The Save Our Sleep® Article


I define catnapping as daytime sleeps that are shorter than 40 minutes. The first time catnapping becomes a problem is when your baby starts to sleep in daytime sleep cycles (the process of drifting between light and deep sleep). An adult changes sleep cycle every 90 minutes but in babies it can be as short as twenty minutes. Daytime sleep cycles usually start when your baby is 6 kg or around eight weeks old. Most parents who contact me with concerns about catnapping do so when their babies are between eight and 25 weeks old. It is generally accepted that babies in this age range should have two daytime sleeps of between 80 and 120 minutes in duration, and possibly another shorter nap as well.

Many parents find that when they finally get their baby to sleep, they wake after twenty to 40 minutes and start crying. This is not because the baby has had enough sleep and is ready to get up but because she has not learned to resettle from one sleep cycle to the next. As babies become more aware of their environment and its distractions, it is the parents’ responsibility to teach their baby to move from one sleep cycle to the next as quickly and as quietly as possible.

Babies will never develop the skill to resettle themselves until they have learned to put themselves to sleep in the first place. If a baby is unable to resettle herself she will invariably start to cry, as that is her only method of communication. This doesn’t usually mean that something is seriously wrong. However, in my experience, 95 per cent of babies who only manage short catnaps, without stringing together multiple sleep cycles, will spend most of the day grumpy and irritable through lack of sleep. This is irrespective of how well they sleep at night.

There are a few reasons I have found for a baby to catnap. The first and most common reason is the baby has always been aided to sleep, that is, given a dummy to suck on or fed, rocked or shushed to sleep by a parent. The second reason I have found babies to catnap is hunger. The hunger can be caused by snack feeding or can be brought on from dummy use, as I believe the sucking reflex causes the baby’s digestive system to work too fast. The hunger can also be because your baby is not being offered enough milk or is no longer satisfied on milk alone and is ready to start on solids foods. If your baby is four months (16 weeks) or older you should introduce solids, following my weaning advice. Your baby may also not have enough blanket layers to feel safe and secure enough to resettle when he wakes after a sleep cycle.

There are a few ways you can determine why your baby is catnapping and what you can do to solve this problem. The first and most important step is to follow the 24-hour routine for your baby’s age group. It is very important to only put your baby to bed at the sleep times recommended in the routines. One of the reasons your baby could be catnapping is because you are putting him to bed at the first sign of tiredness. Often, however, when your baby first starts to show signs of tiredness, he will only be tired enough to nap and not tired enough to sleep.

I recommend keeping your baby awake until the times specified in the routines to ensure he will be tired enough to sleep well. This can sometimes be difficult in the first few days of establishing a routine or moving from one routine to the next. If you find it difficult to keep your baby awake, you can try a little bath or a walk around the garden or some nappy-free play to keep your baby stimulated for the extra amount of time necessary.

If your baby wakes after 40 minutes or less, the best thing to do is to get him up and praise him going to sleep in the first place. If your baby is under sixteen weeks old, keep him wrapped and sit in a chair with him on your chest and pat his back to the rhythm of your heartbeat to encourage more sleep in the allocated time. If your baby is over sixteen weeks old, you could try popping him in the pram and going for a walk or drive in the car to encourage more sleep. If your baby goes back to sleep happily, you can assume that he just needed to learn to resettle, and I would suggest you follow my self-settling guidelines in my books to teach him to resettle. I would also suggest that you look at your baby’s bedding as resettling while lying on you or in the pram or car can indicate that your baby is warmer there but colder in his bed. Please read my safe bedding guide available on the Save Our Sleep website for the most up-to-date bedding guidelines.

If your baby continually squirms and cries out when you are putting him down to sleep, hunger might be causing the catnapping and you may need to look at feeding your baby more milk. This can involve making sure you always offer both breasts, and possibly a top up of expressed breast milk in a bottle straight after a breastfeed, or making sure you offer more formula if your baby drains his bottle. If your baby is over sixteen weeks old it may be that milk alone is no longer satisfying him and you should think about introducing. If your baby is happy to lie awake when you get him up and does not either go back to sleep or cry for food, you may need to look at giving him an extra fifteen minutes of awake time before his sleep or moving him to the next routine.


If you feel your baby’s catnapping problem could be the result of your baby not knowing how to self-settle, I suggest you follow the self-settling guides for your baby’s age in my book Save Our Sleep.

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Tizzie Hall is Australia’s bestselling parenting author having written the Save Our Sleep series. In 2006 she wrote the bestseller Save Our Sleep: A parents’ guide towards happy, sleeping babies from birth to two years. In 2010 she wrote her second bestseller, Save Our Sleep Toddler: A parents’ guide to safe and secure toddlerhood and in 2012 she wrote her third book, Save Our Sleep Feeding: A parents guide to healthy eating from nursing to family meals.

In twenty four years of operation, SOS has assisted thousands of children of all ages – mainly babies and toddlers – to learn how to sleep through the night, every night. By sharing an insight into a baby’s or toddler’s sleep and feeding patterns, Tizzie has developed a method of putting parents at ease about their child’s actions. She provides them with the skills they need to take control of their baby’s or toddler’s present and future development.


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The Importance of Naps

Settling of newborns