It’s not unusual for a little one this age to only be able to sleep forty minutes at a time. It’s really not. I know that there are a lot of people who say that their babies are smashing out an hour and a half sleep, but it’s actually not unusual for a little one to only be able to sleep during the day in lots of 40-45-50 minutes up until the age of six-months. However, if your little one has only two or three of them during the day, that isn’t enough.
How do we address this?
If I had a client who had a little one who was only sleeping 2 x 40 minutes, the first thing I would be asking about is the room environment. Is it dark enough? A lot of people have read online that they need to teach their children the difference between night and day, so they have their child sleeping during the day in the light and it’s not really conducive to human sleep. If you ask any shift worker, they are going to be sleeping in as much dark as possible. They are going to be blacking out those windows so they can sleep and that’s because it’s the presence of natural light that inhibits secretion of melatonin. We want to make that room as dark as possible.
White noise is the other thing we don’t want timing out. You want rain or ocean sounds or something that undulates in pitch and volume and you don’t want it to time out. A babies sleep cycle goes for about 45 minutes. At the top of their sleep cycle, three of their senses switch back on – touch, sight, and hearing. If they sense that something is different, something is amiss i.e. their white noise has turned off, they are more likely to wake up. So it is actually doing more damage than good. I would recommend having white noise going the whole time and not timing out until you get your little one out of bed.
The other one is temperature. A lot of people are just popping their little ones down into bed during the day just wearing what they normally do. Think to yourself – if you went to bed at that time, would you put the doona on or not? Your baby probably needs that too. Maybe a heater to take the edge off that cool winter daytime temperature or a sleeping bag or just an extra layer so your little one is not cold as they are trying to nap.
The next thing I would ask is if they are self-settling at all. Now I do not mean doing sleep training (at four months that is too young) and I don’t mean doing control crying or having them cry it out either. What I do mean is maybe starting to think about having a little bit of the settling happening in the crib. So at the moment it might be 100% in your arms rock, rock, rock, pat, pat, pat, sing, sing ,sing to sleep and then popping baby into the cot. Maybe start working on having it be 95% in your arms and 5% in the cot and then once that is working, try 90% in arms and 10% in the cot.
Which means we are just gradually starting to wean them off having to fall asleep in your arms and starting to go to sleep in the cot instead. If you are at 90% and you pop baby in and she starts screaming, just pick her up – it’s fine. She is still really little and she is not going to learn that crying gets Mum to pick her up. Just try to work on having her be a little bit more awake as you put her down so that you are potentially avoiding sleep problems down the track.
The last thing we need to look at is wakeful periods. How long is she staying awake between naps? A lot of people feel like their little ones need to stay awake for two hours and that’s kind of a really crazy amount of time. It is way too long for little ones, so I would be saying look at the wakeful periods. Take a look at our page – you’ll find posts about wakeful periods and charts about age appropriate wakeful periods all the way through to one-nap babies.
My biggest message would be that it is not unusual for a baby to be only napping for only 40-45 minutes at a time. It is not crazy that baby is not linking sleep cycles yet. Only two or three of them during the day would be a cause for concern, however. I would be addressing the sleep environment, addressing how she is going to sleep and trying to start her to get her to be self-settling a little more and I would be addressing wakeful periods.
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