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My daughter is 4 1/2 months old and she only naps for 30-45 minutes at a time. She wakes up happy, but she is tired again after a little over an hour.

I know some babies are naturally short nappers. But there have been times where she will sleep two hours or longer if I'm holding her (which I have stopped doing altogether for her naps).

I have a short nap routine and I use a sound machine during her naps.

Any advice? Thanks in advance!

-- She takes 4 or 5 naps per day. She is only awake 1.5 hours before she begins showing sleep signs.

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Why Short Naps Happen

Inability to Handle Partial Wakings

Your child is waking up after reaching the light sleep portion of a sleep cycle. If your 4 month old learns to fall asleep independently through some form of sleep training - the level of crying sleep training needs to involve can be up to your family - then it may solve this problem. The drive to sleep is much less during the day so it is more difficult for infants who do not fall asleep on their own to make it through a sleep cycle transition. These infants have a partial waking and realize the conditions under which they fell asleep (nursing to sleep, bottle to sleep, pacifier, being held, whatever it is) are not present and then they fully wake up. Richard Ferber's Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems has an excellent description of this issue. So one thing that will help consistently fix a short nap without parental intervention is fostering independent sleep at the start of the nap.

Overtired/Undertired Loop

Another reason a short nap might happen is that your child can get stuck in an overtired/undertired loop. You indicate that your child is awake for 1.5 hours between naps and taking 4-5 naps a day. This is most likely an age-inappropriate schedule for a 4 month old, as I learned the hard way. You need to be moving to a solid 3 naps a day.

What is quite likely happening right now is that your child is not awake long enough to get quite tired enough to make it through the sleep cycle transition. In turn your child has a short nap and is overtired from not getting the full benefit of a longer nap, so your child exhibits drowsy signs earlier than a child who is well-rested. It can become something of a trap.

Since your child sleeps an age-appropriate long stretch at night your child is probably capable of more time awake during the day. You might want to look at sticking with 1.5 hours awake before the first nap, since babies often like the shortest awake period in the morning, but then stretch the awake time by 15 minutes or so more between each nap. So you'd do something like 1.75 hours before nap #2, 2 hours before nap #3, and even up to 2.25 before bedtime, although your child may need slightly less. I would gradually begin stretching time awake to see if it lengthens naps.

This advice is specific to the schedule mentioned above. For many children short naps are a sign of being kept up too long before naps causing overtiredness, but the above schedule is at least on the border of being too short.

Not Enough Sleep Left For Naps

Young babies can't handle very long awake at a time and therefore need to take a few naps. However if a young baby is well-rested at night there may not be a whole lot of sleep left for long daytime naps. Older babies who can stay awake longer during the day and therefore have fewer naps have more consolidated nap sleep, which tends to mean longer naps.

Other Ideas

This website has a whole long list of other ideas, such as too much or too little stimulation, environmental factors, hunger, and so on for early wake-ups. In general a good search for "45 minute nap intruder" will get you a ton of hits on this issue with varying possible causes. None of the things I could find online like stimulation issues helped my infant, but yours may be helped by them.

Additional Possible Courses of Action

Nap Extensions

There are several other things besides fostering independent sleep you can try. First, try to conduct a nap extension. A nap extension is using any means that you are comfortable with that works for your baby to lengthen the nap. Possible options are:

  1. Allow some crying - Happy Sleep Habits, Healthy Child recommendeds up to 20 minutes at this age, I believe - to see if the child will return to sleep independently. This is obviously not a good fit for all parenting styles.
  2. If the child uses a pacifier to fall asleep, be in place just before the end of the sleep cycle and replace it just as your child stirs. Or be in place to recreate, in general, however your child falls asleep if it is not independently just at the end of that sleep cycle. This is the method recommended in The No-Cry Nap Solution. It worked all of once for my child.
  3. If the child falls asleep nursing or with a bottle, when the child wakes be prepared to feed back to sleep. Keep the child with you for the duration of light sleep (15-20 minutes) before returning to a sleeping location.
  4. Since you used to hold your child for naps, hold until asleep again after a wake-up plus the duration of light sleep, then return to the child's sleeping location. This consistently worked for my short napper who was also held to sleep.
  5. You can also try placing a "heavy hand" on your child through the full light sleep cycle transition of 20 minutes. Be in place 5 minutes before your child usually wakes up (25 minutes for your sometimes-30-minute napper) and place your hand on your child's chest in a reassuringly firm manner. Keep your hand there as your child stirs throughout light sleep until the child returns to deep sleep.
  6. If your 4 month old often starts awake by kicking or jerking, you can keep your child from jerking though the light sleep cycle. For example my infant used to kick herself awake. I would try, and occasionally succeed, to keep my hand over her legs to muffle her kicks. This kept her from waking up during light sleep. A product like the Baby Merlin's Magic Sleep Suit purports to do the same thing. This method is mentioned in Secrets of the Baby Whisperer.

By conducting a nap extension you may help teach your child to learn to sleep longer for naps and you may find naps naturally lengthen on their own.

Wake-To-Sleep

Some parents have luck with another method from Secrets of the Baby Whisperer known as wake-to-sleep. You enter your child's room at 25 minutes, or 5 minutes before the usual wake-up time. You gently stroke your child's cheek or do the minimum to get your child to lightly stir. The book claims that this restarts your child's sleep cycle. Over time it may teach your child to make the sleep cycle transition on his or her own, especially if your child learns to fall asleep independently.

Sometimes None of This Works

The author of Happy Sleep Habits, Healthy Child, Dr. Marc Weissbluth, mentions that between 4 and 6 months of age some babies don't nap well during the day. Many parents who have been in your place will agree. However the good news is that nap length evens out as babies age. Most short nappers begin to nap longer once they take 2 naps consistently, which appears to happen between 5 and 8 months of age. For some babies the transition to 2 naps occurs because naps naturally lengthen. For others the time awake begins to lengthen. For yet others night sleep becomes disturbed by extra wake-ups or an early wake-up in the morning indicating the time for a schedule change has come. However it occurs, when the transition to 2 naps occurs many formerly short nappers begin napping at least an hour for each nap. For a few babies naps do not lengthen until the transition to 1 nap and some babies simply only need a 30-45 minute nap and will never have long naps.

  • Thank you so much for your detailed response! I attempted the "hold until asleep again" after her morning nap but she was say too Hello World! for it to work. I'm going to lengthen her awake time today and see what happens. I did suspect she wasn't quite tired enough for her nap, but then she was showing all the signs. Good to know it can just be a terrible cycle. – Ferk Dec 18 '12 at 18:57
  • @Ferk - you're welcome. Do know that even if you start stretching her awake time she may not take a longer nap (or all longer naps). My little one started taking 1 out of 3 long naps some days around six months, but it wasn't until the 2 nap transition that I consistently got long naps. – justkt Dec 18 '12 at 19:50
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At that age, napping is normal. It takes a bit longer for longer cycles to start to embed themselves.

At this age you just need to work around your baby's sleep/nap cycles. Not fun for the parents, but that's just part of the time investment in having babies.

Don't try and push her naps into consolidated longer sleeps - her stomach is very small, so once she has digested any milk she will get hungry and wake again.

  • Thanks for your answer. The more I'm reading on the topic, the more this seems normal at 4 months old. She does sleep for 6 hour stretches at night, so I don't think it's a hunger issue. Either way, I can't push her to do anything anyway because she does what she wants! :) – Ferk Dec 15 '12 at 17:40
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I am a grandmother to three granddaughters. My first two did the exact same thing. They would sleep for 30 minutes then wake up. I would pick them up and hold them and get them to go back to sleep. Sometimes I would just turn something good on TV and hold her for a good hour or so.

It wasn't bad if I had just one at a time. I worried about spoiling them but I kept reading that you can't spoil babies under six months old. Well, with my first two I held them a lot and then when they hit five months, I gradually weaned them to the Pack N Play. With the second one, I would lie her in a baby boppy pillow and stroke her and whisper while she sucked on her pacifier and she would fall asleep and I would then leave the room. I always had the monitor on, checking on them.

Both of my first two wound up being pretty good nappers. They would each take two naps, about an hour and a half to two hours at a time till they were nearly a year and a half. My older granddaughter would sometimes take a third 30-minute nap, too, in the car on the way home when my son picked her up.

Today my oldest is nearly 4 and just recently started dropping naps although she will occasionally take one. My second granddaughter who is 21 months old will take a good two hour nap during the day and also sleep great at night with no fussing. Now we are working on the newest one who is just three months old. She is doing the same thing, taking very short naps, although if I am watching all three, it is hard to hold her a lot.

So in the long run, the holding did not spoil them. Maybe I was just lucky. I agree that when they are very little, their sleep cycles or nervous system is not quite mature and they will wake a lot. Just hang in there. For me, it did get easier and the first two are great sleepers.

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I have a 4.5 month old that is on the below schedule: 4am - first BF of the day 4.15-5.30 - sleep 5.30am - BF 5.50-7.30am - sleep and cuddle with dad while mom gets older kid ready for school 7.30-8.45am - play time 8.45am -breakfast (pureed fruits. Dr started him on solid early as he was showing all signs of being ready for solids) 9.30-11.30am - nap 11.30am - BF and cuddling 12-1.15pm - play time 1.15pm - lunch (cereal) 1.30pm - bath 2-3.30pm - nap 3.30pm - BF and cuddles 4-5pm - play 5.30-6.30pm - nap 6.30pm - BF 7-8pm- play 8pm - dinner (cereal or fruits) 8.30pm - bedtime routine (this is the same since birth and helps in getting LO mentally ready for bed) 9pm - BF 9.30pm-4am - sleep

I found that trying to stick to the same schedule as much as possible really helps (of course it is a little different during weekends and holidays, but not too much of a differential). I do not subscribe to the 'cry to sleep' thought at all. Both my babies slept through the night by 5 months of age (both started on solids at 4 months) and neither one has ever cried to sleep - in fact neither has cried much at all for anything other than illness or discomfort. LO gets a lot of snuggles, cuddles and physical contact through the day. I find that this helps LO develop a sense of security and confidence, LO is able to self-soothe, is growing well, has hit cognitive markers ahead of average timelines, and gives me some time to myself. Give babies all the physical contact you can - holding, cuddling, rocking, just keeping baby in lap while reading or watching TV - all these help immensely in building that bond of trust, love and affection. Making sure that the schedule is followed as much as possible and routines are kept constant till LO is old enough to understand that routines can be variable (about 2.5-3 yrs of age) helps with sleep training, potty training, and of course planning your schedule. Good luck!

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Some babies may develop a pattern where they fall asleep easily but they also wake back up shortly after. This often results in mom suffering from sleep deprivation causing negativity and even depression. The average sleep cycle is 40minutes long. A light-sleeper may easily wake up at the turn of a sleep cycle. If baby wakes up earlier than expected, mom shouldn’t immediately pick him/her up. Leave the baby as is with the Instant Baby Sleep sound track playing… You can also use another technique to teach baby to skip a wakeup. If baby wakes up…to help your baby sleep through the night.

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  1. Use light to set circadian rhythm patterns.

Make sure the shades in the room where she is around sunrise are open. Even if it's cloudy and winter, the light will set a rhythm. Also, make sure it stays dark at night.

  1. Then, try to watch for signs that she is tired, rubbing her eyes, yawning, getting fussy. If you keep track of these "tired signs" over then next few days, you may see a pattern for which time of day she has the most tired signs. This would be her ideal nap time. It's usually in the afternoon, between 3-5.

  2. Make sure her tummy is full before you put her down for a nap. Also, having a regular schedule of feeding times, helps with the rhythm.

  3. Using a sound cue before nap time, like a lullaby-- that you only play before naptime will help her learn that it's naptime too.

  4. It may have to be okay that she doesn't sleep-- as long as it's quiet rest time.

  • Thanks for answering! I watch for sleep signs and I'm getting pretty good at catching her before she's over-tired. She's only 4 months old so there's no way she can go until 3pm without a nap. She is only awake 1 1/2 hours at a time (2 max) before she starts showing definite drowsy signs. Right now she takes 4 to 5 naps per day. I'd like to consolidate that into 2 long naps. She eats every 4 hrs. And I do have a routine before I put her down. I don't have much of a problem getting her to sleep- it's just keeping her asleep that's the issue. – Ferk Dec 15 '12 at 3:27
  • she may be a little too young for that still. – 5un5 Dec 17 '12 at 22:39
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I had the very same problem with my first child, and now again with my second. Here is what I found that helped:

-based on No Cry Nap Solution book, go in just before 35/40min wake up time and use a method that helps 'coach' them through the wake up. I tried shushing, patting bum or back, re-soothering, or slightly bouncing mattress beside them. Each were different and just tried them all til I found what worked. It usually took 10-15min to get them through, and wouldn't always work but after a week or so it helped.

-once baby could roll onto belly, both definitely preferred to sleep this way. Found it was easier for them to START on belly rather than start on back (as I was always doing) because at the 35/40min mark they would each attempt to roll to belly but would wake up too much.

-sadly it was mostly time and a lot of coaching effort to get them into it, but totally worth it.

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