Does your baby take (frustratingly) short naps? As in baby only naps 30 minutes at a time?
Young babies may be fine with frequent, short naps. But once they turn 6 months old, babies can often turn into little crab cakes if only napping 20 or 30 minutes at a time.
You may have heard that babies 6 months and older need naps that are longer than 40 minutes to restore their energy and stabilize moods. That’s mostly true, because baby sleep cycles are about 50 minutes long. If your baby wakes early from a nap, and hasn’t completed a sleep cycle, he may feel groggy and grumpy.
Sometimes it just takes a bit of “nap training” to get baby taking long, restful naps each day.
This article has 9 nap training steps that show you how to get your baby or toddler napping longer so that baby naps more than 30 minutes.
Steps 1-6 below are “beginner” nap training steps and can be done at all ages. Steps 7-9 are “advanced” nap training steps for 6 months and older.
(If your toddler has suddenly started fighting nap time, check out When Do Toddlers Stop Napping?)
Jilly explains how to extend short naps in the video below!
9 Nap Training Steps to Lengthen Your Baby’s Short Naps
Step 1: Fix baby’s night sleep
“Wait, what? What’s night sleep got to do with my baby’s naps?” Let me explain.
When helping babies sleep better, we always start with night sleep. We do this because night sleep is usually easier to fix than naps.
This is because your baby’s drive to sleep is the strongest at night, so he’s more likely to comply with changes to his sleep routine. During the day it’s different. The drive to sleep comes and goes.
If your baby is overtired and cranky from being up during the night, this will make nap training nearly impossible. That’s because a well-rested baby naps better than a sleep deprived one. When your baby sleeps well at night and is a rested and happy baby, it’s much easier to get him napping longer too. Seems counterintuitive, but it’s true!
In general, “sleeping well” means that your baby spends the majority of the night sleeping! For 6+ month olds, this means your baby either sleeps through the night or has 1-2 night feeds where he quickly falls back asleep and sleeps long stretches. Younger babies may need more night feeds, but they settle easily after.
If your baby is awake and difficult to settle for long periods of time at night, I recommend you pause nap training and instead work on night sleep. My free Exhausted Mom’s Survival Kit guides you through the essential steps of setting your baby up to sleep well at night.
Step 2: Keep an eye on baby’s awake times
“Awake times” are simply the periods of time that your baby is awake throughout the day. (For example, in between naps.)
If awake times are too short, your baby may not be tired enough and ready for a nap.
If awake times are too long, your baby may become overtired / overstimulated.
This causes your baby’s body to release stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, to keep baby awake and focused. Once these hormones are released, it’s very hard for baby to relax and nap well.
An essential step of nap training is following age-appropriate awake times. Sometimes, just a bit of tweaking baby’s awake times helps him nap longer!
Baby Awake Times:
Newborn: 30-90 mins
7-15 weeks: 1-2 hours
4-5 months: 1.5-2.5 hours
6-8 months: 2-3 hours
9-12 months: 2.5-3.5 hours
Toddler taking 2 naps: 3-4 hours
Toddler taking 1 nap 4-5.5 hours
Step 3: Fill the belly
Babies sleep longer when their bellies are full. You don’t want your baby waking early from a nap due to hunger. So make sure your baby has eaten within 20-30 minutes of putting her down for a nap.
[Important note] I’m not encouraging you to feed your baby to sleep, as that may contribute to short napping (see Step 7.) Instead, try to separate feeding and falling asleep by more than 10 minutes.
Step 4: Create a nap-friendly space
For older babies and toddlers, the most restorative sleep is non-motion sleep away from the distractions of the day.
Most babies younger than 4 months can nap anywhere. Your bright living room, a crowded cafe or an hour in the baby carrier doesn’t seem to affect their ability to nap well.
But around 4 months old, your baby goes through a big developmental phase. And part of this development results in a change in sleep patterns. (My 4 month sleep regression guide explains this more.)
Suddenly your baby becomes pickier about where and how she’ll fall asleep. She may wake up early from naps, fight naps or seem restless in general. So if you’ve found yourself wondering “Why does my baby suddenly take short naps or fight naps?” here’s what to do.
This is the classic sign that it’s time to make her daytime sleep space similar to her nighttime sleep space in order to help her nap well. All of the elements that help her sleep at night will help her nap better as well (like white noise, darkened bedroom, and the familiarity of her crib and sleep sack.)
Offer your child a nap-friendly space for every nap. This will (eventually) help her nap better and longer, because it provides the best quality and most restorative sleep.
If baby needs to occasionally nap in the stroller (lying flat, not upright) that’s ok too. Some babies nap better with motion, so this is a good option if your baby is stuck in a short napping pattern.
Step 5: Start a calming pre-nap routine
The purpose of a bedtime routine is to send behavioral cues to your baby that it’s time to settle down for sleep. Doing the same activities, in the same order, at the same time everyday is a proven way to help your baby relax and fall asleep without fighting it.
Your pre-nap calming routine should be similar to what you do at bedtime. Because it’s familiar, this signals to your baby that it’s time to relax and sleep.
Take a few elements from your bedtime routine and incorporate them into a short, relaxing pre-nap routine. (Dim the lights, put on a sleep sack, read a quick book and sing a lullaby.) Your little one will recognize this familiar pattern and understand that sleep follows.
Step 6: Keep your baby’s nap schedule consistent
Children thrive on routine. Having a predictable nap schedule helps your baby nap longer because his body clock is set to sleep at the same time each day.
Babies 6-7 months and older will be able to follow a by-the-clock nap schedule, while younger babies nap best by following awake times.
Nap schedules don’t have to be complicated! Your ideal daily schedule should be easy-to follow and allow for some flexibility, while meeting your baby’s sleep and nutrition needs.
The best part of having a consistent nap schedule is that you’ll have time each day for YOU time.
If your baby goes to daycare, keep your nap schedule the same as theirs. Having a regular rhythm to each day helps your baby nap easily, because her body is used to sleeping at that time.
My Daily Schedules & Developmental Activities Guide has example nap schedules for 6 months – 4 years old. Plus, it has creative play ideas and developmental toys to use at every age.
Here’s a preview
Steps 7-9 below are “advanced nap training” steps for 6 months and older.
Step 7: Get your baby falling asleep independently
Wondering why your infant’s naps are too short? Let me explain. Baby sleep cycles are around 50 minutes long. If your baby consistently wakes 45 minutes after falling asleep, it’s because she’s finished one sleep cycle and needs your help starting a new one.
“Sleep associations” are the props or conditions that we need in order to relax and fall asleep. If your baby is used to being rocked or nursed to sleep, then she associates these activities with falling asleep. She’s gotten used to you helping her fall asleep.
There’s nothing wrong with this! It’s just that she’ll need your help to start a new sleep cycle when she wakes early from a nap. And it can be hard for babies to fall back asleep after a short nap. They’ve gotten some sleep, so their drive to sleep is weak. They may feel refreshed and ready to be awake!
If this is the case for your little one, then it’s time to teach her how to fall asleep on her own. Introduce new sleep associations that don’t require you like white noise, a lovey (for older babies & toddlers) and falling asleep in her bed (rather than in your arms.)
That way, when baby stirs after only 40 minutes of napping, she won’t need your help falling back asleep. She knows exactly how to do it on her own. This step works magically with extending your baby’s short naps!
My nap training program shows you exactly how to get your baby falling asleep independently for naps and taking long, restful naps.
Step 8: Begin a “nap power hour”
This is the secret weapon for lengthening your baby’s short naps! But it works only when you’re doing the above steps too.
It goes like this: when your baby goes down for a nap she’ll stay in her bed one hour, even if she wakes early.
This teaches your baby that nap time doesn’t end just because she’s woken, and encourages her to fall back asleep. How you help your baby resettle when she wakes early from a nap depends on several factors.
My nap training program walks you through the “nap power hour” and picking a nap training method that is a perfect match for your little one.
Step 9: Stay consistent
Once your baby is a rock star napper, do your best to keep his nap routine consistent everyday (yes, even on weekends.) Babies can unlearn good napping habits just as quickly as they learn them!
Prioritize your baby’s need to sleep during the day. Rather than going out and risking your hard-earned nap time, invite people over. You may have to brush up on your baking skills (and clean the bathrooms). But here’s the secret: when your baby naps well, you actually have time to cook and clean.
Bonus tip: Remember the big picture
If you’re feeling stressed about your baby’s short naps, it can help to have a look at the big picture.
Track your baby’s sleep (day and night) for one week. How much sleep does he get in 24 hours? If naps are on the short side, but baby sleeps a total of 14-15 hours each day (and he’s happy and thriving) it may be that your baby prefers to sleep longer at night.
Keep in mind
Nap training takes time. It’s perfectly normal for parents to spend a few weeks trying to get their babies taking longer naps. If you can do the above steps consistently everyday, your baby will learn to nap well.
Also, your baby needs to sleep well at night in order to nap well during the day. So if your baby’s night sleep ever gets off track, focus on nighttime sleep training instead. Good luck with nap training!