Naptime is the best time. Take a deep breath. Enjoy a silent house. Zen out. Do yoga. And then veg on the couch and binge on The Good Place.
Of course you know it’s not always like that. And if your little peanut likes to take short naps, you’re lucky if you even make it to the sofa before she calls out for you again.
It’s a problem.
Short naps are one of the most common headaches new parents deal with. But they don’t have to be your problem anymore. In this article, I’ll give you my top tips on how to get your baby to take longer naps.
Let’s get started.
Why short naps are such a problem
You already know how draining short naps can be.
…on your baby’s mental health and yours.
Short naps can wreak havoc on your baby’s nighttime sleep. And that traps you in a seemingly endless cycle. Sleepless nights followed by days full of choppy, interrupted sleep. All you want is a solid, two-hour nap.
When your baby is taking short naps, they tend to happen more often. As soon as you’ve finished a nap, it seems like it’s time for the next one.
It really cramps your style. When it seems like you’re always putting your little one down for a nap or getting him back up, it’s hard to get anything else done. And it can be isolating, too. “Hmmm… he’s almost ready for another nap. Better not take him out right now.”
Worst of all, the short-nap cycle makes you a little crazy. You’re madly researching baby sleep, tracking sleep patterns in Google Sheets, telling all your friends about “this one time” your kid slept for two hours while they nod approvingly.
You’d do anything to break out of the cycle and get your baby to take longer naps. Fortunately, it’s a lot easier than you might think.
Understanding the science of infant sleep
Let’s start by looking at the science of infant sleep. At birth, your baby’s sleep regulation system is still undeveloped. That’s why newborn infants tend to sleep at seemingly random intervals.
Over the first six months, infants consolidate periods of sleep and wakefulness, building up progressively longer sleep cycles. By about five months, most infants have reached a stable sleep cycle of 50 minutes.
The moral of the story? If your little one is napping for 50 minutes, she’s getting in a full sleep cycle.
… which actually is pretty much perfect.
So if your baby isn’t sleeping past the fifty-minute mark, don’t stress… she’s still getting in a quality nap.
But when your little one is consistently not getting in a full sleep cycle, you know something’s up. If naps are clocking in at 20 to 40 minutes on the regular, it’s time to take action.
Getting your baby to take longer naps
Your baby deserves a great nap — and so do you. And with a few simple steps, you can get there. The key to getting great sleep is getting the basics right consistently.
Pay attention to signs of overtiredness
You’ve heard it from well-intentioned friends and family: “Just let him tire himself out. Then he’ll sleep for a good long time.”
That might work for an eight-year-old. But for your baby? Not so much.
When babies stay awake too long, their bodies release excess cortisol, triggering a stress response. The result: another short nap… or none at all.
Instead, pay attention to your child’s signs of tiredness. When you start to see telltale signs — like rubbing his eyes, yawning, or becoming irritable — he’s primed for sleep. Get him down for a nap right away.
With time, patterns will emerge. You’ll notice a predictable rhythm to the times when he’s ready for sleep. And you can use those as the starting point for a regular sleep schedule.
Create a soothing bedroom environment
Darkness is your best friend when naptime rolls around. Darkness triggers the release of melatonin, a hormone that signals the brain that it’s time for rest. As part of your naptime routine, you’ll want to make sure to keep the nursery dark.
Install blackout blinds. Specifically designed to keep all light out of the room, they’re a perfect choice to create a dark, quiet space where your baby can sleep.
Opt for a dim nightlight that won’t keep your baby awake. One of my favorites is this moon nightlight.
And while you’re getting the nursery set up, consider a white noise machine. Studies have shown that many babies fall asleep faster in rooms with white noise. And it’s a great way to block out disturbances like traffic and barking dogs that can cause your little one to stir.
Eliminate sleep props
Teaching your baby to settle on her own is crucial. If she’s learned to fall asleep on her own, your baby will be much more likely to settle in for more sleep when she reaches the end of a sleep cycle.
Setting up a regular sleep routine makes things predictable and ensures that your baby knows when sleep is coming. Maybe it’s taking a bath, reading a book, or listening to some quiet music. Whatever you choose, go for activities that reduce stimulation and help your little one relax.
By going through this routine, you teach your child how to get settled for sleep. Create a shorter version of your full bedtime routine for naptime… something you can do in a few minutes.
Always put your baby down drowsy but awake. When you lay your baby down in the crib, make sure she’s calm and ready to settle down on her own… but not yet asleep. The key here is to allow your baby to fall asleep by herself. Do this consistently, and you’ll teach her to settle down on her own without your help.
Don’t reinforce early waking
One of the most straightforward strategies for helping your child get longer naps is surprisingly simple. When she starts to stir, don’t get her up right away.
Look at things through your child’s eyes. She’s just a few months old, bursting with curiosity. There’s nowhere she’d rather be than hanging out with you, taking in all the sights and sounds and smells around her. After a nap, it’s time to play. And playtime is awesome.
Of course she gets excited and starts calling out for you as soon as she wakes up.
Instead of getting her up right away, try setting a fixed naptime. If your child has been doing 20-minute naps consistently, start setting the clock a little longer each day, and work up to 50 minutes.
Be ready. She will cry. The first day or two when you don’t come to get her will be tough. Stay strong.
Before long, she’ll learn that naptime isn’t over just because she’s started calling for you — and she’ll learn to settle on her own.
You’ve got this
Every child is different. It may take some time before your little one gets into a naptime flow that works for him… and you. Be patient, and keep a Zen attitude.
But if you do the right things consistently, you’ll be crushing the naptime game before you know it.
Set up your kid’s nursery for naptime success. Get rid of the sleep props. And consider strategies like teaching independent sleep or a set naptime to help him learn to sleep longer.
You’ve got this. And if you need support along the way, I’m here to help. I’ve helped thousands of families sleep better — and I can help you, too. Check out my packages to learn more!