Catnapping King or Queen

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One of the most common questions I am asked as a sleep consultant is “Why is my baby cat napping” I want to start by saying cat napping is both very common and in fact biologically and developmentally normal until around 4-5 months of age!  Although this doesn’t make it any easier at the time of experiencing it.  I know this firsthand.

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    As parents, there is often a lot of pressure for us to have our babies on a strict schedule from day one. This gives unrealistic expectations as some babies will naturally sleep longer than others. Some babies will have 2-3 hour naps, whilst some babies will have 20-60 minute naps. Some babies will even have a mix of both. All of it is normal and very common.

    Did you know that the first 3 months of your little one’s life is 50% nurture and 50% nature.  This means you can’t “control” whether your little one has a solid sleep foundation right from the beginning or whether you will need to gently work to guide it in the future.

    The fourth month sleep regression is also a permanent neurological change that can be a large contributor to catnapping and this is explained in more detail via the Inside the Four Month Sleep regression blog.

    If your little one is catnapping, I’d love to help! Let’s answer some of your top asked questions together!

    What is a cat nap?

    We have all been there with an overtired baby.  I understand just how difficult it is when our little ones won't link sleep cycles.

    A catnap is usually a nap that lasts for one sleep cycle – around 40-50 minutes or less. Often, catnapping babies are unable to join these cycles together for a deeper, more restful sleep.

    While catnapping is developmentally normal, it can be very frustrating for parents. This sleep pattern is incredibly light due to the fact that babies often remain in REM (rapid eye movement) sleep and have a difficult time transitioning between REM, light sleep and non-REM, deep sleep.

    These little one’s to sleep.  The reason a baby doesn’t sleep “better” or “longer” if they have been kept awake for a longer period of time is that their little bodies simply cannot handle it.  They start to have a chemical reaction due to this lack of sleep.  This means that they start to produce excess cortisol (stress hormone) and this converts over to adrenaline.  As we all know, once adrenaline is in our system it triggers that “fight or flight” mode and makes it tricky for a baby to unwind and slip into sleep unaided.

    Now, despite the battle of eventually getting them down for their nap or bedtime is over – they will still wake shortly after a sleep cycle as they have effectively been tipped over the edge and are plummeting back down the slippery slope.  To avoid this over-tiredness, download my nap routines and use this as a guide for when your little one could be settling for sleep and how to prevent over-tiredness becoming a regular occurrence for your little one’s sleep.

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    What is the solution to catnapping?

    Unfortunately, there isn’t one simple solution to catnapping. There are MANY reasons that could be contributing to your little one’s short naps.

    To find the right solution for YOUR baby, we need to find out what exactly is causing their short naps first.

    These are just some of the questions you can ask yourself to help find the solution for your little one:

    Have I provided a comfortable sleep environment for my baby?

    When creating a comfortable sleep environment for your little one, it is important to create a calm and relaxing space. Their sleep environment can dictate the quality and quantity of sleep that they experience. Some of the key factors that I recommend to ensure a comfortable sleep environment are:

    • Dark sleep space – can you read a book in there?
    • Temperature – a little Goldilocks, around 18-20 degrees over winter and 20-20 degrees in summer;
    • White noise, a simple and effective addition to your little ones sleep routine.

    To find out more about optimal sleep environment set up check out my Top 5 Sleep Success Tips here

    When we are trying to change your little one’s cat napping pattern, our aim is to have your little one in their cot for at least 1-2 day naps each day. This will help to set up their nap timing and gain consistency with the consolidation of their day-time sleep.

    Do you have a familiar wind-down routine?

    As adults, very rarely would we come straight home from work and fall asleep. Normally, you would have some “wind-down time” before going off to bed. Having a warm shower, reading a book and allowing your brain to switch off before trying to sleep.

    This is no different for babies! The routine can be verbal and non-verbal signals that should last under 10-20 minutes. It needs to be calming and soothing and most importantly unique to your little one. It may involve:

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    Is my baby tired enough?

    Being aware of your baby’s awake times will help with knowing when to start looking for tired signs before they become overtired signs!

    A newborn can go from tired to overtired in an incredibly short time! As soon as you start to notice tired signs, you should start their wind-down routine.

    Not sure on your baby’s awake times for their age? You can download my Nap Routines from 6 weeks to 4 years which includes 35 pages of information and guidance from awake times, to sleep structure and overnight guidence.

    Are you giving your little one the opportunity to resettle?

    Once your baby is over a 3/4 of months of age, I recommend that you give your little one the opportunity to resettle independently if they wake at the 20 or 45-minute mark.

    Ensure that you have chosen a settling technique at the beginning of a nap and work on initially self-settling. This may involve holding them as they cry or fuss or simply staying in their sleep space to soothe them with your presence.

    If your little one wakes early and they are not due a feed, carry on with your chosen settling technique for approximately 20-30 minutes to encourage your little one to return to sleep.  If they have not resettled in this time, abandon the nap with a dramatic wake-up and try again next nap. Trying to resettle after this amount of time it is likely a sign that your baby is ready to get up.

    It takes time!

    Day time naps are harder to achieve than night-time sleep, so if you wanting to extend your little one’s nap time, it could take up to 2-3 weeks to work. You may also experience some night sleep regression, as the day naps consolidate but with consistency and perseverance, the nap times will extend.

    When it isn’t working (and there will be days like this!) get out and about! Remove the pressure from yourself and your little one! Pop them in the pram, carrier or car and let them have that sleep they need. The fresh air will you do you both wonders!

    You will likely find that some tips do work overtime or as your baby grows, their sleep will change. Don’t stress! Just go with the flow in the meantime.

    If you’d like some extra help, you can book in for a one-to-one session. I can give you more great advice on how you can help your little one work through their cat napping stage!

    Kelly Martin Sleep Consultant

    Helping babies get a good nights sleep

    Our mission is to empower parents with the knowledge and education about how they can help their little one develop and maintain healthy sleep habits. Are you ready to regain your sleep?

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