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Are Babies Sleeping Less These Days? 5 Nap Tips and More.

By Heather Turgeon |

In the mommy and me group I’m leading right now, the babies are between two and four months old. As I keep telling the moms (so they don’t feel like they’re going crazy), it’s typically a really rough time for sleep.  Lots of these little creatures are waking up after 20-30 minute naps during the day (and lots at night)—it’s maddening for moms, who then have to decide if they want to eat or shower, because there’s no time for both.

And I hear a lot of them comment that grandma or someone else from an older generation keeps saying that they don’t understand why “babies these days are having such trouble sleeping.” It may partly be about the amnesia of parenthood—we forget sometimes just how hard certain phases really are.

But I think grandma has a point. Newborns used to sleep heavier and longer when we put them to sleep on their bellies.  We now do back-sleeping for safety reasons (and thank goodness, because the back-to-sleep campaign has drastically cut the incidence of SIDS).  We have to do it, but the fact is, it makes for some really nasty months of short naps.

Why is that, and what can you do to help daytime sleepers get more zzz’s?Babies have more frequent, and shorter, sleep cycles than adults.  Every 30 minutes or so, they come into a light phase of sleep, where they easily wake up from a noise or their own startle reflex. For the most part, a baby on her back startles easily, and before she learns how to roll and get into her own comfortable sleep spot, even a swaddle isn’t really enough to make her feel fully nestled. This means it’s harder to get back into another phase of deep sleep.

As I keep reassuring my moms, it gets better—usually naps take a big leap when babies are 6-8 months and can find their own comfy sleep position (for many, it’s on their tummies). In the meantime, here are some tips for helping little babies nap:

1. Watch the clock, not sleepiness cues. Every 90 minutes during the day a newborn is ready for slumber, so when she wakes in the morning, look at the clock, wait an hour and 15 minutes, and start your naptime routine. This wake-window gradually grows as the months go on. A six month old, for example, is usually sleepy after 2.5 hours.  When you wait for eye rubbing and yawning, it usually means baby is overtired.

2. Optimize the room environment. Try putting garbage bags or a dark duvet cover over the windows, even during naptimes. The darker the better, because babies are incredibly attuned to the light. Consider using a fan as white noise (and fans help reduce SIDS risk).

3. Start your day earlier. With a newborn, we extend out the morning and get a later start, but by the time a baby reaches three months or so, start thinking about kicking off your day by 7:00am—this helps the baby start her daytime clock.  Remember, that means she (and you) can go back to sleep again at 8:30am.

4. Tummy Time.  The stronger your baby, the more she’s able to move and get comfortable on her own for better sleep, so practice tummy time as much as possible during the day.

5. Back up bedtime. As babies reach the three to four month mark, they’re ready for a more consistent and early bedtime (between 7-8 works well). Sometimes they actually sleep more when they go to bed earlier.

Do you have any nap tips that have helped you and your little one?

Image: Everystockphoto/Spigoo

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About Heather Turgeon

heatherturgeon

Heather Turgeon

Heather Turgeon is currently writing the book The Happy Sleeper (Penguin, 2014). She's a therapist-turned-writer who authors the Science of Kids column for Babble. A northeasterner at heart, Heather lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two little ones. Read bio and latest posts → Read Heather's latest posts →

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15 thoughts on “Are Babies Sleeping Less These Days? 5 Nap Tips and More.

  1. bob says:

    I like that you are straightforward about the fact that anti-SIDS measures function by preventing comfortable, deep sleep. That’s not generally acknowledged, which is unfortunate. I also like that left off “sleep while your baby sleeps,” which may very well be impossible. That phrase evokes only bitter irony in me.

  2. Mistress_Scorpio says:

    Nothing makes me rage more than “sleep when the baby sleeps.” Like when am I to bathe, eat or use the bathroom? And I know this will get me yelled at, but I let my baby nap on his tummy occasionally, but only when he is in visual range the entire time.

  3. Rosana says:

    Mistress, I started letting my daughter sleep on her tummy when she started rolling over. She still wakes up every 30 minutes after her 10am 1hr nap. I blame it on genes. My husband sleeps terrible.

  4. Mistress_Scorpio says:

    Rosana, I feel for you. My youngest is three weeks old and nothing about his sleep patterns are definitive. I should just say I try everything under the sun… *wolfs down salad in anticipation of eleventy-billionth nursing session today*

  5. Mistress! Congrats on the birth of you second! So happy for you. Wishing you loads of sleep …

  6. Linda says:

    I didn’t do any of those things, with the exeption of tummy time, and I didn’t do that for any reason relating to sleep. Two of my kids were excellent sleeprs from the get go and one was awful. Isn’t the back sleeping recommendation only for infants who can’t roll yet? Once my kids could roll around, they slept how they wanted to.

  7. [...] Are Babies Sleeping Less These Days? 5 Nap Tips and More. – Babble (blog) [...]

  8. marcy says:

    I can’t say enough good things about swaddling. My son was a horrible napper in the first 6 weeks of life. I thought I would die of sleep deprivation. Then, on the advice of my cousin, I tried swaddling him. Presto! He started sleeping over 6 hours a day in naps and by 3 months, slept 12 hours straight a night, and 6 hours of naps. I couldn’t go anywhere ( he loved his crib) , but at least I was a rested hermit.

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  14. New born baby sleep says:

    Thanks for sharing the great Post..Keep Sharing..

  15. Vinola says:

    Hi. How do get my 7month old to sleep longer than 2 hours at night. From the day he was born, its been the same. There a few exceptions but other than that, every 2hrs, without fail. Pls help. I need sleep.

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