Last week I wrapped up working with a family who had a sweet 4 month old little boy. They reached out to me because he used to be a great napper as a newborn. His parents were able to put him down for a nap and he would sleep a good hour or two for each nap. But when he turned 4 months old, those long naps were a thing of the past. Almost every time they put him down for a nap, he was up half an hour later. His mom was almost in tears when she asked me “why does my 4 month old only nap for 30 minutes?” She told me it was like he had the curse of the 4 month old short nap. But within a few weeks, we were able to get him napping well again!
Believe it or not, there’s a biological reason why 4 month olds begin taking short naps. But the good news is that there are strategies that you can use to help your 4 month old get much longer naps. Here is your guide to my top 4 secrets to solve 4 month old short nap.
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How Long Should a 4 Month Old Nap?
First, let’s address how long a 4 month old’s naps should be. In a perfect world, a 4 month old should be napping between an hour and a half to 2 hours for each nap. Imagine how rested your baby would feel getting all that wonderful sleep during the day. And imagine how wonderful that would feel to be able to get a few things done during the day yourself (or maybe catch up on a little shut eye too).
But how much total daytime sleep should a 4 month old get during the day? A 4 month old baby should be getting around 4 hours of daytime sleep for their naps.
You can see how if your baby is only taking 3 or 4 30-minute catnaps during the day, they’re not getting nearly enough of that important daytime sleep.
Why Does My 4 Month Old Take Short Naps?
So now that you know how long your 4 month old should be napping during the day, let’s talk about why your 4 month old is only taking those 30-minute naps. Now that your baby is coming out of the newborns stage, the way they organize their sleep cycles is completely rearranging.
When your baby was a newborn, they sleep cycles were only made up of two stages of sleep. They entered a light stage of sleep (non-REM). Then went into the deeper sleep, also known as REM sleep. Newborns spend about 50% of their sleep time in REM sleep.
But then around 4 months of age, your baby goes those a big biological change. Your baby’s sleep cycles change to be more like ours as adults. They now need to pass through 3 stages of non-REM sleep to get to REM.
Ever heard of the 4 month sleep regression? This is exactly why some babies experience that regression. It’s not as easy for them to transition from one sleep cycle into the next one anymore as a result of this change in their sleep cycles.
They may also be taking short naps because they’re overtired or don’t know that it’s time to go down for a nap.
So let’s take a look at 4 ways that you can break the 4 month old short nap habit.
How to Make My 4 Month Old Nap Longer
Now that you know WHY your 4 month old is taking short naps, let’s talk about HOW to get your baby napping longer.
I’m going to share my 4 secrets for how to eliminate the 4 month old short nap once and for all and get your baby taking those long, restful naps during the day.
First, you can help your 4 month old nap longer by teaching them how to fall asleep independently. Second, follow the appropriate awake times for their age. And lastly, you can try a no-cry method to extend that short nap.
4 Month Old 30 Minute Naps
A 4 month old baby’s sleep cycle typically lasts around 30 minutes. And since a baby now needs to go through the first 3 stages of sleep to get to REM sleep, it can make it more challenging to connect sleep cycles if they need your help to fall asleep.
What do I mean by this? Well I’d like for you to think about HOW you get your baby to sleep for a nap. Does your baby need you to do anything to get them to sleep? Do they require you to bounce them to sleep, rock or pat them to sleep? Do they fall asleep at the breast or the bottle? Maybe they even need to lay with you to fall asleep for their nap.
If you’re nodding your head “yes” to any of those, then your baby has developed a sleep association. And what’s happening now that they’re 4 months old, is that they fall asleep using that sleep crutch. They’re completing a 30 minute sleep cycle and when they come out of that first sleep cycle. They’re now more alert and they realize that they didn’t have what they fell asleep with. Maybe you’re not patting or rocking them anymore.
Why Does My 4 Month Old Only Nap for 30 Minutes?
Now that they are more fully wake up because they’re looking for that help from you to get back to sleep for another sleep cycle. You might be able to rock them back to sleep in your arms for another 30 minutes. But sometimes, even with your help, they’re not able to fall back to sleep with your help.
The best way to get your baby to consistently take those hour and a half to 2 hour long naps, is to teach them the skills needed to fall asleep independently, so that they don’t need any assistance to connect their sleep cycles.
There are several sleep training methods you can use to do this. If you’re looking for a gentle approach, you can check out our alternatives to the cry it out method. At Live Love Sleep, we generally keep parents in the room with their baby as they’re learning how to fall asleep without their assistance anymore. This way, you can still be comforting and supportive to your baby as they learn these new skills.
4 Month Old Short Nap Schedule
The second secret to helping your baby take long daytime naps is to make sure that your baby isn’t getting overtired. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had clients share stories with me that they got advice from their mom or friends to keep their baby awake for as long as they can so that they tire them out. They think, well maybe my baby will get so exhausted, that surely they’ll take a great nap.
But that is far from the truth. In fact, overtiredness can make it a lot more challenging for a baby to fall asleep for a nap and can lead to those short naps.
At 4 months old, your baby can really only handle about 1.5 – 2 hours of being awake at one time before they do begin to get overtired. That’s really not very much time out of the crib.
And their day can be very unpredictable with these short naps because it is hard to follow a schedule when they’re only taking 30 minute naps.
Check out my free resource library for sample schedules by age.
Download Your Free Sleep Schedules by Age
But if this schedule isn’t realistic at this point because of those short naps, then just follow their awake window and know that you may have to throw in another nap or even move bedtime up earlier.
Here’s an example of a 4 month old short nap day. In this example, your baby may be taking 4 naps. And bedtime is pulled forward. But you can see how your baby isn’t out of the crib for any more then 2 hours at a time.
Create Ideal Napping Conditions
Just as important as your baby’s schedule, the right sleep environment is equally important. This is my third secret to solving the 4 month old short nap.
If your baby’s room is too light, the sunlight could be making it more challenging to connect sleep cycles. So if you don’t already have some, get some blackout window covers or blackout curtains to make your baby’s room nice and dark.
Set the temperature to somewhere between 68 – 72 degrees for the ideal sleep temperature. And keep your baby warm and safe by putting them in an arms free sleep sack to sleep. My favorite is the Snuggy Buddy because it has a little stuffed animal that your baby can hold onto to help them self soothe.
How to Extend 4 Month Old Short Nap
Ok, so you’re teaching your baby how to fall asleep without any sleep props. They are going into their crib wide awake and are sleeping independently. And you’re following their proper awake windows of the 1.5 – 2 hours, but you’re still seeing these short 30-minute naps.
It can take a few weeks for the nap length to naturally extend following these two strategies. But if you’re looking to get there even faster, you can try to help your baby extend their nap.
Here are three ways that you can help extend the 4 month old short nap:
First, you can try to give your baby a little more time on their own to see if they can settle themselves. They may be able to put themselves back to sleep on their own without needing any interference.
Second, you can try to coax your baby back to sleep with some gentle patting or jiggling. You can try using your voice to soothe them back to sleep as well. You can softly shush or hum to them.
Or you can try a no-cry nap extension method, called the Wake to Sleep Method. This method can work really well for babies who know how to self soothe and are taking consistently short naps.
The Solution to the 4 Month Old Short Nap
As a Certified Pediatric Sleep Coach, I was able to help the family with their little 4 month old baby boy. I was able to help him take much longer naps using all 3 of these strategies and more. My team and I work with families all over the world to teach their baby how to fall asleep quickly and peacefully at night, sleep through the night and take great naps during the day. And we do that without asking you to leave your baby alone to cry it out.
If you need help getting your baby to get the quality sleep that they need to grow, develop, and learn at their optimal levels, please reach out. I hate to see moms silently struggle and feel like there is no help. Just click here to schedule a free Discovery Call to see if our services are the perfect fit for your family.