One of the main reasons people contact me is because they had a great sleeper but they have turned into a catnapper. I define a catnap as a sleep any less than forty minutes in length. Your baby isn’t waking because they have had enough sleep rather they are unable to link their sleep cycles. This is going from the lighter (active sleep) to the deeper (quiet) sleep. Catnapping can be age appropriate and usually starts anywhere from 2-5 months. Having a catnapper can cause you as a parent a lot of angst, especially if you have read a lot and value the importance of sleep. Like everything with infants it takes some time and commitment, today I will share a few tips on what to do.
Firstly we cannot look at the catnaps in isolation, is your baby having too much or too little sleep. Overtired and under-tired children are really hard to settle and will often have shorter naps. We can then become stuck in a cycle of catnaps and your baby not getting the sleep it needs.
In the mornings open the blinds so your little one is getting sunlight exposure to help with the establishment of the circadian rhythm. In the evenings decrease the amount of stimulation in the house from lights to electronic devices. All of these can contribute to overstimulation and impact on the developing circadian rhythm.
When your child does wake from a catnap, I would encourage you to try resettling. This is no hard core cry it out method rather helping and nurturing your baby to learn a new skill over time. This may need to start as more hands on settling and over time transition to self-settling. If your baby is still swaddled, keep them in the swaddle and try to resettle. If they are larger you may need to put them in a pram and go for a walk.
During this time of resettling look at their body language what are they trying to tell you.
…. If they go back to sleep quickly, wonderful they needed a little helping hand. We all need this at times
… Do they wiggle, squirm, cry, mouth around, they maybe hungry. At the last feed did you give them one side or two?
…Is it because the dummy fell out… is your little one relying on the dummy as a settling tool?
Another reason infants may catnap is because they where not tired enough when put to sleep. Observe your little ones tired signs, there are early and late tired signs, as you get to know these you can understand when is the best time to put your baby to sleep. It may not be the minute they yawn but five minutes later when they rub their eyes. Learning and understanding your infant’s cues is so important.
One final reason for catnapping is due to sleep associations. This is something infant’s associate with sleep. For example I see families who have a feed to sleep association. This means when the baby wakes from a sleep cycle it thinks it needs a feed to return to sleep. This in itself is tricky as you then end up with a child who has a snack breastfeed 20 times per day. I encourage families to have a small break between a feed and bedtime rather than feeding the child to sleep.
There are many reasons why a child may catnap but I’m here to help. Today I have shared a few reasons why your little one may be catnapping but if the problems persist there are professionals to help. You cannot love, nurture and help your infant to sleep too much!