Solutions for catnapping during the day
Once of the most common requests we get at The Sleep Store is to help babies sleep longer than 45 minutes during the day. Not only are many babies just not rested after a 45 minute sleep, but it makes for a very tiring day when mum or dad don't get any time for a rest either!
However there are also a lot of babies who are just fine on shorter sleeps and much time and energy can be wasted worrying about catnapping. So before proceeding, you might like to also read our article on Worrying about Catnapping.
Does my baby need to sleep for longer during the day?
There are some babies who will only ever sleep for one sleep cycle, regardless of what you do!
If your baby sleeps for 45 minutes per sleep, wakes up cheerful and does not show any signs of tiredness until their next sleep, then try not to stress about the length of his day sleeps. It is likely the sleeps will increase as time goes on, and he becomes more active during the day.
But if your baby wakes up tired, grizzling or screaming after 45 minutes, it is much more likely that your baby is crying from tiredness rather than hunger, so try to resettle him for another sleep cycle and then feed him when he wakes.
The following tips should help you increase the length of your baby's day sleeps:
Opportunity to resettle:
Once your baby is over a couple of months of age, we recommend that you give your baby the opportunity to resettle by himself if he wakes at the 20 or 45 minute mark.
If you always rush in as soon as he makes a little noise, over time he learns he needs you to help him back to sleep, and he never gets the chance to practice going back to sleep.
Many babies grizzle or cry for a few minutes as they stir, wake and resettle back to sleep. This is quite normal and doesn't mean your baby is upset, hungry or ready to get up. For many babies it is just what they do in between sleep cycles, both day and night.
How long you give your baby to resettle is completely up to you, how old your baby is and what you feel comfortable with. However a good rule of thumb would be to give your baby about 5 minutes of grizzling to see if they are looking likely to resettle or you could try something else like a buggy ride.
This is one of the most effective ways to increase the length of day sleeps, even if you don't wrap your baby at night or you stopped swaddling when your baby was smaller. Give it a try, you may well be surprised and delighted at the effect on your baby's day sleeping. We have often had customers who have 'tried everything' let us know what a difference swaddling their older baby made for catnapping.
The key issue with swaddling older babies is rolling and safety. If your baby is already rolling or close to rolling, then you need at least one arm out and preferably use a Safe T Sleep over your swaddle to prevent rolling.
If your baby is interested in using his hands/fingers to soothe himself, then wrap with one arm out. One arm out is also good if you want him to be able to hold a comfort blankie or put his dummy back in.
There are a lot of excellent fitted, escape proof swaddles available for older babies including those in our convertible swaddling category - these all allow arms in or out.
If you are taking your baby for a walk to help him sleep longer, we recommend you wrap your baby before putting him in the pushchair, or use a SwaddleMe which can be buckled into your pushchair harness.
Use white noise:
Using white noise can be one of the most effective ways to help older babies to sleep longer and resettle without help during the day.
Even though white noise sounds like the inside of the womb, it is still be very effective for creating a relaxing and soothing environment. White noise can also mask distracting sounds from the family and household activity, and provide a strong cue that it is sleep time.
Also as babies get older, they are more and more awake and alert prior to sleep time, and white noise can help with the winding down needed to fall asleep.
Play your white noise at the start of your nap and continuously for the duration of the nap time.
We recomment either a Marpac white noise machine or a white noise CD played on repeat. You can also experiment with radio static or a phone app, but we find the marpac machines and specially engineered CDs are far more effective.
If you aren't currently using white noise, definitely add this to your catnapping plan of attack immediately. Even try the vacuum cleaner running under the bassinet if you need something to try right this minute!
Wake to Sleep - Reset the sleep cycle with a gentle prod!
Here's a trick that may just be what you need! Go into your baby about 5 minutes before she usually wakes up from her nap. Gently prod her, enough that she stirs or moves slightly...but not enough to fully wake her.
At that point your baby should fall back into a deep sleep, and sleep through the waking that was about to occur.
We have had amazing feedback on this technique from lots of mums, so we look forward to hearing how it works for you.
It generally won't work the first or second time you try it, so be patient and try Wake to Sleep for at least a few days.
Listen for the stirring
An alternative to Wake to Sleep is going in to resettle as soon as you hear some stirring. Some babies start to make little noises or wriggle round a bit before they fully wake.
So you could pop in once you hear these little sounds and do your resettling before baby wakes fully and cries. You can re-insert a dummy, use some patting, turn up the white noise or whatever works for your baby.
We recommend this as a shorter term option, in order to try to shift your baby's body clock to having longer naps.
Try reducing the help needed over time to see how baby gets on without your assistance and work on giving baby more opportunity to resettle without help.
Using a dummy can be a great way to get your baby to resettle after one sleep cycle. It doesn't work for all babies, but it's well worth a try, especially if you have a sucky baby. Often baby wants to suck but doesn't yet need a feed, and they may well go back to sleep for another cycle once the sucking desire has been satisfied.
Once your baby is over about 5 months, you can start to teach your baby to re-insert the dummy without help. This is an excellent way for babies to get back to sleep and nap for longer.
However if your baby falls asleep with a dummy and won't put it back in for themself or wakes fully and won't resettle with help, it may be worth dropping the dummy altogether.