Is your Baby a Napper...
Our aim as parents is often to help our little ones achieve the most sleep possible for their age. When our little ones develop a cat napping pattern during the day and even night this can be frustrating for parents.
A cat nap is often a sleep period shorter then 45 minutes and can be as short as 10-15 minutes at a time. During a cat nap your child will often only spend a very short time in a deep restorative sleep state. During a deep sleep or non-REM sleep period, this is where your child will process what they have learnt during their awake period, as well help develop memory, grow and strengthen their learning ability. A child who consistently only takes short naps will be missing out or not achieve a great amount of restrictive sleep.
Most children start to cat nap from the age of 3 - 4 month, which often also coincides with the 4 months sleep “regression”. During this period of time your child’s brain is maturing and shifting to a more adult like sleep cycle, where they will spend more time in a non-REM state (deep restorative sleep). A sleep cycle last 45 minute and if your child is a cat napper they often are unable to link sleep cycles, moving onto the next sleep cycle without their sleep becoming unhinged.
The most frustrating part for parents is this cat napping cycle and inability to link sleep cycles. This is often because your child has had just enough sleep to make them feel refreshed and energised, reducing there level of sleep debt, making it harder to resettle back to sleep. Cat Napping can often mean your child is snacking at feed time as well. Meaning they are not having a big feed, just a snack then nap, then a snack feed, then nap......and this can go on for many months until the cycle is broken. Therefore, to help with the snack feeds we also need to help improve the cat napping.
While it is normal for a child to go through a cat napping phase, often during 3-6 months of age, it is important to understand that this is often because your child’s sleep has now matured and they need to learn to sleep more independently. This shift and maturing of sleep means that your child now needs to learn 2 very important skills in order to achieve a happy sleep balance again. They also need to learn how to consolidate those cat naps into a longer more restorative sleep. The two important skills are helping your child learn to self-settle and resettle independently.
The true meaning of self-setting and resettle, mean unassisted and without a dummy, bottle, breastfeed, pat, rock or sing to sleep, which can often feel like the hardest part for parents. All these extra techniques work beautifully when our children are young, but from about 4-6 months can start to work again them achieving there best quality sleep.
Helping your little one learn these skills is not as scary as it sounds. You can teach your child to sleep in any way. Your child looks to us as parents for guidance and direction. The cues and sleep routines that you have developed gives your child an indication of what they need to do, when it is bedtime and for how long. Therefore, if the current bedtime or sleep environment does not promote or encourage an independent style of sleep and your child if over 4 months old, then this is an area you can work on with your child. They are developmentally able to learn the true skills of self-settling and resettling confidently. These skills are so important to children long term quality sleep. Until they learn these skills sleep can often be a challenge and even stressful at times for everyone.
There are a number of factors which will help your child learn to link sleep cycles and move on from cat napping.
Consistency is Key
Positive bedtime routine
Positive sleep associations; such as a sleeping bag or swaddle (age dependent)
Positive sleep environment and making sure your child is dresses appropriately for the room temperature
Ensure your child is having the right amount of wake time and not being put to bed to early or to late for there age
Going to bed at the right time for their age
Milk Feeds (breast, bottle, or cows milk for older children) and diet is correct and at the right times of the day to reduce snack feeding.
Work on allowing your child to develop the confidence to go to sleep independently. This is key! They way your child goes to sleep is how they should wake up.
Resettle any early wake ups if needed
Be patient and loving as your child is learning
As mentioned, cat napping can be a frustrating and exhausting time for everyone. A child who cat naps during the day will often have frequent wake ups at night as well. But by working on encourag healthy sleep skills and balance you are helping your child learn to sleep happy again.
If cat napping is a problem in your home with one or more of your children, and you are wanting extra support to help your child move on from this phase please contact me. My Learn To Sleep Programs give a comprehensive and step by step guide on how to help your child sleep happy again. Or I have many Sleep Consulting Packages (you work with me directly) to choose from to help you achieve your child’s sleep goals. Sleep is all about balance and I can help you achieve that balance in many ways if you wish.
Written By: Che Ruddell - Dreamy Baby Sleep Consultant