When Do Babies Stop Catnapping? & How to Cope with it

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If you’re wondering, when do babies stop catnapping? I have the answer you’re looking for, why it happens, and how to cope with it.

You’ve just sat down with what was supposed to be your first cup of hot coffee for the day. Let’s be real, though; it’s probably lukewarm at best by now. You’re crossing your fingers that your baby takes a nice long nap for once.

But right on schedule, you get exactly 17 minutes before your catnapping baby is wired for sound and you’re starting to think these short naps are plotting against you.

Ugh.

The good thing is this is only temporary.

Babies typically stop catnapping and start to outgrow short naps somewhere around 4-6 months of age. Depending on the sleep pattern of your baby, that could happen earlier, while others will take a bit more time.

Young baby sleep needs can be incredibly frustrating. The more we understand, the better we can cope with the lack of sleep.

In this blog post, I’ll be sharing information for new parents about wake windows, how to transition from those frustratingly shorter naps to the nice long sleep periods you dream about, and gentle approaches to get restful longer stretches of sleep to save your sanity.

Now, let’s get into all things baby sleep!

Understanding Catnapping

Catnapping is easily one of the more frustrating phases of baby sleep.

From our perspective, it’s a short nap that are just long enough to trick us into thinking we get a break (about 20-40 minutes). But they’re also not long enough for us to actually do anything productive.

Longer naps, however, involve your baby getting at least an hour nap so you finally have the chance the breathe. Maybe you’ll even be able to drink a hot cup of coffee or two!

But – there’s a bit more to it than that.

Let’s switch gears for a sec and talk brain science. Underneath these frustrating naps is a lot of development happening behind the scenes.

The first few months of life, your baby’s sleep is almost entirely made up of REM sleep and they will get a very light stage of sleep a lot of the time. This sleep cycle is crucial for learning and development, so of course they need lots of it!

You might be used to 90-minute sleep cycles multiple times throughout a single night sleep. But that’s not the case for a young baby. They go through that process much, much faster.

This results in more frequent light sleep phases and abruptly waking up.

The main reason for this all comes down to survival instincts. Their body knows they need to wake up for safety and feeding. It’s super frustrating that your baby won’t nap for longer periods, but just know they’re doing exactly what they’re wired to do.

Having said that – I KNOW that doesn’t change the fact you’re exhausted.

Knowing your baby’s short capnaps are a normal part of development can help you dig deep and find some extra patience, though.

Just think of all the groundwork that’s being laid down for the learning and growing they’re doing. The first 4 months are the hardest, but once you get past that, it’s much easier.

It’s actually been found that young babies grow the most in terms of sleep within that phase of life!

Developmental Milestones and Sleep

Since development and sleep intertwine so much, it felt pretty necessary to touch on it.

The most important piece is this:

Catnapping isn’t just some bad habit your baby started doing. It’s literally a stepping stone in their overall sleep development.

As they grow, their sleep pattern will evolve (hence sleep regressions) to reflect changes in their development. Those shorter naps they’re taking are rest but they’re also supporting development.

In the first months of life, their brain is like a sponge. The amount of growth they experience in the first year is truly mind-blowing. Can you just imagine how exhausting that is?

These catnaps allow your baby to get a quick recharge before they’re back to exploring the world around them. They consolidate and process all the new information they just soaked in. They’re crucial for the learning process!

Development

Your baby is going to reach so many exciting milestones – both physical and cognitive.

As they happen, sleep needs and patterns will change as they will need different amounts of rest. Sleep times will start to shift and gradually short catnaps will extend into long stretches of sleep.

They’ll start doing things like:

  • Smiling at you
  • Cooing and babbling
  • Holding their head up
  • Reaching and grasping objects
  • Tracking objects near them
  • Rolling over

Think about all the work being done behind the scenes to hit those milestones! It’s so much work to be a little baby where everything around them is new!

Sleep Patterns

As your baby approaches 4-6 months of age, they start to develop a more mature circadian clock. They solidify that internal clock that tells us when it’s time to be awake vs sleeping.

This is a process that generally goes like this:

  • The newborn stage starts with an underdeveloped circadian rhythm while the part of the brain that regulates sleep is still maturing. They produce very small amounts of melatonin.
  • By around 6 weeks old, babies start sleeping longer as their brain starts to produce more melatonin.
  • By 3 months, babies start getting longer stretches of sleep. Their brain responds to environmental cues more and they’re producing more melatonin. The sleep-wake cycle is becoming more defined.
  • By 4 months, sleep is more defined and their sleep patterns become more predictable.

Understanding the connection between developmental milestones and sleep can really help in the early days. You’ll still be sleep-deprived, but you’ll have more willingness to see it through.

Not that we have a choice, LOL. But hey, knowledge is power, right?

Wake Windows

Wake windows are especially important to pay attention to. They’re the periods between naps when baby is most alert and happy.

Knowing when wake windows are can help us support baby for sleep and they don’t end up cranky because they aren’t tired yet, or on the flipside, an overtired baby. The windows shift as they grow, too.

You’ll want to stay up to date on what your latest windows are and be sure baby is getting enough awake time.

In the first months, they generally look like this:

  • Newborns awake time will only be 30-60 minutes
  • By 2 months, that grows to 1-1.5 hours at a time
  • By 3-4 months, they can be awake for as long as 1.5-2 hours.

If you want to learn more, check out this article about wake windows by taking cara babies.

Coping with a Catnapping Baby

Okay, you understand why you have a catnapping baby, but how on earth do you cope with it in the meantime? Well, I have a few suggestions for you.

A lot of these suggestions help in the longterm, but I also have a few tips for you, too.

Establish a Sleep Routine

It might seem pointless but let me assure you that it’s super important to have a nap routine as well as a bedtime routine.

As mentioned above, this sets the foundation for a baby’s sleep patterns later in life. Determine a set of events that happen in the same order to create sleep associations.

A sleep routine might include things like:

  • a warm bath before bedtime
  • singing to baby before you lay them down
  • reading to your baby
  • swaddling baby
  • provide full feeds before sleep

Create a Sleep-Inducing Environment

Just like establishing an age-appropriate routine, creating an encouraging environment is key as well. This encourages the development of circadian rhythm.

A few things you can do include:

  • Make sure your baby sleeps in a dark room (dark enough you can’t even see your hand in front of your face)
  • Use a white noise machine to mask distracting sounds and lull your baby to sleep
  • Develop sleep cues such as a specific lullaby you sing before bed
  • Make sure the temperature is properly set so it’s not too hot or cold for your baby
  • Follow best practices for safe sleep

Pay Attention to Wake Windows

Get familiar with your baby’s wake windows so you’re not dealing with an overtired baby because of shorter naps.

Take the time to notice sleepy cues, such as:

  • rubbing their eyes
  • yawning
  • becoming fussy
  • eyes getting heavy

Another thing you can do is make sure to stimulate them when they are awake. This can help exhaust them so they sleep more soundly.

Include activities such as:

  • tummy time
  • talking and singing to your baby
  • taking a walk outside in the fresh air

Take Care of Yourself

It’s easy to get all in our feels when we’re tired but try your absolute best to be flexible and patient. It’s hard to be frustrated with a baby!

A few things you can do for yourself:

  • Ask loved ones to come help with the baby while you get some rest
  • Give yourself grace for the imperfections
  • Drink plenty of water & feed yourself
  • Let your baby fuss for a few minutes while you gather yourself (seriously, it’s okay!!)

Teaching a baby to sleep is hard work, but you got this.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I know if my baby is ready for a nap?

Look for those sleep cues like rubbing eyes, yawning, fussiness, or heavy eyes. These will indicate the end of the awake window is nearing and it’s time to start the naptime routine.

Is it normal for my baby’s nap time to vary day by day?

It sure is! That’s especially true in the first few months. Growth spurts, developmental milestones, and even changes in routine can effect the length of naps. As long as baby seems happy and is growing, I wouldn’t worry too much about it.

How can I extend my baby’s short cat naps?

To encourage longer stretches of sleep, make sure your baby isn’t overtired. Observe wake windows, encourage sleep through their environment, and establish sleep routines as early as you can. These will all cue to baby that it’s time for sleep.

Should I wake my baby if they nap for too long?

I don’t believe so, no. Unless it’s interfering with their next feeding or you think it will affect bedtime. You know your baby best! Getting enough sleep is needed to support development and sometimes they need extra. But if you’re worried, you can always ask your pediatrician about it.

What if nothing seems to help my catnapping baby?

If you’ve tried everything and exhausted all options, you might just have a baby that likes catnaps. Most will outgrow it by 4-6 months. But if you’re worried about it, you can call your pediatrician just to make sure nothing is wrong.

Conclusion

Now you’re loaded with the information you need to cope with your little cat napper. You understand your baby’s wake windows, how baby’s circadian rhythm develops, and strategies to try.

Make sure to support your baby’s development with consistent sleep routines, establish a support environment, and try your best to be patient through the process.

You’re doing an amazing job! I know how frustrating this stage can be but know it doesn’t last forever. You got this.

References

  1. Tham, E. K., Schneider, N., & Broekman, B. (2017). Infant sleep and its relation with cognition and growth. PubMed Central. https://doi.org/10.2147/NSS.S125992
  2. Henderson, J., France, K., Owens, J., & Blampied, N. (2010). Sleeping Through the Night: The Consolidation of Self-regulated Sleep Across the First Year of Life. American Academy of Pediatrics, 126(5). https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2010-0976
  3. Jiang, F. (2020). Sleep and Early Brain Development. PubMed Central. https://doi.org/10.1159/000508055
  4. Blumberg, M., Gall, A., & Todd, W. (2014). THE DEVELOPMENT OF SLEEP-WAKE RHYTHMS AND THE SEARCH FOR ELEMENTAL CIRCUITS IN THE INFANT BRAIN. PubMed Central. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0035891

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