Here is the scenario:
You’ve rocked your baby to sleep; you’ve tip-toed over to the crib and ever-so-gently put her down; you’ve ninja’d your way out of the nursery using a brightly-coloured sticky note map on the floor to avoid the creaks in the hardwoods; and… you’re out! You did it! Baby stayed asleep!
… And then exactly 45 minutes later the monitor lights up and your baby is awake… Every. Single. Time.
Why? Why? WHY? You haven’t even had time to drink your cold coffee or eat your soggy toast, nor brush your teeth for the first time in two days! And it’s not like kiddo is happy to be awake – she’s yelling, cranky, and clearly still tired. So why does she wake up from every single nap after 45-minutes when she’s clearly not ready to be awake yet?
The 45-minute nap is really common, and there are a few specific reasons why:
Forty-five minutes is not a coincidence; it is exactly one sleep cycle for a baby.
At around the 30-45 minute mark into the sleep cycle, your baby is in a lighter stage of sleep, trying to transition from this cycle to the next. She is rustling, she is stirring, maybe her eyelids are even fluttering a little. Now, the key…
A baby who had gone into the crib totally awake (and used her own, independent sleep habits to get to sleep) will still rustle and stir at that 45-minute mark, or even wake slightly at this point. However, this baby will simply get comfy again, settle in, and keep on sleeping to have that magical, seemingly-mythical two-hour-long nap that you may have heard of but never experienced!
Meanwhile, a baby who has gone into the crib using a sleep prop [MOU1] (like feeding to sleep, rocking to a super-drowsy state, using a pacifier, etc.), is going to wake up fully during that light stage of sleep. She’s going to be like “WHOA. BAM. This is NOT where I went to sleep. This is not HOW I went to sleep. And I certainly do not have any idea how to put myself back to sleep in this scenario.” So, “Hey Mom! Hey Dad! Get back in here and do that stuff you did 45-minutes ago to get me back to sleep!” Think of an adult going to sleep in their bed and then waking up on their front lawn. Yeah, it’s like that.
How to move past the 45-minute nap and get more rest for baby (and some down-time for Mom!)
1. Avoid sleep props: Sleep props (like pacifiers, rocking, bouncing, swaying-vigourously-under-the-kitchen-hood-fan-for-20-minutes-before-each-nap, etc.) may get your baby to sleep, but they will also keep your baby from learning how to fall asleep independently. And, if your little one cannot fall to sleep independently, she will not be able to fall back to sleep on her own, whether that’s 45-minutes into a nap, or at 2 a.m.
2. Respect age-appropriate awake times – if sleep props are the number one culprit of cat-naps, overtiredness is a close second. Follow age-appropriate awake times[MOU2] , and avoid letting your baby get overtired before naptime – hitting those key sleep windows can go a long way to helping extend naps.
3. Put baby down awake: Not drowsy, nor already asleep – awake! This is how your little one will learn to go to sleep and then back to sleep independent of sleep props.
4. Give baby some time: When baby wakes – whether 45 minutes into a nap, or throughout the night – give your little one some time; she might surprise you! Allow her to use (or begin to develop!) the skills needed to link her sleep cycles together and get more rest. If she is upset, you will of course provide reassurance and comfort; but, giving her a little time to begin to work on those healthy sleep skills first may just lead to the end of those cat-naps!