Short Naps ... and Why They Happen

Does your little one struggle with short naps? Do you find him/her waking like clockwork at that 40-minute mark no matter what you try?

You're not alone! Napping for longer than 40 minutes doesn't come naturally for all babies. I'm here to help you get to the bottom of those short naps!

The first thing we need to understand about sleep is that your baby is NOT a motivated sleeper. What do I mean by that? 

YOU are a motivated sleeper because you understand that by not sleeping enough you will end up tired and cranky! So when you fall asleep and then wake up at a time that's "too early," you are motivated to keep trying to fall asleep.

But your baby can't understand that or connect those dots. That makes them unmotivated sleepers. They wake up from a short nap and they are ready to play, hang out with their BFF (you <3), and be onto the next thing.

What can be done to help?

When it comes to naptime, we want to make sure that everything in their sleep environment and in our response to them is giving them the motivation to keep sleeping. Timing and number of naps are also really important! Here are some tips you can use to improve the situation:

  1. Environment is KEY to successful napping. We need their room pitch black for naptime, and this will probably require some effort on your end. Double up those blackout curtains, tape aluminum foil or black trash bags to the windows, or grab your SlumberPod for naptime.

    You’ll also want white noise playing continuously for your little one. Not only does this help their brain settle into sleep easier, white noise blocks out sounds from the rest of the house so that you (and any siblings) don’t have to tiptoe around. Most importantly, it’s going to help your baby transition from one sleep cycle into the next, which is how we ultimately pass that 40-minute nap rut.

  2. Okay, you’ve got the sleep environment set up for success, now we need to think about our response. If your baby already falls asleep on their own for naps, then they have the tools in their toolbox to fall back to sleep when they wake at that 40-minute mark. But, the key is, we need to give them the time and space to do it. 

    If your baby knows that as soon as they wake, mom is going to come in and get them, they have no reason to keep trying to sleep. Because of this, I suggest leaving your baby for the remainder of an hour before going to them. For example, if they wake at 40 minutes, leave them for 20 minutes.

    This won’t be an instant fix, it will take time and consistency, but once your baby understands that you aren’t swooping in right away, they will have more motivation to fall back asleep.

    Now, if your baby is not falling asleep on their own, you have two options to help them get longer naps. The first option is to do some sleep coaching so that they actually have the tools to fall asleep without your help (critical at that 40-minute mark). We can’t expect them to know how to do this on their own if they haven’t been taught. The second option is to go in as soon as they wake and assist them back to sleep with whatever method works best for you and them.

  3. Lastly, the timing of naps and the number of naps really do make a difference in the length of a nap. Too many naps a day and putting your baby down too early for a nap will result in low sleep pressure, and your baby will struggle to get into their next sleep cycle. Too few naps a day and putting your baby down too late for a nap could mean they are overtired, cranky, and struggle to keep sleeping even though their body desperately needs it. 

Ready to teach your child to love sleep?
For more helpful information about nap timing, age-appropriate number of naps, and how to maximize those naps, check out my 
Free Short Nap Guide.

— Carianna

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Note: Guest blog posts are shared for informational and educational purposes and may not reflect the official policy or position of SlumberPod (parent company, Dovetail Essentials, LLC), our employees and/or contractors. 


This blog post was originally published 12/10/2019 but has been updated for 2022.

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