At Love To Dream™, we know how important it is to establish a sleep routine that will last for years to come. One of the most common obstacles for parents and caregivers to navigate? Catnapping.
From why babies do it to expert advice on how to regulate your little one’s sleep pattern, find out everything you need to know about catnapping below.
What does catnap mean?
Catnapping is when a baby naps for very short periods of time – often between 20 to 40 minutes. In the first few weeks after birth, babies sleep between 14-20 hours a day, as they have not yet learned how to regulate their sleep cycles. They tend to struggle to get back to sleep after waking up and this can negatively impact their nighttime routine.
Why do babies catnap?
From sleep cycle maturation and overtiredness to hunger, discover the most common reasons why babies catnap below.
Sleep cycle maturation
One of the biggest reasons why babies catnap is because their sleep cycle, from light sleep to deeper sleep, is very short (often around 45 minutes). This means they spend more time in a light stage of sleep known as REM which makes them likely to stir. As children get older, they learn how to self-soothe, but until then will struggle to put themselves back to sleep.
Children who are put to sleep by being rocked, fed, or given a sleep association such as a dummy are more likely to catnap, as they will expect assistance when they wake from the first sleep cycle.
Newborns haven’t yet moderated their biological circadian rhythms to match day and night.
Over or under tired
To establish a healthy sleep routine, you need to ensure your baby isn’t over or under sleeping. If your little one hasn’t had enough awake time, they’ll struggle to sleep during the night and will never sleep past their first cycle. Equally, an overtired child will struggle to go back to sleep – which leads to more catnapping.
Hunger is another reason why your baby might keep waking up, this is especially common for babies with a tongue tie or reflux. Some parents find dream feeding is a way to combat this, as it can encourage your little one to sleep for longer.
The startle reflex
Babies have an involuntary startle response known as the Moro reflex, which presents itself when there is a loud noise or sudden movement. It can cause babies to twitch, stretch their arms and legs or arch their back during sleep, often causing them to jolt awake – this is known as ‘sleep start’.
Swaddling is one way in which parents and caregivers can try to prevent this. With a unique ARMS UP™ design, our award-winning SWADDLE UP™ encourages safe self-soothing from birth.
Exposure to light or sound can wake your newborn. Creating a safe, quiet, and calming environment will help your little one to drift off easier. You might even want to try white noise.
Illness or discomfort
Illness, allergies, and teething can also cause catnapping. If you’re concerned, speak to your GP.
How to stop catnapping
Every child is different. Below, discover our expert tips on how to stop your little one from catnapping. Remember, every child is different, and some will take longer than others to break the habit.
Create a safe sleeping environment
Turn down the lights, close the curtains, and use white noise in the run-up to naptime. By creating a familiar setting for your little one’s naps, they’ll soon learn that it’s time to sleep.
Always remove any toys, blankets, sheets, and other choking hazards before putting your baby down on their back.
Design a bedtime routine that works for you
Every family is different. If you have the time, create a bedtime routine that works for you and your little one. This might look like a bath, book, or lullaby. Repetition is fundamental in creating a sleep routine that will last for years to come.
Give them time
When babies rouse between sleep cycles, you might hear them cry, grizzle, or fuss. These are signs they’re trying to self-soothe. Give your little one time to resettle themselves before going to comfort them. If the crying escalates, quietly enter the room as though it’s nighttime. Keep the lights low, the curtains/blinds closed, and use hushed tones.
Our award-winning SWADDLE UP™ will enable your child to sleep in a more natural ARMS UP™ position that encourages self-soothing. Use our temperature guide to find the correct product for the season to ensure your little one is unlikely to wake up feeling uncomfortable.
Will my baby grow out of catnapping?
Babies who wake up 15, 20, or 40 minutes into their nap haven’t yet learned how to transition between sleep cycles which is why they wake up.
The circadian clock, a biological process that regulates sleep, begins to develop in the days and weeks after a baby is born. It’s driven by environmental cues such as daylight and stimulation. Over time, a child’s sleep cycles will mature, and this is when they will stop catnapping.
Every child is different and will learn how to self-soothe in their own time.
At Love To Dream™, we know that every child is different, and we’re committed to helping you to find the right solution for your family. With you at every step, Love To Dream™ believes today’s little dreamers are the shapers of tomorrow. For further advice from our experts, visit our Sleep Library.