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  • Danielle Elwell

4 Common Causes of Short Naps

Your child is in bed, you finally have a moment of peace to prop up your feet and binge your favorite show, and then you hear it… your child is up already up and it’s only been 20 minutes! Raise your hand if you’ve been there. Short naps are frustrating and exhausting for both parents and children, so let’s talk about what is considered a short nap and the 4 most common causes I often see.


A nap is considered short when it is less than 1 hour in length. Naps will vary depending on age and number of naps per day, however, I typically aim for a nap length of at least 1 to 1.5 hours.


Sleep is like a puzzle and often times there is more than one reason why your child is experiencing broken sleep. Here are 4 common causes of short naps:


1. The Environment

Sleep does not come quite as easily during the day as it does at night, so we want to set up your child’s sleep environment in a way that will encourage sleep. We first want to make sure your child’s room is completely dark. Even the smallest amount of light can be detected through a closed eyelid. To block out sunlight I recommend using blackout shades or curtains. You will also want to check for light on monitors or humidifiers. These can be covered with a small piece of electrical tape.


Check out this blog for more on the importance of a dark room.


You will also want to check the temperature of your child’s room. Our body's sleep best between 68-72 degrees Fahrenheit. If your child is feeling too hot or too cold, this can certainly disrupt their sleep. Check your child’s back, chest, and belly. They should feel warm and dry, not cold or sweaty. If they are cold or sweaty to the touch, consider dressing them differently by adding or removing a layer.


Lastly, make sure your child’s sleep space and room is clear of any toys or objects that could distract them from sleep. Toys are much more fun than sleep, so be sure to remove anything that could become a distraction before putting them down.


2. Outside Noises

During the day there is a lot more hustle and bustle and your child may hear noises either from outside of your house or even inside your home. Continuous white noise will block out noises going on inside and outside of the house. You can strategically position the white noise in the area of the sound source. For example, block out street noise by positioning the sound machine near a window. Or place it near the door to block out sounds from older siblings inside. As a general rule of thumb we want to be sure the sound machine is placed at least 3-5 feet from your child’s sleep space and the volume is set around 50 decibels (about the same volume as a running shower).


3. Nap Timing

Sometimes short naps are caused by off timing. Following an age-appropriate sleep schedule will help your child get the most quality and restorative sleep. If you are already following an age-appropriate schedule, you may just need to do some fine-tuning. Even a 15-minute shift could make all the difference with nap length. Try one of these two options to find the "sweet spot:"

  • If your child is cranky by naptime: shift the timing 15 minutes earlier. Wait 3 days and if you are still seeing short naps, shift it another 15 minutes earlier

  • If your child does not seem tired by naptime: shift the timing 15 minutes later. Wait 3 days and if you are still seeing short naps, shift it another 15 minutes later

Not quite sure what your child’s nap schedule should like? Let’s connect!


4. Check YOUR responses

What's the first thing you do when your child wakes? Are you intervening at the first sign of your child stirring? Often times, when your child is trying to fall asleep, this interaction can be just stimulating enough to prevent them from returning to sleep. Practice Pausing before responding. When you hear your child stirring, pause for 3-5 minutes before going to check-in. This will allow them the space to transition into their next sleep cycle without disrupting their sleep.


Sleep is a puzzle. It’s not always a straight path to a solution and sometimes you need help getting there. If you are currently struggling with short naps, I would love to connect with you! When you work with me I will listen and get to the root of your child’s sleep struggles with personalized plan to help you reach your sleep goals.