6 Reasons Your Baby is Taking Short Naps & Sleeping Off Schedule

Sep 26, 2023

As a new parent, getting your baby to sleep through the night can be challenging, but so can getting them to take long naps during the day. It can feel like a never-ending cycle of trying to keep your baby asleep, shushing them, and then waking up to find that their nap has only lasted 20 minutes. In this blog post, we’ll go through the main reasons as a baby sleep coach: babies could be taking short naps and what you can do to help them sleep soundly.

  • Overtired / Undertired: One of the most common reasons for short naps is that your baby might be timing. An under-tired baby who hasn’t been up long enough {therefore not producing enough adenosine, the sleep pressure hormone, might not have enough drive to take a long nap. On the opposite, an overtired baby might have difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep, even if tired, because when they have too much adenosine, their body triggers stimulant hormones, as it thinks they are trying to stay awake, and it tries to “help.” Babies can only tolerate so much time being awake, and their awake windows change as they grow older. So, it is essential to understand your baby’s sleep cues and allow them to rest when needed. If you need a sample schedule for your baby, go here.


  • Timing & Age: It’s normal for a baby’s sleep pattern to be inconsistent in the first few months of life. A newborn baby’s circadian rhythm isn’t yet fully established, and they’re still developing the ability to sleep for long stretches. You might notice that your baby sleeps a lot during the day but wakes up frequently at night. It can help to establish a bedtime routine to help set your baby’s internal clock and create a calming environment for sleep. In my experience, a baby will start to take regular naps on a schedule around 4 months to 5 months old. This is when they have the regulated clock and the ability to settle themselves to sleep. Once those two things happen, is when we see a nap schedule and consistency emerge.


  • Hunger, Gas, Discomfort: Babies need 24-32 ounces of milk in a given 24-hour period for optimal growth. This goes for breastfed and formula-fed babies. A baby’s tiny stomach means they need to eat frequently, and a hungry baby might wake up early from their nap. I advise that parents aim for 5 feedings in the daytime hours, roughly every 3 hours, to optimize digestion and daytime milk intake. It is also common for babies at this age with young digestive tracts to develop gas and digestive discomfort, which can also disrupt sleep. Excessive intake of air, dairy sensitivity and feeding on demand can all cause discomfort in digestion and gas. We love Colic Calm, which you can pick up at a local big box retailer, to help manage pain, allowing you to get your baby on a schedule.


  • Environmental Factors: External factors like noise, temperature, or discomfort can disrupt a baby’s sleep and result in shorter naps. You’ve probably heard about the importance of room temperature and the importance of a neutral sleep environment. Overheating or being too cold can make a baby restless and disrupt their sleep. The ideal temperature for a baby’s room is between 65-72°F. Dress them appropriately and closely monitor the temperature with a thermometer. We have a terrific baby dressing guide & stomach chart in our expansive free library of materials here.


  • Developmental Milestones: Babies go through various developmental leaps, such as learning to roll over or crawl, which can disrupt their sleep patterns and result in shorter naps. If you suspect something like this new leap is impacting sleep, because, let’s face it, babies get excited too, then practice that leap throughout the day. Help them sit if they stand, and help them roll back if they start rolling in one direction. Practice makes perfect and can get them through the leap faster. Reduce the urge to support them to sleep because you can quickly create new habits and sleep props to help them to sleep.


  • Poor sleep association or too much help to fall asleep: If your baby is used to sleeping in your arms or falls asleep with a pacifier, they might need those conditions to stay asleep. If they wake up and find the conditions are not the same, they might wake up crying after a short nap. A sleep association is when your baby associates a specific action before sleep, such as being held, singing a song, or nursing. Over time they might come to rely on it to fall asleep. Help your baby learn to fall asleep independently so they don’t depend on you to fall back asleep.

Babies can be fussy and challenging when it comes to sleep. They might wake up from a nap refreshed and ready to play or be grumpy and overtired. As a parent, it’s important to remember that every baby has unique sleep needs. Recognizing the reason for your baby’s short nap can help guide you in adjusting their sleeping environment or habits. Remember that toxic stress can come from sleepless nights, so caregivers must follow a sleep routine. With some patience and practice, your baby can quickly develop better sleeping habits, and you’ll catch up on much-needed rest.

We understand the challenges of sleepless nights and short naps all too well. At Tiny Transitions, our dedicated team of baby sleep coaches is here to help you and your little one get the restful sleep you both deserve. We work with families just like yours every day, tackling common sleep issues head-on. Whether it’s addressing developmental milestones, sleep associations, hunger cues, or environmental factors, we have the expertise to guide you through the process. Book a free sleep consultation and jump on a call to discuss your unique situation. Together, we can create a personalized plan to help your baby enjoy longer, more peaceful naps. Don’t let sleep struggles dim your joy—reach out to Tiny Transitions today and regain those precious hours of rest for both you and your baby.