Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child
Long Naps versus Short Naps
January 9, 2023

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A Healthy Child Needs a Healthy Brain, A Healthy Brain Needs Healthy Sleep

Question:  Why do some children have long naps, and other children have short naps?

Answer: It partially depends on the bedtime

Blog 113Long Naps versus Short Naps

When the bedtime is early, children wake up well rested.  Because there is a genetic effect on the duration of naps, some children take long naps and other children take short naps.  There is also a separate genetic effect on the duration of night sleep.  In this situation, there is no association between the duration of night sleep and the duration of day sleep (naps).  If your firstborn child took long naps, and you got used to this free time during the day, you might be frustrated if your second child takes short naps.  You cannot make this second child take long naps.

When the bedtime is too late, children do not wake up well rested, even with a late wake-up time, because they are not sleeping in synchrony with their circadian sleep rhythms (Blog Posts 62 and 112).  Also, usually, a later wake-up time, does not fully compensate for a later bedtime so that the duration of night sleep is shorter.   Therefore, throughout the day, there is increased sleepiness that causes long naps.  Here too, usually, the longer naps do not fully compensate for the shorter night sleep, so the duration of total (24-hour) sleep is shorter.  In this situation, there is an association between the duration of night sleep and the duration of day sleep (naps). That is, the shorter the night sleep, the longer the naps.  The late bedtime is masking the genetic effect on the duration of naps.  Also, in this situation, because sleep is not aligned with circadian sleep rhythms, short sleep duration, or both, there are many possible adverse outcomes for the child. Some researchers have mistakenly focused on the long nap(s) as the problem instead of correctly focusing on the parent-caused too late bedtime.

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  1. Hi Dr. Weissbluth,
    We have a 3 month old and we are having a couple problems.
    1 – we did extinction at around 10 or 11 weeks, and it has worked pretty well. He cried 50 minutes the first night and most nights since, he has only cried 15 minutes or so, but he’s still crying at least 5 or 10 minutes most nights. Is that to be expected? The book describes such a dramatic drop to 0 crying that we were almost surprised to have any crying still several weeks later.
    2 – naps have been a big issue. We try to do drowsy but awake, but are perhaps leaving him drowsier than we should. But, for every single nap of every day he wakes up at 30 minutes, like clockwork. We feel like our two choices are either let him wake up and have an overtired baby, or pick him up and let him spend the rest of his nap on his mom or dad while we rock him back to sleep (he clearly still seems tired). Do you have any guidance on how to improve his ability to stay down for a nap?

    Thank you!!

    1. What is the usual falling asleep time at night? Describe his behavior and mood during the hour or so before the sleep time when he is alone with toys and not in your arms or otherwise been soothed or attended by you.

  2. Hi our 8 week old will not sleep unaided during the day. She sleeps only in her swing or on someone whereas during the night, she falls asleep easily and wont wake for a feeding for 5+ hours (we used extinction method). She used to sleep in her babydome or basinette during the day in her first few weeks, but she went through her fussy phase and needed lots of extra soothing and holding to be able to sleep. She’s out of the fussiness phase but cannot sleep alone still. She typically goes to bed for the night between 7 and 8. During the day, we watch for signs of drowsiness then soothe to sleep but do not have a set nap schedule. She eats about every 2 hours during day. How can we get her to sleep by herself during the day?

    1. Was she born on, before, or after her due date?
      How involved is the father in sleeping her for naps, when available?
      Describe her mood and behavior when not soothed, held, or rocked between 5-7pm.

  3. She was born 1 week before due date. Father also will soothe and hold her for naps. We don’t usually attempt to put her down from 5 and 7. I tried tonight to see and she started crying.

    1. The brain wants an early fall asleep time around 6 weeks of age as the night sleep circadian rhythm begins. Because of her age focus only on night sleep. Practice a 5:30pm asleep time and drowsy but awake at this time. Choose a night sleep solution (Chapter 5 in my book) that you are comfortable with. The improved night sleep will eventually make naps better. For now, do whatever you can to maximize day sleep and minimize fussiness or crying during the day. Daytime sleep rhythms will emerge around 3-4 months of age and solidify by 6 months of age or earlier if, and only if, night sleep is healthy.

  4. Dear Dr. Weissbluth,

    My son is 4.5 months old. Prior to 3 months, he was beginning to sleep through the night in his SNOO (with motion on) and napped in my arms or in his carrier – often for hours at a time. Around 3 months, he started having night time awakenings and was unable to fall asleep in my arms. I read your book “Healthy Sleep Habits Happy Child” and we implemented extinction with early bedtime (5:30) and weaned him from his SNOO. He now sleeps in a motionless crib in our room. Extinction worked well for night time sleep and it only took about a week. He now falls asleep pretty reliably after bath time, feeding, a short lullaby with upright rocking with pretty much no crying at night. He usually wakes twice to feed and will go back to sleep on his own, and then wakes up between 5 – 6am. His bedtime is usually between 5:30 and 6:30pm.

    Our problem is with naps. He often takes only 30-40 min naps and when he awakes he cries and is fussy. I have experimented with wake windows. In the beginning, I tried short wake windows (45min – 1 hour) based on drowsy signs and still his naps were usually no longer than 45 min. Friends told me to try extending the wake windows and get him outside so I have tried 90min – 120 min wake windows. Often naps are worse with long wake windows – more like 30 min. Sometimes if I let him cry when he wakes up he can put himself back to sleep but sometimes even after 30 min of crying, he does not go back to sleep and I find listening to him cry for so long very stressful. I’ve tried rushing in when I see him stirring to put the pacifier back in his mouth but that doesn’t usually work as I think I just distract him.

    Our nap routine includes breast feeding in a dark room, the short lullaby with rocking, and then I put him down in his crib with a pacifier. I have the windows blacked out and a sound machine going.

    I’m finding the short naps stressful because we don’t have any sort of a routine, it’s hard for us to leave the house, and I find that he doesn’t seem very well rested when he wakes up so I’m worried about his quality of day time sleep. He also seems to be having more night time awakenings again.

    Your help is greatly appreciated.

    1. Please read Blog Post 119 regarding nap variability and ‘wake windows’.
      Because your son has great night sleep and self-soothing skills, please be optimistic that naps will lengthen and become more regular over the next 6 weeks.
      Your goals are to keep the bedtime super early and variable (because naps are currently more variable) and very short intervals of wakefulness between naps based on subtle drowsy signs.
      I know that you might feel temporarily ‘nap-trapped’ but if you are able to do whatever it takes to maximize naps now and to protect night sleep, soon you will see longer, fewer, and more regular naps. Then, the bedtime might be moved a little later.
      Does this help?

  5. Yes! Thank you! So basically I have a baby who takes short naps and that means I should shorten his time awake based on drowsy signs – not timing wake windows. In time, he may learn to lengthen his naps. Is there any benefit to allowing him to cry when he wakes up from a nap at 30 or 40 minutes to see if he can connect his sleep cycles? If so, how long should I wait?
    Thank you very much for your help and prompt response.

    1. “Is there any benefit to allowing him to cry when he wakes up from a nap at 30 or 40 minutes?” At his age, there is no simple answer to this question. Please read the discussion of this topic in my book to better understand different answers to this question.

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