Solving Nap Troubles
by Valerie Plowman
Reason 1: Hunger
Growth spurts happen the entire time your child is growing. It is wise to always first assume your baby is having a growth spurt when he/she starts waking up early from naps all of a sudden. Feed your baby. If your baby takes a full feeding, then you know your baby was hungry. If your baby does not take a full feeding, then you can look at other possible causes of the early waking.
If it is a growth spurt, it can take as little as a couple of days and as long as a week or so for baby to get all of that food to get the growth the body is trying to achieve. When your children get older and have growth spurts, you will more fully appreciate why baby had to eat all.the.time to get the food baby needed. I watch my older children go through growth spurts and I am in awe at the volume of food that goes into their bodies.
You also want to look into other causes of hunger. Milk supply can drop. Formula amounts might need to be increased. Solids might need to be introduced.
If your baby is waking because of hunger, there is nothing you can do to stop the short naps except offer more food. You don't want baby hungry and there is no reason to beat your head against the wall. Check hunger first.
Reason 2: Sickness or Pain
If it isn't hunger, the next thing to evaluate is sickness or pain. Many times, it is very obvious that it is sickness and not hunger that is keeping your baby awake--you won't even have to consider hunger first. If it isn't obvious, check the temperature, look at the gums, and/or try giving teething remedies (I have a whole bunch of ideas in my Surviving Teething post). If your baby can't sleep through the night and is fitful, always look at ear infections.
If your remedies for sickness/teething help your baby to sleep better, then you have your answer. Do not be afraid to comfort a sick child. You can get back on your regular routine after the sickness is gone or the tooth pain subsides.
Gas and reflux are other pain issues that cause short naps. As babies with reflux grow, their meds need to be increased. As babies start solids, they can have gas or be blocked up. Gas drops and gripe water are both very helpful for both gas. Gripe water is very helpful for reflux pain.
Reason 3: Waketime Length is Off
As children grow, they need a longer waketime. If your playtime length is too short, your baby will likely play before a nap (or younger babies cry), then fall asleep later than should have, and then have a shorter than ideal nap.
You will frequently need to add 5-15 minutes to playtime as your baby gets older. If your baby stops taking good naps and isn't hungry and isn't sick or in pain, analyze your waketime length.
Reason 4: Wonder Weeks
Wonder Weeks! This is practically a curse word among parents who know the phrase. Wonder weeks are predictable times when babies have fussy times. They might just be grumpy while awake, but they might also just not sleep well. In my opinion, the worst wonder week happens as you lead into week 20 (and can be a month of a lead-in). It is so worth it to know if your baby is in Wonder Week territory. You will still want to look at hunger, sickness, and pain. If those things don't solve it and you are in wonder week time, the answer is usually to just wait it out. Wonder Weeks are kind of like witching hour--there isn't much you can do to change it.
The upside is your child comes out of a wonder week period with new skills and abilities and is back to your sweet little baby.
Reason 5: Development of New Skills
This is often related to Wonder Weeks. As your child learns skills like rolling over, crawling, standing, talking, etc., there will usually be some nap issues that come along with it. Your child will be desperate to practice these skills and does not care in the least that it is supposed to be nap time. Read more on new skills and sleep disruptions here.
Reason 6: Playtime Activities Need to Change
If playtime is not stimulating enough for your child, then your child will not be tired enough for nap. This tends to happen more with older babies on up to toddlers. We are talking 6 months or older. You might need to make playtime more mentally stimulating. You might need to make it more physically stimulating. Exercise and stimulation are very important.
Reason 7: Temperature and Season Changes
My youngest always starts to wake early in the morning or wake in the night when temperatures drop and we don't put warmer pajamas on her.
As the seasons change, so does the sun. If the sun is waking up earlier, it might be waking your child also. You might also not be getting enough sun during the day to regulate normal levels of melatonin, which is what tells your body it is time for bed. This can happen in the winter. 10-15 minutes of sun around noon can help that (for all people, babies up through adults).
Reason 8: Props are Interfering
Some babies start off life just fine using a pacifier, but around 3ish months, the pacifier starts to be a problem rather than a help. There are a lot of props you may have used for the newborn time period that is doing more harm than good in the baby period. Take a look at the different props you use and see if it is time to get rid of them. This can include swings, swaddles, pacifiers, rocking, sleep location, etc. You don't need to feel bad for having used any of these things, but you do need to honestly evaluate their impact now.
Reason 9: You Changed Something
Has something changed in your baby's life recently? Are you stretching out waketime length? Are you asking for more flexibility? Did you just go on vacation? Has the weather changed your normal routine? Looking at what changed around the time the naps went bad can often give you the solution you are looking for. You need to look back about 3-4 weeks before naps went sour, also. Sleep Deficit takes time to develop.
Reason 10: Your Baby Needs a Bigger Diaper
This one is almost too simple. Your baby might be waking simply because he or she needs a larger diaper. This might be just for night or it might be day, also.
These reasons listed above are all very common reasons for having night sleep issues. I have experienced all of them over the course of my mothering years, and I am sure you will, too! For even more ideas, see my Sleep Problems Index.
Valerie is the mother of four and blogs at babywisemom.com. She is also the co-author of Babes, Tots, and Kids, a preschool curriculum book for babes through preschoolers.