Is your baby a catnapper?


Many young babies sleep like angels in mummy’s arms, but only for ten minutes in a cot.

This is normal. Think about it from baby’s point of view: babies are ‘programmed’ to survive – and to survive, they must do everything in their power to stay close to their food source (mummy), warmth (preferably mummy) and safety (preferably mummy).

‘In arms’ is the only place a baby knows that she is safe.

Many mums expect that babies sleep 3 to 4 hours at a time, wake to feed, and then sleep another 3 to 4 hours. Unfortunately this is not the case with most babies. It is more realistic to expect short naps several times a day.

30-60 minutes of sleep counts as a nap (the average sleep cycle of a baby is 45 minutes).

Some babies are born catnappers. You can turn a long napper into a catnapper by interfering with her sleep, but you cannot turn a catnapper into a long napper.

However - before you jump to the conclusion that your baby is a born catnapper, first try the suggestions below to see if you can lengthen her naps.

Read: Is there such a thing as baby language?

Over stimulation and overtiredness

Catching the "sleep wave"

Being overtired causes chemical changes in the body to fight fatigue, and these interfere with baby’s ability to be calm and to fall and stay asleep with ease.

Being overtired can also make babies fussy, whiny, clingy, hyperactive or unable to amuse themselves. Overtired babies often don’t LOOK tired.

Watch out for early signs of tiredness and put baby down as soon as you spot them. Not in five minutes, not when you’ve finished your lunch, NOW! Otherwise, the window of opportunity passes and she gets her “second wind”.

This is also called “catching the sleep wave” – miss it and you may have to wait for the next wave. When your timing is just right, she will go to sleep much more easily.

Early signs of tiredness

  • Rubbing eyes
  • Pulling ears
  • Circles around eyes
  • Droopy eyelids
  • Sucking hands
  • Niggling
  • Staring into space
  • Quieting down, yawning etc.

Also: 10 baby hacks to help you through the first year

Learn to read your baby. Crying and fussing means you’ve waited just a little too long in getting her to sleep.

It is more difficult to see a colicky baby’s sleepy cues. With these babies, watch the clock more closely and make sure she doesn’t stay awake longer than 60 to 90 minutes.

Don’t see over-stimulation only as playing too much or too intensely with baby – just being awake too long is over stimulating.

Anticipate your baby's nap-times

Anticipate her nap-times (after 60-90 minutes of awake time) just as you anticipate her feeding times. Plan well ahead to avoid having to wake your baby from her nap when you have to go out.

If you have no choice, see if you can allow enough time for one sleep cycle (30–60 minutes) and try to get her up during her light sleep phase.


If mum-and-baby classes, shopping, visiting friends etc. interfere with baby’s naps every day, try to tone things down a little. Consider lying down with her and getting some rest yourself. Keep giving her plenty of opportunities to practice sleeping by herself, though.

Try to stick to your baby’s routine, even if routine isn’t really your thing. You may think that a routine will restrict you, but it can actually make things easier for you because you can plan ahead for baby’s nap-time. And when you do go out, baby is happy and well rested.

Must read: How to set a routine for your newborn

Getting your baby to sleep

Swaddle her before you put her down to nap. If she doesn’t like swaddling, try half-swaddling (leave her hands free or swaddle her with her hands close to her mouth).

Once your baby is asleep

Newborns take approximately 20 minutes to reach deep sleep, so if she has fallen asleep in your arms or a car seat, wait 20 minutes before moving her into her bed. By 3 months, it takes about 10 minutes to reach deep sleep.

If she has fallen asleep in the sling, put her down sling and all on a double bed (just slip it back over your head) and use the sling to cover her. Tuck her in with a rolled up blanket on either side of her so that she feels held.

Putting your baby into bed

When transferring a very drowsy or sleeping baby from your arms to the cot, lower her bottom first into bed, not head down, as we tend to do (which triggers her startle reflex).

It may help to start singing her sleep time lullaby softly while she is still in your arms. Then, while still singing, gently lower her into her cot. Keep your hands resting heavily on her for a minute or two, singing all the while. Then, slowly lift your hands one by one.

Back away; keep singing! Now you can tiptoe out. Fade out the singing.

Interesting: How long should a nap be?

If your baby wakes too soon

If baby wakes after less than 30 minutes of napping and is cranky and still seems tired, you can try the following:

when she starts to niggle, go to her immediately, rest your hands heavily on her and rock her gently where she is lying. She may still cry a little, but you are there for her.

If she doesn’t settle, try picking her up and rocking her, or lying down with her to cuddle her close.

If this doesn’t work, there’s not much else you can do at this stage. You cannot force a baby to sleep.

This kind of napping can be very frustrating for you, but don’t despair – babies do eventually learn to nap by themselves (just as they learn to eat and walk by themselves). This phase will pass.

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