How to extend baby’s day sleep cycles

How to extend baby sleep cycles

Cat napping is cool for cats, but babies need more than just a few minutes shut-eye during the day to recharge their batteries.

If your sweet pea’s naps are short and not so sweet, there’s help at hand. Mum’s Grapevine sleep expert, Tara Mitchell says there are a few simple things to try to get babies resting for longer during the day.

Baby is finally asleep, so you go to hang out a load of washing, make a trip to the toilet, pop the kettle on and … wait, what’s that?! Is bub awake already? Again? Arrgghhh!!

Is your baby taking lots of short naps throughout the day? Is it taking you 30 minutes to get your baby off to sleep, only for them to sleep a measly 30 minutes to follow? Short naps can be tiresome, not only for your little one!

How to extend baby’s day sleeps

See my top tips below to encourage your little one to link their daytime sleep cycles and extend those short naps.

Set up the sleep space for solid sleeping

Make your little one’s room as dark as you possibly can: Darkness will ensure the serotonin they make while exposed to light will convert to melatonin, which will make him/her feel physiologically tired and encourage the extension of naps.

Implement white noise: This will help to block out any external environmental noises (such as dogs barking, traffic etc) as well as noises of the family moving about the house at sleep time. Play it for the entirety of the nap and choose a true white noise, not lullabies.

Ensure warmth: If your child is underdressed for sleep, there’s no doubt that they may struggle to link sleep cycles together as they are prompted to wake between cycles due to feeling too cold. However, we know that overheating a young child can be dangerous, so if you believe that your little one is dressed warm enough, skip straight past this point.

Follow a ‘Feed – Play – Sleep’ routine

Feed: Keep your little one’s milk feeds at the beginning of their awake periods. This will reduce the likelihood of him/her becoming drowsy or lulled during feeds and they will take in a more solid feed, resulting in a more solid sleep when it is due. Ensuring your little one is engaging with you throughout the feed and is 100 per cent wide awake is paramount.

Play: Encourage lots of busy, stimulating playtime right up until he/she is due to go down for their next sleep. Practice those skills needed to reach their next developmental milestone and play and explore together! Be mindful that little ones easily become lulled or drowsy in the car or pram during their awake times, which has the potential to make their next settle for sleep much harder.

Sleep: It really is so important not to wind your little one down before sleep. Getting them drowsy before putting them down makes for a much harder settle as their appetite for sleep has dwindled during that period of downtime. Your little one should go into their sleep space wide awake when sleep is due.

The truths of timing

Tired signs: Keep a close eye on your little one and try to pick up on any early tired signs they may be exhibiting. Catching those early signs and getting your little one off to bed before they hit an overtired point is crucial in seeing nap extensions come to fruition.

Awake times: Stick to an age appropriate awake time before popping your little one down for their sleep. Too much awake time before a nap or bedtime often results in a difficult settle and ends in a short nap.

Timing themes: Often babies will tolerate a shorter amount of awake time before their first nap of the day, slightly extending out those times as the day goes on, then pulling back short again before bed for the night.

Self-settling = success

‘Self-settling’ is crucial in helping your little one ‘re-settle’ between sleep cycles to achieve naps that are of reasonable length.

Self-settling: In order to expect your child to ‘re-settle’ between sleep cycles to achieve nap extensions, we must assume that they know how to ‘self-settle’ at the start of their sleep. Self- settling means that they have the ability to fall asleep from being wide awake, independent of all external measures.

External measures: Refers to anything that comes into play at sleep time, time and time again to get your little one drowsy or put them off to sleep. For example, if your child is using a dummy or being fed/rocked/sat with to sleep each time, when they reach light sleep at the end of each sleep cycle, instead of your little one just drifting through onto the next cycle, they wake looking for that same external measure that got them off to sleep initially.

Be mindful of your management

Allow some time: If your little one has woken from a short nap, unless you are concerned, allow him/her a short amount of time to see if they will independently drift back off to sleep. Often rushing into the room as soon as they wake will stimulate or awaken a little one further, when they may have otherwise drifted back off to sleep had they been given the opportunity.

Don’t entice the short naps to stay: Offering a feed immediately following a short nap or bringing baby into bed with you to try and extend a nap further, may in fact encourage short naps to hang around. Instead, if you have offered some time for your little one to drift back off but it has been unsuccessful, don’t fret. Get them up to start their next awake period with a short amount of play first, before offering that next feed.

Nap extensions can take some time to get on top of. However, if you can check off all of the above pointers, those extensions won’t be far away! We hope that helps keep those short naps at bay and you can start enjoying a hot cuppa again soon enough!

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Tara Mitchell is a Paediatric Nurse, former international nanny, mum and qualified Infant and Toddler Sleep Consultant, she’s also the founder of The Gentle Sleep Specialist – a place for families to get help for sleep issues. Resolving sleep issues, establishing routines, creating healthy sleep habits and managing behaviour at bedtime is what she specialises in.