My Baby’s Naps are too Short! It’s Time for Nap Coaching

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  • October 18, 2012
naps are too short

naps are too short

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 of age, you can do a lot of nap coaching. But I want to just clarify how I would encourage you to do nap coaching.

How to Nap Coach

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. I 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 nap and afternoon nap. That’s assuming she has had a decent morning nap — least 45 minutes long. The third nap is not an exact science in terms of the number of hours but you don’t want our baby to be awake more than 4 hours between afternoon nap and bedtime. You need a total of about 3-1/2 hours for a six-month-old.

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. I don’t want you to start with nap training before night training. Nap training is much more difficult. If you’re putting her down awake 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.

RELATED: The Sleep Lady’s Nap Coaching Tips

The “Disaster Nap” — When Naps Are Too Short

Let’s say you put her down awake for her morning nap 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 disaster nap time. I would 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 she only had a disaster nap. For more nap coaching tips, check out my book, “Good Night, Sleep Tight”.

Video filmed by In Focus Studios

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  • qcsleitson says:

    I have 5 month old twin girls who were born a month early and sleep pretty well at night, usually eating 1 or 2 times between 6pm and 7 am, but we need some help with naps. They don’t seem to be able to stay awake for more than an hour, sometimes an hour and a half, without getting tired and ready to nap again, when I put them in their crib awake and they go to sleep quickly and mostly happily. Their naps are almost always between 45 minutes  and one hour. Roughly two out of every three days they have one nap that goes an hour and a half to two or more hours. Even when they have the longer naps they are ready to sleep again within an hour and a half, so they almost always have four naps a day. I would love to see them have three more consistent and meaningful naps. Should I stretch the amount of time I keep them up, even if that makes them really tired and cranky?
    Thank you,

  • JKH says:

    My 5 month old sleeps from 8pm till 2am (nurse) then from 2 – 4am (nurse), Then from 4:30 – 6:30am. He is awake at 6:30 but wont eat until 7:30  then go down for a 20 minute nap.
    The problem is in the day he wants to take at least 8 10 minute naps.  I have been nursing him – letting him fall asleep then putting him in the crib. After 10 minutes in the crib he will wake up.  At night he goes to bed on his own with no more that a few pats and comforting words from us in his crib.
    I don’t understand why he is doing well in the night but naps are a nightmare.

  • CDD says:

    Hi, Kim.
    My 6 1/2 month old is waking up almost every hour at night. Usually, we can go in and put her pacifier back in for her and she goes back to sleep on her own. Some nights she will sleep from 7-12 with only one peep but more often than not, she is awake every hour or two. There are also some nights where she will stay awake for an hour and a half to three hours!!  The other night she was awake from 2 a.m. to 5 a.m.!!  The lack of sleep is really affecting me and my family.
    She naps pretty well during the day. Two naps that vary from 45 minutes to hour and 15 minutes. Some days she will have a very short third nap if she acts tired. We have a bedtime routine and stay consistent with it. We put her down awake and she goes to sleep on her own. But what would be causing her to wake up so much during the night and what can we do to help her learn to put herself back to sleep?  We have tried letting her  CIO with timed intervals, however, she became sick during that week and we feel as if we are starting all over, We are kinda confused about what to do next.
    Any advice you have would be much appreciated. 

  • shannonpeters says:

    I need help.  I have a 4 month old that from birth he would only sleep in my arms or my husbands arms.  The first night in the hospital neither of us slept because he only slept in our arms.  Even the other nurses tried and that did not work.  We also have a 2 year old and we are very tired! 
    We have always tried to put him down tired but awake from about 8 weeks.  When he hit 3 months we decided to hit it hard because I would be going back to work in a month.  I would put him down drowsy but awake morning nap and mid afternoon and then bed time.  That third nap is never been any good.  He naps for about 15-30 minutes.  But at first he was mostly sleepy but then mostly awake.  Some days he would nap 1-2 hours for naps but 80% of the time he will sleep for 15-30 minutes before he wakes up.  I would pat and shh him until he would get quiet again and go back to sleep, but again another 15 minutes later and he would wake up.  He does this at night and during the day.  He is fed, changed, and swaddled. And has a paci.  He still wakes at 330-430ish to feed and is currently breastfed, but we have been trying to introduce the bottles as I go back to work in a week.  (bottles have been introduced for about a month now)  He is not consistent and 80% of the time he will not sleep longer than 1 hour, both during  the day and at night.  I can count a handful of times where he went 3-4 hours at night since he was born.  And most of those happened between 1-3 months of age. 
    Since he hit 4 months about 2 weeks ago, he does not want to be swaddled.  He breaks out of it all the time and will wake himself up.  She we tried one arm out.  That did not work.  It even has made sleep worse.  Now he will not go down for naps unless someone, mostly me, is holding him.  I have tried the lay him down awake stuff, but he will knock himself in the face and get mad and will not calm down, even a little.  He gets so upset it takes him a long time to contain himself and relax.  I have also tried buttoning the arms of the sleepsack closed so his arms cant get out.  That worked one nap.  After that he stopped sleeping.  We went back to one arm out after a few days because it was not getting any better and I have been keeping a record of naps so I could see any progress, nothing.  So since we have been afraid of him getting behind on sleep, we have been holding him or putting him in the swing chair that pops out of the swing or holding him.  But lately the swing chair does not work and plus he is getting to big.  He is 17 pounds.  If we cuddle him until he is completely out and lay him down, he wakes up as soon as we lay him down.  It has become very frustrating and I am not sure what to do.  I only get 3 hours of sleep a night because he has to be held or we try it in his bed but he only sleeps 30 minutes to an hour at a time at night.  Any advice or encouragement would be much appreciated as I am at my whits end 🙁

  • nessag_18 says:

    I have a 6 month old girl and an almost 18 month old girl and I am living alone with them. the thing I have the most trouble with are naps and bedtime. My youngest can’t fall asleep in her crib alone yet, and when I try to hold her for her to fall asleep for her naps, my oldest wakes her because she is either playing or trying to get me to play with her as well. My youngest looks very over tired by the time that I am actually able to get her to nap. I have to wait until my oldest naps, which is at 10am and 3pm. And another thing is, my youngest only sleeps for about half and hour to 45 mins if I am lucky. So in the morning she naps from 10am-10:30 or 10:45 ish.. then is awake until 3pm! is this way too long for her to be awake??? I don’t know how else to deal with both of them!! I need help!

  • breefawn says:

    nessag_18 That is definitely too long of a wakeful window 🙁 I suggest that you post your question on so that a Gentle Sleep Coach can help you 🙂 Good luck!

  • Bearhands says:

    My 5 month old has only ever had ‘disaster naps’ when in his crib. He wakes up wide awake at the 30 min mark and I do exactly as stated above (staying with him up to an hour) and he has never once resettled – never. I have varied his awake/activity times to see if it is over-tiredness or under-tiredness and absolutely nothing changes. It used to be possible to get him to take longer naps in the car or pram but it is even getting harder to get him beyond 45 mins like that now. He goes into the crib awake, falls asleep independently with no props. I’m at a total loss as to how to help him and am desperately holding out hope that this is developmental and some magic will happen at 6 months to help he transition through his sleep cycles. Is there anything else I can be doing?

  • breefawn says:

    Bearhands That is really frustrating! Your baby is still a bit young, especially since naps develop after nighttime sleep (usually around 6 months…so you are almost there!!). I suggest posting your problem on so that Gentle Sleep Coach can help give you ideas 🙂

  • Bearhands says:

    breefawn Ok thanks for that …. Is interesting that naps develop later & I suspected it might be a developmental thing, am just worried there is something I should be doing for him now to prepare him for that development without compounding the bad habits we’ve probably developed. Might just have to wait it out I guess!

  • breefawn says:

    Bearhands you are doing a great job! Don’t stress about sleep crutches right now-just do what works, as suggested in this, and hang in there. If you haven’t already, you may consider a membership to when your baby turns 6 months so that you can get right on sleep coaching 🙂