I try to keep away from crying it out of any kind.

    • thanks for recommending Susan Urban’s blog. Hold With Love method sounds very promising and I agree, every cry out based method in my opinion is barbarian…

      • I so don’t understand mothers using CIO just because it’s old and it worked before. Right, but we have better and gentler methods now, right? Like Susans HWL! That’s one of the best once I’ve heard about.

        • Exactly what I think! There are many things working for ages that we DO make better every day. Why not sleep training, right? I think methods like Susan’s HWL are innovative and fit better nowadays!

    • Gretta, I used Susan’s method just for naps, we’ve never had problem with nighttime sleep – I guess I’m just lucky about it or maybe it’s co-sleeping that I don’t want to stop yet. Anyway I think HWL method is great for whatever you need.


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