Ahhh, baby naps. When they're good, they're great. You get a break, maybe get some chores done, or even sneak in your own well-deserved snooze. Not to mention the sweetest baby you ever did see smiling ear-to-ear when he wakes up. But what about when your baby's naps aren't good? And let's be honest, this happens a lot more than you'd care to admit. Just when you think your baby is the best little napper there ever was, suddenly those naps never last past 45 minutes anymore! She's cranky, and so are you. It's called the 45-Minute Intruder.
Instead of just resigning to the fact that your baby will only take short naps from now on, you need to figure out how to fix it. We're going to help you with that! So let's find out more about what the 45-Minute Intruder is, why it happens, and how you can get your baby's naps back on track.
What is the 45-Minute Intruder and how does it affect my baby's sleep?
The 45-Minute Intruder is a term that's used for baby naps that are far too short...often never going much past that 45-minute mark. According to BabyWise, it usually happens after 8 weeks of age and peaks around six months. Something is causing your baby to wake prematurely, but what is it? We'll get to those reasons in a minute.
You might be wondering why it matters if a baby's naps are only 45 minutes long.
In our article, "Newborn Sleep Patterns and Schedules for the First Year," we lay out what kind of sleep pattern you can expect your baby to follow at each stage until the age of one. We included possible schedules to use as a guideline to ensure your baby is getting the sleep they need. We also discuss the need for full naps - and those are typically 1.5 hours or more (unless it's an extra evening catnap).
Naps are an important part of your baby's sleep because they contribute to the overall total your baby needs within a 24-hour period. Because sleep is crucial in both your baby's cognitive and physical development, it's important that they have enough time to get restorative sleep. If your baby is only sleeping for 45 minutes and waking up fussy, this is a clear sign that they are still tired and needed to sleep longer. But you can't force them to sleep, so what is there to do?!
This is the point that many parents just throw their hands up, accept that they have a short napper, and go on with making their sleep-deprived little one making them as happy as they can.
But this is considered a "sleep problem" that you need to fix. By recognizing the reasons that it may be happening, you'll be able to correct it and turn your baby back into a napping pro.
Top Reasons for the 45-Minute Naps
Of course there are the random reasons that your baby might wake early occasionally...a loud noise startles them, they dirty their diaper, or they aren't feeling well. That's just going to happen from time to time.
What we want to highlight here are the top reasons the 45-minute intruder seems to occur nap after nap, day after day.
Problem: Hunger/Growth Spurt
You already know that babies eat a lot, and they may suddenly need to eat more! The first thing you'll want to do if your baby starts waking up from naps early is feed him! It's very likely that he's going through a growth spurt and is feeling extra hungry. You'll know this was the culprit if he takes a full feeding.
Did you keep your baby up too long before their nap? Did they not get enough sleep the night before? If so, they are probably exhausted by the time nap time rolls around. You would think an extra tired baby wouldn't cause them to wake up early, but unfortunately that's not true. According to Dr. Brown's, this happens because a stress response is activated in the midst of becoming overtired, and that makes it harder for baby to settle and stay asleep.
Not tired enough
Perhaps you have somewhere to be later which means you need to move up your baby's nap time in order to fit it in. Or maybe you've always put your baby down a the same time every day so you lay them down then whether they show sleepiness cues or not. What happens sometimes in these circumstances is that you're requiring a baby to fall asleep when they're not actually tired. They probably have not had enough wake time and stimulation to warrant a nap yet. A short nap is what results.
Babies' brains and bodies are in constant overdrive. The amount of growth that takes place in their first year is truly amazing. Milestones like learning to roll over, sit up, or crawl can all be responsible for waking your baby up too early.
Remember that we said the 45-Minute Intruder is most noticeable between 8 weeks and 6 months? Well, guess what else happens during this time frame? The 4-Month Sleep Regression. We go in-depth on this big sleep buster in our article, "Getting Through Your Baby's 4-Month Sleep Regression" if you want to know all about it. But in a nutshell, your baby is moving into more mature sleep which causes them start going through more sleep cycles. Waking up around the 45-minute mark during this stage is very common.
Babies' sleep needs change so much through the first year that it can be difficult to pinpoint the reason when a "sleep problem" pops up. We know you want the best for your baby, and part of that is helping them get the amount of sleep that they need. Next up we have our best tips to fight that annoying 45-Minute Intruder and get your baby napping well again.
Stopping the 45-Minute Intruder
OK, so now for the good stuff you've been waiting for...how to stop the 45-minute intruder from sneaking in and stealing away your baby's precious sleep.
Make sure your baby is getting plenty to eat. Your baby's hunger needs can change on a dime. Some of the most common growth spurt times that coincide with the 45-Minute Intruder time period are 4-6 weeks, 3 months, 4 months and 6 months. But, every baby is different! And when your baby has a growth spurt they'll be hungrier. We always recommend that you feed your baby first with the 45-minute intruder. Once fed, you should lay them back down for their nap with a full tummy. If they aren't taking a full feeding, chances are this isn't the issue.
Establish a proper sleep routine. It's likely you've already established a great sleep routine, in which case, our biggest recommendation is to stick with it! Your baby is much more likely to get back on track if you continue to follow your routine that shows your little one that it's time to sleep. Those cues matter a lot and when you keep doing it no matter what, your baby will realize that "Mom means business!" Not sure what to include in a sleep routine? We suggest reading this article where you'll find out how weighted wearable blankets, white noise, and a dark room are all parts of a great routine.
Relax your baby before nap time. When your baby is showing signs of being overtired or overstimulated, you'd think laying them down ASAP would make the most sense. They're fussy and exhausted after all! But the problem here is that these are stressors which can increase your baby's level of the stress hormone, cortisol. When your baby gets worked up it makes it harder to fall asleep and even stay asleep. Getting them relaxed and calm before you lay them down is important.
One of the best ways to do this is to use a weighted swaddle or sleeping bag from Dreamland Baby. The weight within is like a hug for your baby that increases melatonin and serotonin which helps your baby sleep better.
Rethink your baby's schedule. If your baby is showing signs of overtiredness or under tiredness, it's important to look objectively at your baby's entire schedule. Putting your baby down a little earlier for bedtime can make her daytime naps better. Making wake time go a little longer or making it more stimulating will ensure you're not requiring your under tired baby to take a nap. If your baby does seem consistently under tired at naptime, it might mean you need to wake your baby up earlier to start the day or perhaps they're ready to drop the third nap (which is common at this age time frame).
Let them settle themselves. Your baby may go through a period of 45-minute naps, but it's not here to stay if you don't let it. If you immediately go in as soon as they fuss, they will continue to expect that. On the other hand, if you give them the opportunity to put themselves back to sleep, often times they do. This is part of sleep training, and this is the perfect time to start implementing it. We give you all the tips you need in our Sleep Training article.