As a new parent who is trying to get some rest, you probably know how difficult it can be to figure out your baby’s sleep. If your baby is a short napper, or struggling with overnight sleep you may find yourself wondering why your baby won’t sleep longer than 30 minutes. For this article, I interviewed Alicia Dyshon, of Dyshon Family Sleep, who is a two-time certified sleep consultant with several years of experience in the industry.
In this article, we’ll go over some possible reasons why your baby won’t sleep longer than 30 minutes and give you some advice that may help point you in the right direction to help your baby have better, more restful naps.
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Why won’t my baby sleep longer than 30 minutes?
Overnight sleep and daytime sleep present two different problems when it comes to baby sleep. In general, the sleep cycles during the day for most babies are around 30-45 minutes. At night, sleep cycles are usually around two hours long. If a baby is waking up every 30 minutes overnight, that’s a red flag that there could be a bigger problem going on.
During the day, it is quite developmentally normal for infants younger than 6 months old to have 30-45 minute naps at a time.
After 6 months of age, as long as the baby’s wake windows are good, (which we’ll discuss more later) your baby’s ability to connect sleep cycles grows, which will allow them to have longer naps during the day as they continue sleeping after the first 30-45 minutes, moving into a new sleep cycle.
How does infant temperament affect sleep?
How does infant temperament affect baby sleep? Highly sensitive babies often don’t sleep as well as easy going babies and tend to take shorter naps. Another thing to take into consideration is your child’s energy levels. Highly active children often don’t have as many sleep cues. Really active children need a lot of mental and physical stimulation throughout the day in order to help them sleep well at night.
Generally, easy going babies sleep a little better than highly sensitive or highly active children.
Knowing your baby’s temperament may help you navigate their unique sleeping situation.
How does the sleep environment affect baby sleep? Really easy going babies are often less picky about their sleep environment during nap time and night sleep. Highly sensitive babies often benefit from a more particular sleep environment.
Some things to consider about how to create an ideal sleep environment for your baby include:
- Blackout curtains to darken the room
- Sound machine to muffle sounds
- A room temperature of 18-23 degrees Celsius (64-73 Fahrenheit)
Does every baby need ALL of these things to sleep well? No, every baby is an individual and their sleep environment needs will depend on their personal preferences.
What is a sleep association? A sleep association is anything your baby physically needs to actually fall asleep like:
- rocking to sleep
- bouncing to sleep
- baby wearing in a baby carrier to sleep
- feeding to sleep
- pacifier use
- lovey use
- singing to sleep
- patting to sleep
- white noise
According to our sleep consultant, Alicia: sleep associations are not bad! They are a good thing. Everyone tells you that your baby isn’t able to link sleep cycles overnight if you support them to sleep – which is a sleep myth. That’s simply not true. Sleep associations are normal and healthy. (Sleep associations are also sometimes called sleep props.)
How do you add sleep associations? In order to add in new sleep associations, layer associations on top of each other. For example, if you’re already feeding to sleep, add in singing to sleep and then the next week add something else into your bedtime routine.
If your child’s current sleep associations aren’t working for you and your family anymore, you can drop a sleep association but it can be helpful to add in other sleep associations first.
Is it ever too late to add a sleep association? Nope, layer them in to make the routine more robust. You can also switch them up from time to time; sometimes you might do a song before bed, instead of a book. Keeping routines relatively consistent is recommended, but switching things up can help make sleep time fun (especially with older toddlers).
Adding a lot of sleep associations from the start will give you more options later down the line. Mom can rock the baby to sleep, while Dad can bounce the baby to sleep. Different caregivers can have different sleep associations and slightly different routines.
What is a sleep cue? A sleep cue is a cue your child gives you to tell you that they’re ready for sleep. Often, sleepy cues for newborns look like:
- Red eyebrows
- Rubbing eyes
For older babies, sleep cues might reduce and you may have to rely on wake windows more. It depends greatly on the individual child, but older baby sleep cues might look like:
- Zoning out
- Being more grumpy
Tune into your baby and see what the sweet spot is for their wake windows. If you have a really active child, sometimes their sleep cues are non-existent. Follow your child’s lead, but be aware that temperament does come into account and as babies get older they may not show a lot of the typical sleep cues you’d expect to see.
What is a wake window? A wake window is an amount of time between sleeps that your baby can stay awake for, while making sure they’re not over or under-tired. An example might be a baby in the newborn stage who is capable of a 60 minute wake window or an older baby who can stay awake for 4 hours before needing a nap. Every baby has unique wake windows and there is no set amount of sleep a baby needs at each age. Often, parents find adhering to a nap schedule for older babies results in better deep sleep.
Wake windows and under-tired babies: an under-tired baby has not been able to build up enough sleep pressure in order to fall asleep well, or stay asleep for a long nap. Under-tired babies need longer minutes or hours of awake time to have a better nap.
Wake windows and over-tired babies: an over-tired baby has built up too much sleep pressure and their body has released a bit of cortisol (stress hormones) to keep them awake. Now they might have a second wind and resist falling asleep. Over-tired babies’ wake times are too long.
Both over-tired and under-tired babies can have a difficult time falling asleep and staying asleep. As a sleep consultant, Alicia often sees more babies who are UNDER tired and need their wake windows adjusted to be awake slightly longer. These adjustments to their wake windows could be as small as 15 minute increments.
Troubleshooting – Why doesn’t my baby sleep well?
It’s not always sleep-science based things like the perfect wake window and sleep environment that will help your baby sleep longer. Some things that are completely outside of your control will also have the ability to impact your infants’ sleep.
There may be undiagnosed medical concerns that contribute to your baby waking often, such as undiagnosed tongue ties, low iron, or mouth breathing. Speak to your pediatrician if you suspect any serious problems.
- Reflux – this can be developmentally normal for a lot of babies (unless they appear to be in pain). Sometimes reflux is triggered by tongue ties or food allergies. Having a feeding assessment (bottle or breast) can help address reflux issues.
- Allergies – if a child is eating something that is making them uncomfortable, they’re going to have increased night wakings.
- Teething – if your child is in pain because they’re cutting a tooth, you may have to wait it out before their sleep improves again.
- Illness – this is another area that you may have to wait out before seeing sleep improvement.
- Enlarged tonsils – mouth breathing and snoring is a big cue that you may want to have your pediatrician take a look at your baby’s tonsils. For restorative sleep, a body should have a closed mouth.
- Developmental progressions – whenever your child is reaching a new milestone, it will often affect their overnight sleep – temporarily. It’s normal for your child to have disrupted sleep when they’re learning new mental or physical tasks (sitting, crawling, walking, talking). A lot of people refer to these as ‘sleep regressions’ but it’s actually all about development.
- Clothes – highly sensitive babies may need to be dressed in something soft and comfortable. Check the seams and tags on their clothing to make sure there is nothing scratchy or uncomfortable, especially if your baby has sensory needs.
How can a sleep consultant help me?
A sleep consultant can help you rule out any of the possible red flags you may be seeing with your baby’s sleep, and figure out your child’s unique sleep needs. A sleep consultant can also help you navigate things that aren’t working for you anymore that you’d like to change. During your baby’s first year of life, it can be very challenging to get a good night’s sleep and to encourage your little guy or girl to have great naps.
Is it all about crying it out or waiting it out? No, you can make changes to routines that aren’t working for your family anymore while still being responsive to your child. It’s possible to support your child to sleep and they will still eventually be capable of connecting their sleep cycles overnight.
Alicia offers a free 20-minute clarity call to talk more in detail about your goals for your child’s sleep and what your unique needs are. She also offers webinar courses if you’d like to take more of a do-it-yourself kind of approach. I have personally used her services with both of my children and highly recommend working with her.
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