Mum look at me, I’m awake!!
Does your baby wake up after one sleep cycle looking like they have had the most restorative sleep, only to look like they haven’t slept for a week 30-45 minutes later?
Sounds like you have a cat napper on your hands!
One thing to note is that cat napping is one of the most common sleeping problems experienced by parents, so you are definitely not alone.
That’s great I hear you say, but what can I do about it?
Know that in the beginning, it is a normal part of your baby’s development. A cat nap is a way to describe when a baby only sleeps for one sleep cycle or less. This is on average 40-45 minutes long. If cat napping hasn’t become obvious before, it can become more pronounced when your baby reaches around 8-10 weeks old. This is because it coincides with your baby’s developing internal clock (circadian rhythm) which can make sleep cycles become more defined. Your baby experiences periods of deep sleep followed by active (lighter) stages of sleep, and it is during the latter, where they can either transition into their next sleep cycle or wake up, ready to party! ⠀⠀
If your little one cat naps around the clock, appears overtired and grumpy for most of their day, you can try experimenting with our top 10 tips for cat napping babies. Check them out below.
1⭐️ Darkening the room. Simple and effective. Not only does a dark room encourage the production of melatonin, (the sleepy hormone that allows your baby to feel sleepy) it also decreases the distraction in the room as well as becoming a cue for sleep. Lights off means sleepy time!
2⭐️ White noise. Such a soothing sound for babies and toddlers struggling with cat napping. For young babies, the white noise mimics the sounds they would have experienced in-utero! Yes, it was a noisy place in there with whooshing sounds coming from your blood vessels and gurgles from your digestive system. No matter how old your child is, white noise can help your baby to really relax, switch off and prepare for a nice long sleep. It is also great in blocking out sudden loud noises. These noises may come from outside or within the home from other siblings, pets or other general household noises that can disturb your child in the lighter stages of sleep.
3⭐️ Temperature. Did you know that the optimum temperature for sleep is between 18-22 degrees Celsius? Ensure your baby is dressed for the temperature of their room so they do not become too hot or too cold (their chest, back and neck should feel nice and warm). Using a swaddle up until your baby starts to roll is great for keeping your baby warm, as well as reducing the impact of your new baby’s Moro (startle) reflex, which can cause a premature wake. When it’s time to move on from a swaddle at around 4-6 months, a sleeping bag is a perfect transition. Babies and toddlers are not very good at keeping their blankets on so this can ensure we eliminate cold as a reason for a premature wake!
4⭐️ Understanding tired signs. Young babies can get over stimulated very easily so it is good to be aware of tired signs to look out for and get them to bed before they become overtired. Overtired babies will take longer to settle and usually sleep for shorter periods during the day. Watch your baby and see how they act and look when they are due to go to sleep. If your baby yawns (not all babies will) my advice is to get them to sleep before the second yawn.
5⭐️ Eliminate hunger as a cause for waking. A regular feeding pattern can help reduce any feeling or doubt that your baby is waking due to hunger. You can also offer a top up feed before a nap or ensure that they will not be due a feed during the nap itself. This is not a normal feed or a time to catch a few extra zzzz’s, just a little extra, around 15 mins before a nap to set them up for a nice sleep ahead.
6⭐️ The power pause. Have you ever watched how squirmy and noisy a new baby can be, only to resettle moments later? If you haven’t, I suggest you give it a try! A few minutes (I love a power pause of 3 minutes) before responding can make all the difference!
7⭐️ Self-Settling. From 3 months of age if you haven’t already, this is a great skill to start working on. This is because developmentally it is more likely to be achievable, but it doesn’t mean you to have to perfect it overnight! If a baby is given more opportunity to learn and practice, the easier it will be for them to achieve, makes sense, right? So how do you do it? When your baby is due a sleep and is nice, calm and drowsy to begin with, simply put them down and see what happens. Pause and watch. If they start to get grizzly, give them some help within their sleep space. If it doesn’t work and you need to assist them to sleep, then do what you need to do. Maybe you would like to try again for the next sleep, tomorrow or in a week, whatever you are comfortable with. Practice makes perfect.
8⭐️ Resettling. This is a big one! So, they didn’t go back to sleep on their own and they look like they are well rested? We know better! If we continue to get them up after only one sleep cycle, it can feel like you are on a never ending roller coaster ride of ups and downs with no end in sight! Short sleeps can compound overtime creating an overtired baby, making it even harder to achieve any sleep at all! This may result in good night sleeps initially, then they can start to wake up when they haven’t woken previously! They may have a spontaneous long catch up sleep, which gives you some hope, only to get back onto the rollercoaster ride the following day! My suggestion would be to have a practice trying to resettle them within their sleep space and watch how they respond. Do they get a little upset but then start to calm down? Give it a little bit of time but not too much. If you have an older baby, the longer we can attempt to resettle. If this is something that you do not feel confident in doing on your own, please get in touch. My experience has shown me that a more rested baby means a more rested family.
9⭐️ Awake time. Catnapping can be a result of an awake time that is either too short for your babies age, or an awake time that is way too long for them to tolerate. Check out my Instagram account for more information on awake time recommendations. For younger babies, you can play around with their awake time by adding or taking away 5 mins every few days, once you know what their ideal awake times are. If you have an older baby, it is a good idea to look deeper into what is going on in their awake time. Have they been active? Have they had some outside playtime, or have they been in the pram all morning or doing very little at home? It is possible then they are just not tired enough for a big sleep! Being active and stimulated is not only important from physical and mental development point of view but it will also ensure that they build up some sleep need/pressure to want a nice long sleep to begin with.
10⭐️ Go easy on yourself! If you have a classic cat napper on your hands and you know they will nap longer in a carrier or pram, take them out for some naps during the day. Maybe you could just focus on one nap to begin with at home and allow yourself a break?! If your new baby is a cat napper, but seems happy in their awake time, or it hasn’t impacted their night sleep, you may just choose not to worry and see if it settles down naturally.
Cat napping usually settles down from a developmental perspective before your baby reaches 5 months. However, this can depend on your baby’s routine during the day, timing and certain sleeping associations which could make it become more of a challenge. After 5 months, if your little one is still cat napping, this is a great time to source some help if it is becoming something you want to see the back of. Here we can look a little deeper into why it is continuing and help bring together the strategies you need all into one place.
Note that not all catnapping is a cause for concern. You may already be compensating the short sleeps with an extra nap during the day, so if that works for you and your family please continue. Where there may be cause for concern is if your baby Is not happy in their awake time, cannot tolerate close to the age appropriate awake time or has started to wake up more overnight than before.
If this sounds like your baby and you would like some advice on how we can help. Please use our contact information to schedule a free 15 consultation to discuss your options.