Your Nemesis, The Short Nap

February 23, 2012 |  by  |  0-3 Months, 1 YO, 3-6 Months, 6-9 Months, 9-12 Months, naps
baby naps too short?

Update 4/14/2015: A more comprehensive and detailed post on the causes of and solutions for short naps has been published. Everything here is still true, however if you’re looking for even more details on strategies to dramatically lengthen your child’s naps, check out the new short nap post.

A short nap is generally anything between 10-45 minutes. Sometimes short naps sneak in during car trips or while nursing or taking a bottle. Sometimes a temporary sleep regression, ear infection, or ferocious bout of teething will result in short naps. But for some of you, short naps are simply a constant part of life. If so, you’re probably pretty keen to help your baby take longer naps because…

Short Naps Suck

There are many reasons why short naps suck but the big three are:

  • You’ll spend longer putting baby to sleep than your baby actually sleeps.
  • You never get break.
  • Babies who take consistently short naps are generally unhappy babies.

Really, neither you nor your baby is particularly happy about short naps.

The Short Nap Myth

You can’t make your newborn baby nap longer. Some babies will start taking longer naps earlier than others. There is always some Mom in the new baby playgroup that will tell you that their baby takes 3 hour naps all day long because of the magical book they read. Nope. Their baby is taking long naps because she is biologically ready to do so.

Want Long Naps?

Newborn babies will often take itty-bitty cat naps all day long until they consolidate their naps into longer chunkier naps. Nap consolidation can happen anytime between 6 weeks and 6 months. If you are the parent of a baby under 6 months you are probably pretty keen to have your baby consolidate naps. Parenting a cat napper can be exhausting and frustrating.

Sleep consolidation also reflects the maturation of intrinsic bioregulatory processes.

Unfortunately you can’t force a short-napper into taking longer naps. There are internal processes within your baby that need to develop and you can’t make it happen. Generally people refer to this as your baby’s circadian rhythm although it’s actually rather complex and involves multiple parts of the brain. You don’t need to know the specifics although you can impress your friends by dropping this quote (from the NIH article).

Just know that you can’t MAKE it happen and if yours is the last baby on the block taking short crappy naps, it’s not necessarily because you are failing as a parent, you have a bad baby, or because of that one glass of white wine you had when you were pregnant.

Short Naps For All Eternity?

You can, of course, delay nap consolidation by keeping your baby awake too long resulting in them becoming OVERtired. Overtired babies generally take short naps. If your baby is less than 6 months old and you’re doing everything you can to keep your baby from being awake too long, you’re providing lots of age-appropriate soothing, etc. and your baby STILL takes short naps, then it just means she isn’t ready to take longer naps yet. It’ll come.

However if your baby is older than 6 months and still taking short naps then you may have a problem.

  • The #1 reason babies over 6 months are taking short naps is that they’re not falling asleep on their own yet.
  • The #2 most common reason (which is actually related) is that you’re still using pacifiers and/or bottles at bedtime.
  • And #1 & #2 are almost always compounded by…
  • Keeping baby awake too long.
  • Lack of consistency (where they sleep, bedtime/nap routines, etc.).
  • Chronic sleep deprivation (tired babies are generally crappy nappers).

If you’re still rocking/nursing/bouncing them fully to sleep, or putting them to sleep with a pacifier or bottle, I can pretty much guarantee that they’ll take short naps forever. Helping your baby learn to fall asleep without you/bottle/pacifier is NOT EASY. Neither is getting your kid out of diapers, dealing with bullies, or having the condom talk. And yet these are all things you’ll have to do.

Similarly you are no longer the parent of a newborn who could easily sleep whenever and wherever it suited. As the parent of a regulation-sized baby it’s time to get serious about making sure you are home at nap time, using consistent routines when it’s time for sleep, and having your baby sleep in the same place round the clock.

How Long Is a Long Nap?

A long nap is generally around 1-1.5 hours although some lucky moms have been blessed with 3 hour nappers. You can identify these parents because of their healthy glow. And the fact that they’re about to get their first novel published.

So good luck getting your short napper to take long naps. Feel free to share how and when you achieved nap nirvana!

{photo credit: yoshimov}


  1. Hi mothers of catnappers! I have just taken a trip down memory lane to Feb 2013 when I posted here about my then 9 wk old catnapper. I just went back and read my post (and remembered my desperation!) and felt compelled to update about my then newborn who is now 2! She is a fantastic sleeper and has bed since 6 mths. We’ve never had 2 long naps a day (so didn’t have to deal with the dropping of a nap dilemma) but she has 1.5-2.5 hr naps everyday! Also fantastic at night. There is hope! I just remember feeling so anxious in that newborn catnapping period that she’d NEVER sleep well…when really, she just needed to grow a bit! I’m back here again as I now have a 6 wo catnapper…. But that’s another story!! Best of luck…it does get better 🙂

    • Hi lucy! I have a four month old who sleeps for 30 minutes only in daytime. I am forever trying to put him back to sleep or frequently let him sleep on me or in my lap so that we both get some rest. But I worry I might be giving him wrong habit which might prevent him from from consolidating sleep later. Did u just let ur baby take short naps or tried to extend them and ur lo extended them at 6 mths?

      • Maybe there is an interim step between “forever short naps” and “wait till 6 months” – are you maximizing the soothing? Most 4 month olds still need a ton of soothing to take a long-ish nap so swaddling, white noise, and maybe the swing might be helpful. Have you seen this post (see link below)?

        • Hi! Congratulations on your website, it’s great!
          My 3 month old baby girl sleeps in her crib, no swadling, white noise or pacifier for 6-7 hours a night but takes 24min naps… Should I just wait until she is older, will she be able to sleep longer? She is breastfed and nurses every two hours, falling asleep while nursing many times…
          My 4 year old son started waking up every 45 minutes during the night when he was 4 months old and we did CIO with wonderful results when he was almost 7 months and I’m afraid we’ll go down the same path now…

    • Glad to hear there is hope! I feel so tired and depress. I can’t even sleep
      Anymore. My two 1/2 month baby girl was taking good naps during the day and for the last 2 weeks takes only catnaps and she is crumpy. She only sleeps the amount of time that takes me to get her to sleep. As soon as put her on the swing she wakes up

  2. This website is a godsend! Thank you Alexis for your helpful tips because my terrible napper just went down for a nap (in our new swing) and has been asleep for 4 hours.

    My question is this: Should I wake a sleeping baby from an extra long daytime/late afternoon nap?

    The sleep deprived part of me is screaming the word “Nooooo!!” very loudly, but the still functioning part of my brain is whispering the warning, “But he won’t sleep tonight if you don’t wake him!”

    I would appreciate your sage advice on this issue.

  3. Hi Alexis!
    I just want to start by thanking you for this website. I don’t know if your book is already published or not but I swear I’m buying it for every baby shower I’m invited to from now on!!
    My two year old little monkey is a wonderful sleeper (after that 8 month sleep regression when I stumbled on your website in the middle of the night and realized I was putting her to bed all wrong) but that was a fairly easy fix all said and done.. I just wish it hadn’t been so extreme. And I still sometimes feel guilty about that day she got kick out of my bed for good and I sometimes miss her cuddles. Mind you 10 hour sleeps are pretty wonderful, which is why I have these questions with our new little 8 week bundle… She is a happy baby. I mean Happy! Who is this little being? She’s sleeping 10 hours straight At night.. What?! She’s been doing it for weeks!!! I’m not trying to gloat or seem ungrateful I just dont want to screw it up! (I did not have a great sleeper until cio with my first)… Baby is in a crib/co-sleeper. Loves to be swaddled. Won’t take a Paci. Nurses on demand all day and lots in the evening. And she’s pretty chill about dosing off to sleep about 830/9 mostly on her own if she’s soothed enough right before I put her down. Of course we’re still in that stage of out-of-sight out-of-mind. Can this keep up tho? Should I make a rule of no nursing at night since she can clearly do it? But my other questions are mostly related to big sister who is an angel when we’re busy all day at the park or a play program and gets bored and CRAZY at home. So day naps for the wee one are super assisted by boob, in my carrier or car.. And she’s being woken up by big sisters crazies.. Is this going to mess up her sleep habits as she gets older? I wonder if I set one nap at home in crib and the other ones on the fly (car seat/carrier) would that work? I feel so bad that’s she’s getting woken up all day between my sweet (and insane) two year old and from me having to transfer her around all the time. But like I said she’s so happy. So maybe it’s ok?

    • I would love for you to share my book with all your friends and am DESPERATELY TRYING TO GET IT READY FOR PRINT (sadly this is unlikely to be ready till November – DOH!)

      Well it’s pretty amazing that your 8 week old is sleeping 10 hours straight! You’re right – I would also be hesitant to feed her as she’s shown you she can comfortably go 10 hours. That being said there are legitimate growth spurts so I wouldn’t entirely rule out the idea that the occasional night feeding might sneak up on you. If you can fully separate feeding from bedtime over the next 2 months (no rush!) that would be a great thing to keep in mind.

      As for napping? Yeah, I hear you. Naps on the go sometimes need to happen for big sisters sanity. However doing them ALL the time will definitely cause problems (short naps, major boobage required). Eventually all those short naps can back up on you in the form of night sleep disruption. There’s no good answer here but trying to have 70% of naps happen at home would be a better solution than half. Maybe first nap (which often is the “good” one) happens at home but late afternoon nap on the go (as it’s generally short anyway) is OK?

      Good luck!

  4. Hi there,

    My 3 month old starting taking 30 minute naps after 6 weeks and they still continue. I’m very confident that he just can’t get into the next sleep cycle (but he connects them fine at night). During his growth spurts he sleeps longer than 30 minutes here and there as he will wake up and then go back to sleep. He puts himself to sleep and has no sleep associations besides a swaddle and white noise. I am curious, do you think the CIO method would eventually work at getting him to extend his naps? I have not had success every time because his crying gets him rattled and thus keeps him up but what do you suggest for this type of situation? Just wait it out until he’s older and can connect sleep cycles or keep letting him cry for 15-30minutes after he wakes up? I was thinking of putting him on a sleeping schedule but am I forcing him to do something he’s not physically ready for yet?

    Any advice is greatly appreciated.


  5. Hello, my little boy 9months is still a short napper, naps are so erratic can sometimes get an hour and 20 but not sure what different. Goes down fully awake, settles self in around 10mins, no props, has very dark room and constant white noise. Up for around 3hrs but still short naps usually get one slightly over an hour and one 33mins each day! doesn’t cry when wakes but still tired as tries to go back but cant. quite often has pooed when I go in but I leave him for up to 30mins after woke from short nap so not sure when pooing! I have read your post a few times and don’t know what I’m doing wrong! I don’t think its habit either as not every nap is 33 mins sometimes none a day, once or on a bad day his only 2 naps are 33mins!

  6. My 5-almost-6-month old has been taking mostly 30-40min (“sleep cycle”) naps during the day for a while. For a while when he was younger we tried PickUp-PutDown, which sometimes worked, but now just agitates him even more. He goes from absolute dead asleep to a shrieking wake up after a sleep cycle and cannot put himself back down. If we try going in at intervals to soothe him, he just screams. Like, the kind where you feel like you cannot be a good mother and leave him in there. Heaving sobs, big crocodile tears, red in the face and overheated. If we get him up, he is usually a happy camper and NOT cranky until the next nap time!

    He pretty much started sleeping through the night (6:00 – 11, wake, then again at 2 or 3, then up for the day at 6 – though sometimes he just sleeps for 10 hours straight!) on his own. I’m inclined to think he’ll do the same with naps. He’ll sleep for longer in the car, however, and if we take him out at his nap time, we can often bring him in from a car ride and he’ll sleep in the carseat another hour or so. He can “bridge” his sleep cycles at night – I see him on the monitor – wake up, sometimes “talk” to himself, and then go back to sleep. Sometimes it takes a few minutes, but he can do it without crying.

    We have a consistent nap routine – at first tired sign, go up, change, sleepsack, white noise, nurse. Sometimes he is put down drowsyish, sometimes he falls completely asleep before I can get him down drowsy.

    He’s really a happy little baby. If he were miserable maybe I’d be inclined to work more on the naps, but he’s not. However, I am somewhat desperate for some work time during the day. But could it be that 3 30min naps is just where he’s at right now?

  7. Hi
    Love your website! I have 6 month old baby twins. They have been great sleepers from birth. Currently they sleep 7pm ish to about 5.30am, wake have a small feed, and then they go back to sleep until about 7.30am when we’re up for the day. They used to nap every 1.5 to 2 hours (because they just couldn’t stay awake any longer) for about an hour. Now they nap on average 20min to 45min. We’ve been trying to train them to sleep in push chair because we’re about to take long haul flight (35 hours door to door) and we’ll be travelling for a month. We need them to be able to sleep anywhere. We’ve been trying to create new sleep cues and associations that don’t involve the environment. We’ve been semi successful, we just can’t get them to nap for long. Would welcome any advice!

  8. Is 5 months too late to try the swing for a baby who used to nap okay but now only takes 30-45 minute naps and is only (and has always been) a mediocre night sleeper?

    And thanks for your knowledge and humor!

  9. hi! please help!!

    My son will be 6 months old on 10/12. We’ve been through a lot with allergies, digestion problems, sleep problems, rocking to sleep, etc. we are at the point now where allergies are cleared from his tummy, and he can put himself to sleep. the problem is (and it’s becoming a huge problem and bothering him everyday) is he NEVER EVER sleeps longer than 45 min at a time for naps. he wakes up unrested and grumpy or zoned out completely and i just dont know what ot do. ive read multiple books and none of them address his issues really. for instance if i leave him in there, he will play in his crib FOREVER at nap time, then fuss, then fall asleep. so even though he only naps for 45 minutes he iwll be in his crib for 2 hours! please help me! he used to be happy when he woke up so i just thought he was a short napper but he is sooooo overtired and i dont know what to do. bedtime is 6pm and he sleeps til 7 with 2 feedings. pleas epleas ehelp!!

    • This is just a guess, but I noticed that he’s sleeping for 13 hours at night. That’s within the range of what a 6 month old needs for a full 24 hours, so I wonder if he’s getting most of the sleep he needs at night, and then he just doesn’t need that much during the day. But he’s still getting crabby because he’s awake so much during the day, so it’s a vicious cycle. Maybe it would help to make his bedtime a bit later, and see if that would help him nap more during the day. I hope Alexis chimes in, so I can see if my theory has any validity. 😉

  10. Help Alexis!!!
    I am a desperate first time mom. My two 1/2 month baby girl stop taking naps during the day. She can get up at 9am and be up until 9pm with two 5 min catnap. I spends hours (2hrs ) to make her fall sleep and as soon as I put her on the swing she opens her eyes like she was never sleep( I feel exhausted and frustrated). Sometimes I think she feels my stress and that is the reason she is not sleeping anymore. I am an RN and I will be back to work in 3 weeks, working nights :/ I am worry about introducing bottle and not accepting it( one of my many concerns) anyways, I wonder if she feels all my stress. Yesterday as a miracle we got her the sleep 3 1/2 hrs but without noise in the swing without movement. We couldn’t do anything at home just so we had a break and she was obviously able to sleep. Is she getting used to sleep in my arms ? I don’t know what to do!

  11. I have a 7 month old and he has been sleeping really well at night since 3 months old. He sleeps through the night unless teething wakes him but that is rare. When he was little he suffered from withdrawal symptoms (from birth mom, we are adopting) and had a hard time sleeping on his own. So the first 6 months he napped in our arms. At night he had to be out down asleep, though he could self soothe if he woke up when out down. 1 week ago we started sleep training, using the pick up/ put down method. He is now napping his his crib during the day and falling asleep in his own. He just struggles with transitions during nap time and wakes after 30-40 minutes. He did this when he slept in our arms, we just shushed and bounced him back to sleep. Is he just an early wakes or is there anything we can do to help lengthen these naps. The odd time he will sleep for 2 hours. He does have a pacifier in his crib with him a nd it seems to help him sleep. Though he has gone to sleep on occasion with out using it. But he usually does. He seems tired and wants to sleep more just can transition for a longer nap

  12. My son is 6.5 months and he would only nap 40 min each time for a maximum of 3 naps during the day. He goes down fully awake, settles himself in around 10mins, no props, has very dark room and constant white noise. He is up about 2 hours before he starts yawning and that’s when i put him down for the nap. I try to resettle him when he wakes up from the nap but he always seems to be fully awake and doesn’t want to go back to sleep as he would be pushing himself up, looking around etc. so i can never resettle him back to sleep.

    Another problem is early waking – because he tends to wake up around 4 or 5am so he’s exhausted at night so i have to put him to bed around 6:30pm each night (bath at 6, a feed then goes to bed).

    please tell me how to fix these issues. Thanks so much!

    • So frustrating everyone has a problem but there’s never any answers

      • Thanks for chiming in Sam 🙂

        Laura, my website, book, and podcast are CHOCK FULL of answers. Literally it’s a collection of answers to various sleep questions. You may not like the answers your getting, or you may not have dug deeply enough to found the answer you’re looking for. But there is definitely no dearth of answers here.

    • It could be that this is just all he can do for now- if he’s falling asleep independently, he may need some time to mature before he can start napping for longer. It’s typical for babies 6 months and younger to take short naps. My LO took half hr-45 min naps until about 7/8 months, and slowly his first nap would be an hour, then around 9/10, his 2nd nap was longer as well.
      As for his early rising- if his bedtime is 630pm and he’s waking up at 5am- that’s expected! That’s almost 11 hours at night. Can you offer him a catnap in the evening so you can push bedtime later to 730pm? And then he can sleep in a little later to perhaps 6am/630am. Since he’s still very young, he may need a snooze feed when he wakes up early in the morning and that can buy you some more sleep. Good luck!

  13. My baby is 11 months old and takes a great nap in the morning (1.5-2 hours) but still only naps 30 min in the afternoon. He goes down for his nap 3-3.5 hours after the morning nap. I’ve tried decreasing wake time, increasing wake time…nothing seems to help. I’ve even tried capping his morning nap at an hour but that doesn’t help and just means even less sleep overall. He clearly can connect sleep cycles because he does it for his morning nap so I’m at a loss for what to do!

    • If I were you, I’d try dropping down to one nap. Keep the morning nap and if you want, slowly push the start time later until you’re at midday. It’s super early at 11 months to be dropping a nap, I know, but it worked for me when my baby was the same age! He is 15 months now and still taking one nap at 11am.

  14. My 3 month old (just turned 3 mo) has been sleeping exactly 40-45 minutes during his naps for the past couple weeks both in his crib and swing. I read that this is b/c he hasn’t transitioned through sleep cycles independently yet. If I let him fuss for 5-10 min. sometimes he will put himself back to sleep, only to wake 2-3 minutes later, rinse and repeat….(never falls back to sleep for a length of time without help). He is swaddled, goes to sleep drowsy but awake and has plenty of white noise. Should I try any type of intervention at this stage, or simply wait a few more weeks? Also, is it teaching him a bad habit if I rock him back to sleep after he wakes?

  15. Staci L. Reafsnyder

    I have an 8 wo cat napper. I have tried EVERYTHING!!!!!!! To get him to sleep longer and nothing works.

    Swaddle, white noise, naps in his crib you name it. I look for his sleep cues. He still cat naps. What do I do??

    • At 8 weeks all you can do is:
      – Give as much soothing as possible
      – Put them to sleep at a reasonable time
      – Help them fall asleep independently (not a huge issue at 8 weeks but WILL be eventually)

      If you’ve done all that and they’re STILL taking crap naps, you’ve done all you CAN do. The rest is developmental and is entirely up to him!

      • Good to know it could developmental!

        At bed time we have no issues with him waking crying 30 mins later. We have a routine down pat! Bath, Bottle & Story, Lullaby and bed. And I put him down before he is completely ‘out’ — with his eyes open but he is def. sleepy. He has been sleeping about 8 to 10 hours at night for the past week but have noticed his catnaps make him crankier as the day goes because he doesn’t get enough rest during the day. Today, it took some coaxing but he finally napped for about an hour – give or take. Fell asleep at 9:20 and woke up not long after — he just kept waking himself up for a couple of minutes. I patted his butt and rocked him, put him down and he finally slept until 10:40.

        Will see how his napping goes through the rest of the day. I am keeping notes on when he is getting sleepy — but because his night sleep is between 8 & 10 hours — his wake up time is different daily so it’s hard to get a ‘schedule’ yet, so to speak. I just put him down when he shows me sleep cues.

Leave a Reply