Updated: Jul 28
Having a baby that catnaps is very common, although it can be very frustrating as a parent. If you have a catnapper, you know all too well how hard it is to get anything done in the day. You spend so much time settling them to sleep, only for them to wake a short time later. How are you meant to shower, do the dishes, put on a load of laundry, or even have a hot cup of coffee?
So, what is a catnap and what causes it?
A catnap is essentially where your baby only sleeps for one sleep cycle at a time during the day, so that means only about 40-50 minutes. There are a few different factors that can cause your baby to catnap.
Maturation of Sleep Cycles
At around 6-8 weeks your baby’s day time sleep cycles become more apparent and instead of drifting easily from one sleep cycle to the next they start to rouse at the 40-50 minute mark and can find it difficult to get back to sleep. At around 4-6 months your baby's night sleep begins to mature as well. If your baby was already a serial catnapper, then you may find around this age that they also start to wake more frequently at night. Their night sleep cycles change, and they can begin to wake every 2-4 hours where they had previously been doing 6 hour stretches or more. We know that if a baby has been consistently catnapping for an extended period of time they will have a build-up of sleep debt which will cause overtiredness, which in turn will make it harder for them to fall into a deep sleep and transition through sleep cycles.
This progression in their sleep is often referred to as the 4 month sleep regression as it seems that all of a sudden their sleep goes backwards. To make it easier for your baby to learn to link their sleep cycles and to be able to consolidate their naps and sleep overnight, you need to teach them how to settle to sleep on their own. If they are fed, rocked or bounced to sleep, when they wake, they will look for the same conditions to fall back to sleep again. This does not mean leaving your baby to cry it out. There are many gentle ways to teach your baby to fall asleep independently in their cot. Contact me today to find out more about gentle sleep training techniques.
Over or Under Tired
This is a very common cause of catnapping, especially for babies under 4 months of age. A newborn’s sleep is very disorganised, and they don’t have established sleep cycles yet, so if your newborn is having short naps it could be due to them being over or under tired when putting them down for their naps. A baby who is overtired will struggle to fall asleep and stay asleep. If a baby is under tired, they will simply just not be tired enough to sleep longer, no matter how hard you try.
To ensure neither of these are the cause of your baby’s inability to extend their naps, make sure you follow age appropriate wake times. If you find yourself in a cycle of catnapping, reviewing their routine will make a world of difference to help them get on top of their sleep debt and start consolidating those naps.
This is another common cause of catnapping in younger babies. If your newborn is only taking short naps, it’s important to rule out hunger. A hungry baby won’t sleep for long. This can be tricky if your baby becomes too tired to take a good feed. If you are at all concerned about your baby’s feeding, make sure you seek professional guidance from a GP, Paediatrician or Lactation Consultant to rule out any underlying issues.
Your baby starts to produce their own melatonin at around 8 weeks and this is usually when cat napping begins as their day sleep cycles become established. Where your baby sleeps has a big impact on their ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. Having them sleep in a dark room, with white noise and dressed in a swaddle or sleeping bag will make a big difference with assisting them to link their sleep cycles. Check out my 7 tips for creating the perfect sleep environment here.
If your baby usually sleeps well and suddenly starts catnapping it may be due to illness. If your baby is sick, they may begin to wake more frequently due to the discomfort of having a blocked nose, sore throat or an ear infection etc. If your baby is unwell, they may need a little help form you to get back to sleep. Just be sure not to get stuck creating any new sleep associations that you will need to change later.
Remember that catnapping in the early months is normal. As long as they are completing the full 40-50 minute sleep cycle then the best you can do is follow the tips above and gently encourage them to extend their naps by resettling when they wake, but don't stress if they don't. Once their sleep matures around 4-6 months they will be better able to learn how to link their sleep cycles.
If you need some guidance while working on your little one’s catnapping, get in touch.