Troubleshooting naps could be a ten part series. I’ll do my best to cover the most common issues that plague naps for every age. Before we go any further, please take a look at this blog post that discusses how to know how many naps your child should have by age.
Short naps – There is no more common nap issue than short naps. Over 85% of the clients I work with struggle with short naps at some time or another, and many of them struggle through short naps for weeks or months before seeing improvement. For babies 7 months of age and younger, short naps are the norm, not the exception, and should be expected to occur regularly through month 7. It appears that in most younger infants the brain is not capable of linking sleep cycles consistently during the day, thus resulting in short naps. Adding a fourth nap (for babies 4-7 months) typically only results in increased night waking as the brain is then falling asleep too many times during the day to sleep soundly at night. Also, parents often find that it is impossible for their child to fall asleep four times in a day and spend one of their naps crying instead of sleeping. If you choose to sleep train your child and they are short napping, it’s best to keep them at the appropriate number of naps per age and look towards when they can transition from 3 naps to 2. Short naps almost always resolve once a child is over 7 months of age, able to fall asleep completely unassisted, and once the child is only allowed to nap twice per day. Once these milestones are reached, daytime sleep typically consolidates and naps become longer, but the process can take about 2+ weeks.
Nap interruptions – If your child is woken up by a dog or sibling, it’s best to give them 10-15 minutes to fall back to sleep on their own without your intervention (assuming they already know how to fall asleep on their own at naps and bedtime). If they are unable to get themselves back to sleep, get them up and do everything you can to keep them awake until their next scheduled nap. This may be challenging, but it will be more challenging to have all naps occur earlier that day, and then end up with a very lengthy gap between the end of the last nap and bedtime. Adding an additional nap will very likely affect your child’s ability to sleep soundly through the night (as the brain struggles to sleep well overnight when it’s fallen asleep too many times during the day). There is no need to enter into the room and “help” them fall back asleep, unless your child is not already sleep trained, in which case assisting them in falling back asleep would make sense. If your child is not able to fall asleep totally unassisted, it is likely you’re facing other sleep issues that can all be resolved with sleep training (aka your child learning how to fall asleep on their own).
Protested/skipped naps – This is another somewhat common issue, though much less common than short naps. If you find your child is regularly skipping naps, it’s likely they’re ready to transition from 3 naps to 2, or from 2 naps to 1. If your child is simply protesting falling asleep, but they do eventually fall asleep, you may find that they need their naps to begin later. Try to push all of their naps forward by 15 minutes, but wake them up around the same time they currently wake from naps. For example, if your child takes naps at 8:30 am/11:30 am/3:00 pm, and they’re normally awake from nap one by 9:45 am, but they’re also fighting falling asleep at 8:30 am, move nap 1 to 8:45 am, but don’t let them sleep past 9:45 am. Then, make sure their next nap starts at 11:45 am instead of 11:30 am. The idea is putting them down later but having them up at the same time so that they’re having more time awake and less time asleep for naps throughout the day.
Limit naps to 2 hours – Unless your child is taking only one nap per day, limit their naps to no more than 2 hours for any single nap. Also, generally speaking from age 4 months to when they go down to a single daily nap, nap sleep should range from 2-3.5 total hours of sleep per day. If you find your child is still napping at the two hour mark, wake them up. Allowing them to sleep longer than 2 hours at a stretch (unless they’re down to a single nap) is likely to cause nighttime sleep disruptions. If your child is down to one nap, capping that nap at about 3 hours is usually a good idea.
If you find your child is having nap issues outside of the ones outlined in this blog post, please post your situation in the comments below so I can continue further update this blog post.