There are many reasons why you would want your baby to take a longer nap.
For parents of newborns, a baby’s nap is the only time they have to sleep, and for parents of older babies, nap time is often the only time they have to get stuff done around the house or decompress.
Longer nap times are also better for the baby’s health and development, but sometimes babies just don’t want to do it. Whatever the reason, many parents wonder how to get their baby to nap longer, and while there is no magic formula to make it happen, there are several steps you can take to you’re your little one sleep longer.
Why do babies need longer naps?
It is essential to understand that while longer naps are important for parents to decompress and get some rest of their own, they are even more critical for the baby’s development.
There are many reasons why babies should be taking longer naps and there are also different definitions of long naps at different ages.
While adults see sleeping as a time for rest and recharging, babies use that time to work even harder. Babies do most of their growing while sleeping, so it’s important for their physical growth that they get the recommended amount of sleep.
Aids in brain development
Many studies link sleep to brain development in babies. It isn’t just about how the brain grows, but how it develops the bridges that connect the senses and the brain.
Animal studies have found that sleep deprivation in baby animals has led to poor development of the visual system because it interferes with the growth of a particular part of the brain that deals with vision.
A lack of sleep has also shown reduced brain plasticity, which is the brain’s ability to respond to its environment by changing its structure and function. This can ultimately lead to a smaller brain and behavioral and learning difficulties.
Cognitive function and temperament
Babies are tiny humans after all, so it only makes sense that they would see the same adverse effects of sleep deprivation that adults do. A lack of proper sleep affects a baby’s memory, which is incredibly important to someone who is learning as much as a baby is as fast as they do.
Sleep is also vital to a baby’s temperament. A baby communicates almost everything through tears, and it can get frustrating for a parent who just wants to fix it. Having a baby that is crying simply because they are crabby from lack of sleep makes things more challenging for parents.
What are appropriate nap goals for babies?
Every baby is different, but there are goals that parents want to shoot for to make sure that their baby is getting the sleep they need to develop. What to Expect suggests these goals for napping babies:
- 0 – 3 Months
Newborn sleeping patterns are so erratic that it is difficult to pin down the correct length for a nap, but they should be getting 16 to 17 hours of sleep a day.
- 3 Months
Babies should be taking 3 to 4 naps a day which should last between 30 minutes and 2 hours.
- 4 - 6 Months
Babies should be taking 2 to 3 naps a day which should last between 1 and 2 hours.
- 7 – 12 months
Babies should be taking 2 naps a day, 1 in the morning and 1 in the afternoon; each should last between 1 and 2 hours.
Parents who are having trouble figuring out how to get babies to nap longer may be at their wits' end.
Depending on the issue or issues that are keeping the baby from enjoying a full, restful nap, there are plenty of strategies a parent can use to help their little ones sleep more soundly.
Create a routine
Everybody has a bedtime routine no matter their age; it helps people decompress from the day and tells the body that it’s time to start relaxing for sleep. While most people only do it for nighttime rest, a baby may benefit from a daytime sleep routine before nap.
Each baby is different, so their routines will be different, but a few options are changing into new sleep clothing, reading a book, or maybe just spending some time lounging with mom and dad before going to their own beds.
There are two important things to remember about routines.
The first is that it's easy to get off track, so it's important to remain diligent with them. The second is that they don’t work automatically. As a parent, you're training your baby to react to the stimuli that you provide, so it could take some time before this works; however, parents usually notice after a while that their baby is going down easier and staying asleep longer.
Remove distractions and (most) noises
Everything is so new and wonderful for babies that something that we wouldn’t even think of may be a distraction to them.
Start in their room and work your way out to the rest of the house. You'll be surprised how many distractions to sleep there are in a home!
Visual distractions can be anything in the room that can catch your baby’s attention and not allow them to sleep, but it is most likely the amount of light.
This is a tricky situation, especially at naptime because too much light can prevent him or her from falling or staying asleep, but a completely dark room can leave him or her feeling scared and disoriented when they wake up.
Instead of using blackout curtains, try to opt for a middle ground of dark curtains that block out a fair amount of light but don’t darken the room completely.
Auditory distractions are the biggest offender, but noise can also be a sleep aid.
To help your baby stay asleep longer, parents should remove as many unwanted sounds as possible during their nap. If you have a dog that loves to bark, your pet may need to spend naptime in the backyard, or if someone is expecting an Amazon package, you might put a sign on the doorbell that says, “Napping baby, please don’t ring.”
Appliance noises like a dryer or dishwasher buzzers and bells are another culprit which may seem insignificant to an adult but could very well yank a napping baby out of sleep.
While jarring noises like barking and beeping are to be avoided, noise can also be your friend. Many experts suggest employing a white noise machine to help baby stay asleep for longer. The noise produced is a consistent humming that will drown out other noises, but is also thought to mimic the way it sounded in the womb.
Babies, especially newborns, are incredibly sensitive to everything around them, so something like a scratchy pajama can mean the difference between a few minutes and a few hours of sleep.
It is also recommended that the room be cool to promote the optimal sleep conditions.
Fill their tummies
Sometimes babies wake up from a nap because they're hungry, but that can be tricky depending on their age and sleep schedule. It may help young babies to make feedings part of their naptime routine.
For older babies, a snack or maybe some supplemental milk before naptime may be just what they need for a longer rest time.
Know your baby’s schedule
Babies change so much so fast that it can sometimes be hard to keep up. There are a few ways that a baby’s internal schedule may be off track. It's important to be able to identify these situations so you can remedy them.
The overtired predicament
Some parents may be surprised to learn that a baby who is too tired will have problems staying asleep. Pay attention to your baby’s sleeping cues and try to schedule his or her naptimes toward the end of their “awake window” or the times of day that your baby is awake and active.
If you're experiencing long windows of an overtired baby refusing to go to sleep or waking up quickly after being put down, The Bump suggests performing an “assisted nap.”
This strategy requires that you hold or wear your baby during his or her nap to keep them comfortable and keep them sleeping longer to break the overtired cycle.
With older babies and into toddler age, it may be that naps are shorter because it's time to start consolidating them.
Newborns nap a good part of the day away, but as they get older, naps need to be reduced and changed and parents may not be ready for it. If you're doing everything you can and your baby is still taking short naps, it may be time to lengthen his or he awake window and cut out a nap or two.
This takes a little more work on the parent’s part, but it may be the key in most cases to promoting longer naps.
Babies have shorter sleep cycles than children and adults at 50 to 60 minutes versus 80 to 90, and babies are lighter sleepers than adults. This means that babies are especially susceptible to waking up during that transition period and some babies have a problem soothing themselves back to sleep after that initial wake-up.
Parents can watch their babies for those transitions through sleep cycles and help them to transition by offering soothing sounds or touch like a pat on the back. As babies get older, they should start to be able to soothe themselves back to sleep. If not, parents can take steps to help their babies soothe themselves when the time comes.
Wear them out
A tried-and-true way to get kids to sleep deeper and longer at any age is to engage them in activities that use their energy. Babies don’t need any help in this area as their energy is being used by growing their brain and body at an exponential rate.
As they get a little older and that growth rate declines (slightly), they may have a bit of extra energy to expend. Depending on the baby’s development stage, this energy can be expended by looking at a colorful book, tummy time, playtime, or walking.
The long and short of naptime
There is certainly a lot to unpack when it comes to getting babies to sleep longer. There is likely a combination of reasons why your little one is having trouble taking a long nap.
The more parents and caregivers can do to create the best possible conditions for difficult sleepers, the better it will be for your baby. Once he or she is sleeping longer, your child will get the rest they need and you can have a bit more time to get things done.