Last updated on April 4th, 2024

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Kim West, MSW, Mom of 2, creator of The Sleep Lady Shuffle

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Naps Are Too Short? It’s Time to Nap Coach My Baby!

A mom named Terra wrote in and asked the following question about her baby whose naps are too short:

“I have a baby sleep problem. My baby is almost 6 months old. I’m working on getting her 3 regular naps a day. What should I do when naps are too short? She will often wake up after only 30 or 40 minutes. She doesn’t always wake up crying and usually her eyes will pop right open and then she will stay there and play, suck her thumb, play with her lovey, talk to herself, etc. Should I go in and try to get her back to sleep or is she old enough that I should just leave her in there for an hour and a half each time whether she is sleeping or not? Thanks, Terra”

At 6 months-old, you can do a lot of nap coaching. Learn:

  • Overall sleep needs
  • How to nap coach
  • Drowsy but awake
  • The “disaster nap”

naps are too shortOverall Sleep Needs

I don’t know how well she is sleeping at night, but let’s assume that she is sleeping well during the night.  Maybe she’s getting about 11 hours of sleep at night whether it’s with a feeding or without a feeding and you’re watching those nap windows. You don’t want her to get too overtired.

Her daytime sleep windows are approximately 1.5-2 hours from wake up in the morning to morning nap, and then 2 to 3 hours between morning and afternoon nap. That’s assuming she has had a decent morning nap — least 45 minutes long. The third one is not an exact science in terms of the number of hours, but you don’t want your baby to be awake more than 4 hours between afternoon nap and bedtime. You need a total of about 3-1/2 hours of daytime sleep for a six-month-old.

Need more information about sleep schedules?
Read: Sample Schedules: Sleep and Naps From 6 Months to Preschool

The “Disaster Nap” — When Naps Are Too Short

If you’re putting her down for the first nap and she wakes up before 45 minutes it is not a “real nap”. It’s a partial arousal or as I like to call it a “disaster nap”. It’s enough sleep to take the edge off exhaustion but it’s not enough to be restorative over time and as you probably see, she is tired half an hour or 45 minutes later.

naps are too shortDrowsy But Awake

Hopefully, you’re putting your baby down awake at bedtime, because that’s essential. It’s the easiest time for her to learn how to put herself to sleep. If you haven’t been, begin putting your baby to bed alert. If she has a bedtime feed, you can change her diaper afterwards. You’ll just want to make sure she goes to bed awake so she can learn to put herself to sleep on her own.

Want to know more about Drowsy But Awake?
Read: Drowsy But Awake — The Cornerstone of Successful Sleep Training

Nap Training

Begin daytime sleep training after she is successfully falling asleep on her own. Then you can begin nap training.

Is your child resisting naps?

Get answers to your top naptime questions with our free guide!

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Let’s say you put her down awake in the morning and she takes a little bit of time to go to sleep. You’re either there doing the Shuffle or you’re doing timed checks. She puts herself to sleep and then wakes at that 45 minute “disaster” time.

Go to her, reassure her, maybe hand her her lovey if she has one. Don’t get her out of the crib. At this point, you can either stay and do the Shuffle or you can leave and do timed checks. It depends on what you think benefits your baby and meets your comfort level. I would try to do this for at least 30 minutes, ideally an hour. That can feel like a long time! More than an hour is way too long and very stressful for both of you.

So to review: let’s pretend that she fell asleep at 9:00, woke up at 9:30. I’d want you to try until 10:00 or 10:30 to see if you can get her back to sleep. If she doesn’t fall back asleep do dramatic wake up and get her out. The next nap will come sooner since the first one was so short. 

Want more tips?
Read: Nap Training: How to Get Good Naps for Good Nights


Author: Kim West, MSW, Mom of 2, creator of The Sleep Lady Shuffle

My name is Kim West, and I’m the mother of two beautiful girls, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has been a practicing child and family therapist for more than 21 years, and the creator of the original gentle, proven method to get a good night’s sleep for you and your child. My sleep journey began when I started experimenting with gently shaping my daughter’s sleep by not following the conventional wisdom at the time. After having success (and then more success with my second daughter!), I began helping family and friends and my step-by-step method spread like wildfire, exactly like an excellent night of sleep for a tired parent should!