Why is My Baby Taking Short Naps? Tips and Insights
Updated Jan 4th 2023 | 8 min read
Updated Jan 4th 2023 | 8 min read
Written By Mandy Treeby Chief Baby Sleep Consultant
Naps are special. They’re the secret sauce of great sleepers – because it’s what happens during the day that sets you up for overnight sleep success. Plus naps are precious moments when we, the parents, can catch up on other duties, catch up on sleep, catch our breath… But naps are also sometimes unpredictable: one day your baby’s napping well, the next their nap is basically non-existent. So, why is your baby suddenly taking such short naps?
This article will outline a few reasons your baby’s naps may be shorter and the simply ways you can get your little one’s sleep back on track.
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If you’re looking to get naps on track and don’t know where to start, check out the Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers™. Aside from step by step sleep training, it has a realtime sleep schedule that updates as you track naps – so you can get sleeps in line with your baby’s biological rhythm, which makes falling asleep easier and helps your baby stay asleep longer!
There are three primary or likely reasons your baby’s nap may suddenly be shorter:
One of the biggest reasons your baby’s naps may suddenly be shorter is that they’re ready to drop a nap.
As babies grow out of their newborn stage, their sleep becomes more organized. At that point, around 2-3-months, they’re taking about 4-5 distinct naps a day.
But a baby’s wake windows naturally lengthen as they age. That means your growing baby may no longer need 4-5 naps a day. They need to drop a nap, or nap transition.
As an easy nap transition reference, here are the months when babies typically nap transition:
Nap transitions largely occur naturally and on their own – your baby simply stops taking one of their naps or their nap is far shorter. That’s how it happens around 3-4 months, when your baby will shift from 5 naps to 4 naps. Typically, they will drop their last nap of the day.
If your baby is clinging to that nap or you want them to nap transition a bit faster, you can remove that nap from their schedule and move your bedtime routine up 20-30 minutes for a few days, until your baby’s schedule and mood settle.
For more information on how to drop naps and how to successfully nap transition, read our articles on dropping naps
At this point many babies naturally drop their fourth by taking a longer mid-day nap. Again, this typically happens naturally, but if your baby seems ready for the 4-to-3 nap transition, you can remove that nap and try to lengthen their mid-day nap.
When dropping a nap, shift bedtime earlier for a few days to help bridge the transition. An earlier bedtime is always better than an extra nap!
You may notice around month 7 or 8 that your baby is more alert in the morning and awake longer before taking their first nap of the day. They'll also be awake for longer before their next nap. When you start to see this, it's time for the 3-to-2 nap transition.
If your baby is fussy after that 2nd nap, move bedtime up 20-30 minutes for a few nights. This usually helps babies adjust to this nap transition.
As with all nap transitions, your baby will likely take the lead here either by staying awake past their morning nap or skipping their afternoon nap. As with previous nap transitions, adjusting your baby's bedtime can help limit fussiness and other nap transition hiccups.
This transition is often the hardest one – you'll need to be flexible with an earlier bedtime as this nap schedule solidifies.
To nap transition, you remove the dropped nap from your baby’s schedule.
To prevent major sleep disruptions – and crankiness – move your baby’s bedtime up 20-30 minutes for a few nights to give them time to adjust.
Sleep regressions are brief moments when your baby has been sleeping well but suddenly starts waking up at night.
While “sleep regression” is the formal name, we like to call them sleep progressions. That’s because sleep “regressions” coincide with a baby’s milestones, like learning to sit up or walk, so these “regressions” are positive signs your baby’s progressing.
As welcome a sign as a sleep progression is, they can be frustrating – though are easy to manage them and prevent nap wakeups.
Here are three tips for minimizing your baby’s sleep regression:
Download the Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers™: Simply provide this easy-to-use app with some basic information about your baby and their current sleep, and the Smart Sleep Coach will create a sleep schedule that provides your baby the sleep they need, adjusts as they age, and alerts you when a wake window is closing – all so you and your family can focus on making memories, not watching the clock.
Every baby is unique, and experiences sleep regressions at their own time, but there are some months when you can expect a few nighttime disruptions.
4-Month Sleep Regression: The first big sleep regression happens when your baby is learning to roll over and grab things.
6-Month Sleep Regression: Around now many babies are sitting up, teething, and learning to mimic you - huge developmental milestones that can distract from sleep and cause a sleep regression.
8-Month Sleep Regression: Improved motor skills and a new sense of object permanence, can lead to some sleep regressions around 8 months.
12-Month Sleep Regression: Around your baby’s 1st birthday they may be standing, cruising, and/or experiencing normal separation anxiety – all of which typically leads to a sleep regression around 11 or 12 months.
18-Month Sleep Regression: Separation anxiety, increased self-awareness, and teething are the most common causes of the 18-month sleep regression.
24-Month Sleep Regression: Finally! Your baby's last sleep regression coincides with their second birthday - a big gift for you after these past months of periodic sleep adjustments. Now it's relatively smooth sailing on the sleep front: 1 nap until your baby is between 3-5 – which means you get more rest, too. And you’ll need it: your baby is now a toddler. Lace up those sneakers and prepare to keep up!
Being overtired can wreak havoc on your baby’s sleep schedule. It can lead to early wakeups, bedtime protests, and, yes, shorter naps.
A baby becomes overtired when their sleep schedule and circadian rhythm are thrown off balance, and to fully understand this we have to briefly explain the science behind your baby’s sleep.
Your baby’s sleep – and all humans’ sleep - is partially regulated by four hormones:
Adenosine: This hormone is slowly released starting the moment you wake up and gradually builds up in your body. When adenosine reaches its upper limit, your body releases melatonin, which makes you tired.
When this happens in your baby, they’ll exhibit sleepy cues. This shows it’s the end of their wake window and is the perfect time for them to go to bed. As your baby sleeps, adenosine depletes. When it reaches its lowest limit, your body releases cortisol and serotonin.
Melatonin: A sleepy hormone released when adenosine reaches its upper limit.
Cortisol: A wake-up hormone, cortisol is released when adenosine reaches its lowest limit and stimulates your baby in the morning.
Serotonin: Serotonin is another wake-up hormone released in the morning. It’s influenced by daylight, which is why blackout curtains are so important.
Now, back to overtired babies….
When your baby stays up past their wake window, their body releases both melatonin but they’re awake, which then leads to the release of cortisol and serotonin. This creates mixed signals: go to bed and wake up. In other words, they’re wired and exhausted, which is confusing and uncomfortable and leads to crankiness and less nourishing night sleep and, yes, shorter naps.
This then creates a terrible cycle in which your baby is out of sync with their biological sleep rhythm and needs your help with a schedule change, to get things back on track.
Here are some easy ways to overcome a baby’s overtiredness:
Early Bedtime: Even as early as 5.30pm isn’t a bad idea. Your baby’s deepest and most restorative sleep happens before midnight, so recovering some of their sleep debt is best done with an earlier bedtime!
Bedtime Routines: Performing your soothing bedtime routine can help soothe your baby.
Hold Them Close: An extra cuddle and reassurance can help overtired babies relax.
Sleep Schedules: We know it’s difficult sometimes, especially if your baby protests, but maintaining your baby’s sleep schedule is the surest way to keep their sleep on track. Keeping them up later will not make them more tired. It will make them more overtired.
Sometimes babies, especially overtired babies, simply refuse to nap. When this happens, it’s important you keep them in their nap space for the entire nap time. Often times babies will soothe themselves to sleep once they’re in their space alone. And even if they don’t sleep, that quiet, alone time will still help them unwind from an active day.
An easy way to keep your baby’s sleep schedule on track is to use the 1-click sleep tracking tool in the Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers™. It automatically updates your baby’s sleep schedule and let you know when a wake window is closing – which means better sleep for your baby, and more rest time for you, too.
If your baby is taking shorter than usual naps, they may be overtired, ready for a nap transition or may be experiencing a sleep regression. Common ages for nap transitions are 3-months, 4-months, 8-months, and around 15-months.
There are three ways to help your baby nap more: ensure they’re on an age-appropriate sleep schedule, adjust to an earlier bedtime and make sure they have a calm, quiet, dark space in which to nap.
Yes and No. Yes, 30 minutes is a fine length for a baby’s last nap of the day, depending on their age, but, no, 30 minutes is not enough time for a standard nap or as your baby’s primarily nap of the day. Typically you want naps to last at least an hour. For more on age-appropriate nap schedules, check out our guides here.
Yes, naps are part of the sleep training journey and in many ways follow the same set-up as bedtime sleeps: you perform a naptime routine in a calm, quiet place. However, your nap routine should be far shorter than a bedtime routine.
“Spotlight on daytime napping during early childhood,” Nature and Science of Sleep.
“The effects of napping on cognitive function in preschoolers,” Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics.
“The Timing of the Circadian Clock and Sleep Differ between Napping and Non-Napping Toddlers,” PLoS ONE.
The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.