The Fussy Baby Site

Short Naps, Waking Too Early, and Not Sleeping Through the Night?

baby sleep

I recently asked our parents to tell me the biggest issue they’re struggling with right now. Can you guess what it is?

Yes – SLEEP!

I asked my friend Erica from Confident Parenting for some advice on your most common problems: Short naps (20-45 minutes), when our babies should be sleeping through the night (STTN) and what to do about early (EARLY) wake ups.

My son is only taking short (20-45 minute) naps. Is there anything we can do to lengthen his naps?

Short naps are normal for the first four months. Many babies will begin to consolidate their naps around weeks 12-16 with the morning nap lengthening first to about 90 minutes and the second nap lengthening a few weeks later.

A shorter (45-60 minute) third nap usually remains until month 6-9. Many babies, however, take much longer to shift to the 3 solid nap a day schedule. It is not uncommon for a baby to still be taking catnaps into the 6th month. If, however, your baby is older than that and few of her naps are more than 20-30 minutes you may need to help the process along.

The keys to lengthening short naps are to prevent overtiredness by watching baby’s windows of wakefulness as well as to give plenty of opportunities for her to learn self-soothing techniques. If you always hold/rock/nurse baby all the way to sleep she will likely wake when transitioning between sleep cycles (about 20-45 minutes into a nap) needing the same environment to continue sleeping.

By focusing on putting baby down more awake at the start of naps and bedtime that practice will carry over and eventually enable her to sleep through those transitions on her own. Since the brain separates day and night sleep, you could also choose to practice putting her down more awake at bedtime only and continue your nap routine as usual. Naps can be addressed later when you have both had more practice.

Another thing to try is helping baby back to sleep at that 20-30 minute mark. Try to beat him to the punch and be nearby to quickly resettle him with patting shushing, etc to see if you can encourage one more sleep cycle. If you are successful even occasionally it will help retrain the brain and body to sleep past that mark.

Holly’s response: My daughter ONLY ever took 45 minute naps. It didn’t matter what I tried. That said, what did work sometimes was letting her fuss for a few minutes when she woke up, and she would then fall back asleep.

Because she only slept for 45 minutes, I made sure to put her down for 4 naps per day…the first year was basically spent getting her to nap! Eventually she learned to fall asleep on her own, and her naps naturally got much longer. With my son, putting him in the swing at the highest setting made for excellent,  long naps! Hang in there…your baby WILL sleep eventually!!

Is there a particular age when we should expect our baby to sleep through the night?

Every pediatrician, sleep expert, and well meaning giver of unsolicited advice has a different opinion on when a baby can sleep through the night without a feed. I always emphasize to mothers that you are the expert on your baby.

Think about how he nurses overnight – are they solid feeds or quick nibbles to drift back to sleep? Is one feed more solid than the rest? While some 5 month olds can sleep a 10-11 hour stretch without a feed it is not uncommon for a baby to keep one through the 9th month or longer.

When a parent is unsure if their baby is hungry it is incredibly hard to be consistent. For that reason I suggest mothers consider a compromise of keeping one feed midway through the night and soothing baby back to sleep in other ways at the other wakings.

If your baby is waking just once a night and doing a business like feed and everyone can quickly return to sleep that isn’t necessarily a problem.

You could choose to wait it out and see if he drops the feed on his own. If, however, the waking is becoming more frequent and shifting earlier and earlier that could be a sign that it is more habit than hunger driven. Again, focusing on helping baby develop self soothing skills at bedtime (by putting him down at least drowsy but awake) will enable him to use those skills overnight rather than relying solely on your support to fall back to sleep.

Holly’s response: I have heard from parents who say replacing one feed with a little bit of water in the bottle (this is for older babies, not newborns, of course) has helped. The more ‘boring’ you can make night feeds, the better!

My toddler wakes up too early! (5-6am). Is there anything I can do about this?

The most common causes of early waking are too late of a bedtime or too long of a window of wakefulness between the end of the last nap and bedtime.

While it is counterintuitive, the best fix for early rising (waking before 6am) is an earlier bedtime. While adults who go to bed late will compensate by sleeping in, children work much the opposite and will actually wake earlier raring to go!

If your toddler is on a two nap a day schedule aim to have him asleep at bedtime no longer than 4 hours from the end of the second nap. If she is on a single nap schedule, aim for her to be asleep no longer than 5 hours after the end of the nap. An earlier bedtime prevents the body from growing overtired and releasing Cortisol, a stress hormone, which gives them a second wind making it harder to fall and stay asleep.

In addition to schedule tweaks it is important to enforce a rule of not starting the day before 6. So, even if your little one wakes at 5:30, keep them in their crib/bed until 6 on the dot. Allowing them to consistently start before 6 will ingrain the early rising habit making it harder to extinguish.

Many parents find a visual clock such as the Ok to Wake clock helpful in these situations.

Holly’s response: Great answer! Our Sammy woke up early (sometimes even earlier than 5!). Some things that helped us were getting a visual alarm clock (we got one called the Zazoo) which would show him whether it was night (and time to stay in bed) or day (time to get up).

We also found that by making the mornings more ‘boring’ (i.e. cutting out TV!), he began sleeping in. We found as he became a preschooler he would wake up earlier and earlier just to watch TV. Once we cut out morning TV he began sleeping in.


Do you struggle with any of these sleep issues? Or what other sleep problems do you face? Let me know below!

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