Cat Napping

Many parents struggle with the dreaded cat napping.  Today’s blog is going to tackle some of the reasons why your little one cat naps!

What is a cat nap? A cat nap is a short sleep. So, basically, it’s the 20, 25, 30-minute powernap. Sometimes the nap may even be as short as 15 minutes.

Before I go any further, it is typical for a newborn to cat nap. This is normal and expected, however as your little one grows the expectation is they should be able to start linking their sleep cycles.

What are the 3 main reasons for cat napping?

  1. Poor sleep habits
  2. Being sick
  3. Hunger

Research does tell us that being/sleeping in a pitch-black room helps us sleep. Darkness supports out body’s melatonin secretion – aka out sleepy hormone that helps us sleep. 

That said I believe that it is unrealistic that out little ones only sleep in a pitch-black room or become conditioned to only being able to sleep in a pitch-black room. What happens when we go on holidays, out of the house, to a friends, out to dinner? A DULL room is more than achievable and still supports sleep.  Pulling the curtains or closing the blinds/shutters can support a healthy sleep environment that is realistic and achievable.

Having your baby sleeping in the lounge room can also support cat napping. Imagine if tonight I leave all the lights on, TV and keep busy in the kitchen while you try and sleeping the middle of the lounge room. You would not sleep well and when cycling through your sleep cycles you would wake up more than you would if you were in your room.  I am not saying your baby needs to sleep in a silent room. Far from it.  Sleeping in their own room during the day with the door open and the house continuing on with activities of daily living is perfect scenario. Your little one is directly removed from the immediate hustle and bustle of the house but is still exposed to the activity through their open door.

Look at your baby’s immediate sleep environment will also decrease the dreaded cat nap. If there is a mobile above the cot? When they partially wake from their sleep cycle the mobile is stimulating, encouraging them to wake up, not encouraging them to go back to sleep.  Your cot environment should be boring.

Bear with me on this one.  To understand what I am trying to say you need to understand REM (active) & NREM (deep) sleep cycles.  Your baby will transition in and out of these cycles during their sleep.     

REM (Rapid Eye Movement) or Active sleep is a light sleep and makes up approximately 50% of a newborn baby’s sleep cycle and is the first phase of the cycle they will enter when they fall asleep.   Your baby will be active during this phase.  Their body may move or limbs twitch, their breathing will be irregular and shallow, many babies will grimace, or make funny faces – they may smile or frown, they will make some mimic chewing or sucking actions with their mouth. Their eyes may move under their eyelids and your baby will be more easily disturbed by the outside world.   

At the end of each REM phase there is usually a brief waking period.

This is what I am highlighting. 

To sleep longer than this initial 10 – 20 minutes, your baby must transition to deep NREM sleep. What often happens, is parents hear their baby or see their baby’s eyes are open and they pick them up thinking they are awake.  When in fact, they were just transitioning into their next sleep cycle.  Using a baby monitor is not helpful in this scenario either.  Unless your baby is crying, leave them be, give them a chance to go back to sleep.

If you are rocking or feeding your little one to sleep, when they wake the environment of where they went to sleep vs where they have woken up has changed. They will then wake completely.  They will need that same assistance to go back to sleep got them to sleep in the first place.  I liken it to you going to sleep on the couch and waking up outside. If this is you, try getting your little on to sleep IN THE COT, rather than in arms or while feeding.  Then over the next few weeks reduce your assistance until they are going to sleep on their own.

Again, when your baby wakes between sleep cycles you need to give your baby the opportunity to transition into the next cycle being the NREM (Non-Rapid Eye Movement) or Passive sleep. NREM sleep is quiet, deep and restful sleep: where eyes are firmly closed and they lie very still, their breathing is deep and regular and your baby will be less easily affected by the outside world (phone ringing, door banging etc).

Being cold is another reason why your little one ma cat nap. A baby that falls asleep on your chest and wakes as soon as they go into the cot: or sleeps better in mum/dads bed: or as soon as they are picked up fall straight back to sleep, are usually a cold baby. A cold baby will never sleep well.  

Awake windows are another common reason behind cat napping. Going down too early means your little one will take a long time to go to sleep and then will only cat nap. Going down too late, they fall asleep straight away (parents think they have nailed it) and they still will only sleep 1 sleep cycle.  Did you know that it takes most babies, if you get the right window, 20 minutes to winddown enough to go to sleep?

P2B recommends a good 10–15-minute bedtime routine every time you put your little one down to sleep – day AND night. Nappy, sleeping bag/swaddle, book, long cuddle and THEN into the cot. YOU can help them physically wind down and then support them as they do that last little bit on their own in the cot.

To reduce the cat napping keeping your bedtime routine the SAME every time. If you swaddle then sleeping bag and then noting – aka you keep changing the routine, you are only confusing your little one.  Pick ONE and be consistent. 

Hunger has a huge influence on the catnapper. If your little one is not feeding well, is snacking, is not thriving then they cannot be expected to sleep for long periods.  If you have concerns over your little ones feeding, PLEASE seek help.

Being sick causes catnapping. Even as adults when we are not well, we never sleep well.  If your little one goes from great sleeps to cat napping and is sick, then you just need to go with it. Offer more feeds, cuddles and support. Once better most will revert to their longer sleeps, and if they do not you can go start working on them.

Hope that helps!