Catnaps! A major source of confusion, frustration and sometimes even controversy among new mums. Today Erika from The Sleep Dept is diving into all of your burning questions about the mysterious catnap; from what it actually means, how it’s different from a regular short nap, why it happens and what the heck you can do about it!
So, what is a catnap?
A catnap is a short sleep cycle, usually between 20-45 minutes or less – I’ve even had a few babies who consider 5 minutes a sleep! Generally, catnapping babies are unable to re-settle after these short naps, meaning they can’t put sleep cycles together for a deep, restorative sleep.
Why do catnaps happen?
Catnapping normally starts when your baby is around eight to ten weeks old. There are a couple of different reasons why catnaps happen. Firstly, babies, in general, are biologically programmed to wake more often and easily than adults. Due to an inbuilt survival mechanism, they spend more than 50% of their sleep time in REM (light sleep).
Secondly, at this age, your bub starts to figure out the difference between day and night. In theory, this is a good thing as it means they’re developing their circadian rhythm or internal body clock— ie. the thing that will eventually allow them to sleep deeply throughout the night (hallelujah!) However, this means that their sleep cycle changes.
So, when your baby wakes up at the end of their first sleep cycle looking all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, naturally you’re inclined to get them up — after all, that’s what you’ve always done! But what normally happens is, they start to get sleepy again after about 30 minutes, so you have to put them down again. This cycle goes on and on without any structure or routine and before you know it, you’re just as tired and cranky as they are!
How to tackle a catnap…
There are various things you can do to get your little one past the catnapping phase. These include:
+ Where possible, put your baby down for a nap at home, rather than in the car or pram when out and about. Of course, it’s not always going to be realistic to keep them awake while you’re on the go, but planning your outings around their designated nap times will help. A good rule of thumb is the 80/20 principle — 80% of their naps should be at appropriate times in their designated space and the other 20% can be under special circumstances (like when you’re Christmas shopping and it’s ended up taking you two hours, not the estimated 20 minutes!)
+ Speaking of home, it’s essential to ensure your bub’s designated sleeping area is optimised for sleep. This means finding the right temperature (just like Goldilocks said, not too hot and not too cold!) and ensuring the room is dark and comfy. If there’s any sound pollution around, you may also want to experiment with a white noise machine.
+ The best way to say ‘seeya!’ to catnaps is by introducing an age-appropriate nap timetable. This ultimate guide to nap times is the perfect starting point.
+ Dummies are a common sleep disruption, especially if it’s falling out all the time. See this feature article Erica has previously written for us with tips for ditching the dummy
+ If your baby is waking every 45 minutes or less, it’s worth trying to resettle them. This may involve holding them as they cry or fuss or simply staying in their sleep space to soothe them with your presence. However, I recommend only doing this for a maximum of 20 minutes as anything beyond that is going to be futile!
+ If you were looking for an excuse to take your little one to the beach, park or coffee shop (now we’re talking!) in the middle of the day, you’ve just found it. It’s important for your baby to get some natural sunlight exposure every day, as it’s vital for the production of the sleep hormone, melatonin.
When are catnaps acceptable?
Catnapping isn’t always a cause for concern. If your bundle of joy is otherwise happy and healthy and you’re already working on developing a solid sleep routine, the occasional catnap isn’t going to hurt. In most cases, this will correct itself naturally over time as their awake time increases.
However, if your baby is seven months or older, regular catnapping – all throughout the day – can be a sign that other issues are at play. These can include poor sleep habits, illness, hunger, teething or being too hot or cold. It is very normal for infants to have a small catnap in the afternoon to get them through until bedtime, but if all your babies naps are short, it might be worth looking into setting up some more structured nap routines. If your bub is regularly waking up throughout the night due to poor day sleeps or is unable to make it through to the next nap time without getting the grumps, you may need to seek the advice of a professional who can help you get things back on track.
Other feature articles Erika has written for us
Why baby sleep training isn’t all just black and white – view here.
Top tips for dealing with the 4 month sleep regression – view here.
Tips for getting rid of the dummy – view here.
Sleep deprived? Here’s why sleep is a must for a healthy relationship – view here.
Erika has been working in childcare for nearly a decade. She’s worked with Newborns, Toddlers, Special Needs, Multiples… and everything in between. Her curiosity in guiding babies to sleep began in 2012, and she quickly read every book she could get her hands on. She then completed qualified training courses in various sleep training techniques. Over the years, she would help out friends and families, before she took her growing passion and turned it into The Sleep Dept. Erika has created her own gentle techniques that have had a 100% success rate. There is no better feeling than supporting families to not only find a solution to their families sleep issues, but one that they also feel comfortable with. To find more about her services, visit thesleepdept.com
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