Baby won’t sleep more than 40 minutes (and I can’t remember my last warm cup of tea)

When baby won’t sleep more than small snatches of 30-45 minutes, it’s called baby catnapping. They sleep for a little while, then wake, get tired and want to do it all over again in another 45 minutes. It can be incredibly stressful. You just want a few moments to breathe in and out, or take a shower or put the washing on but unfortunately, your beautiful little one wants to say hello again soon after you got them to sleep. It can be even more stressful if it takes a long time to settle them in the first place. One of our mothers said:

 When you’re doing a 50 minute settle and she only sleeps for 25 minutes, it starts to feel pretty grim.

Let’s take a look at what happens in baby sleep cycles and why baby catnapping happens.

In babies (as well as adults), there are two broad types of sleep: rapid eye movement (REM sleep) and non-rapid eye movement (NREM or non-REM sleep). NREM contains the deepest part of a baby’s sleep and even within NREM there are a number of different phases which vary in how deep they are.

Each time a baby goes to sleep, they tend to cycle through the different levels of NREM and then get to REM sleep which is when they dream (as their brain develops). After REM sleep, an adult becomes more wakeful and if disturbed might wake up, or if not disturbed, they go right back and start another NREM cycle and so it goes on throughout the night.

So – what does this have to do with catnapping?

Baby sleep cycles – including all the NREM and REM parts – are between 30-45 minutes long. In the early days, babies are pretty tired after being born and their brain is not sufficiently developed to cause much of a fuss when they get to the end of one of those cycles. They’re so tired, they’ll usually just keep sleeping.

When they hit around eight weeks (or a little later) their brain starts to develop to a point where they notice things when they wake and they have a feeling of “awakeness”. At around this age, they can also start to get hungrier and they might feel hungry when they wake after 35 minutes, even if they really do need another cycle. This behaviour usually happens in the day – at night they tend to realise it’s night time and press on with sleep – but if you’re really unlucky, it can also happen in the night.

The ideal for babies is that they are sleeping in 90 minute bursts in the day (and several hours at night).

So what can you do to get them to sleep this long?

Today, I’m going to tell you three things that can make a difference. I know it’s not easy and cajoling a catnapping baby into a second sleep cycle is going to take a bit of work. You’re up to it, though!

For a start, it’s worth looking around their sleep environment to check that it’s as boring as possible. If, up til now, you’ve been sleeping them out in the loungeroom, it might be time to put them in their bedroom (or yours if that’s where their bassinet or cot is). By this stage they know the difference between night and day so it doesn’t matter that they’re in their normal bed for a day sleep. Check there’s no interesting dangling things near the cot, the walls are blank and the room is nice and dark. Their brain is just starting to unfold like a beautiful flower and they’re starting to notice things. Everything is potentially fascinating.

Secondly, make sure they’re really full before you put them down for a sleep, even if this means you feed them a second time just before they go to sleep. This means their hunger won’t distract them.

Thirdly, when they wake after 40 minutes, don’t get them up. Try to resettle them in their bed. Pat them and shush them until they go back to sleep. The first few times this may take a lot of effort (like OMG, another 45 minutes) but after a while, they will get the hang of it and start to need less settling and eventually go back to sleep on their own.

These are just three things that will make a difference. If you’ve kicked the catnapping habit, I’d love to hear about what worked for you. Please let me a comment below or comment on Facebook.

I know you can get that baby sleeping for longer if that’s what you want. Let’s put the kibosh on catnapping together!

(I know that resettling can be the hardest part and while you can persevere on your own, you might want to take a look at my catnapping tip sheet which contains some more detailed instructions and lots of handy tips.)

All the best



PS: If you’ve got something out of this post, I’d be grateful if you’d consider sharing it with someone who it would help via social media.

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