Babies And Catnapping: What Is it And How It Affects Children

Dr Suruchi Goyal
·4-min read

New mum Maria was finally happy that she could take some time off. Her little one had a set routine of naps, after all. Two months into this set routine, Maria noticed a sudden change: her baby had shorter naps with erratic patterns. The little one remained happy, took her feeds, and was healthy; but these erratic catnapping sessions worried Maria.

Ultimately, she had to skip her breakfast, bath time, and house chores due to her baby’s reduced nap time. She found it difficult to adjust to this altered nap duration and began to feel frustrated.

Worried that the little one may have a medical issue, which was affecting her sleep pattern the parents sought the advice of a paediatrician. The doctor discussed the varying sleep cycles and shared a few tips on managing them better.

Well, this is the story of many new parents. It is a common scenario faced by parents where a set nap routine discontinues suddenly.

What Is Catnapping And How Does It Affect Babies?

Catnapping
Catnapping

Image courtesy: Pixabay

The short sleep wake cycle where the little one wakes up in 30-45 mins after being put to sleep is called ‘catnapping’.

Catnapping is normal in the first few months after birth. However, understandably it can be quite distressing for the parents to see their baby going through extremely short sleeps and getting up tired.

Generally speaking, sleep cycles in babies tends to oscillate between day-time and night time bedtime. However, around four months, the part of the brain that is responsible for sleep matures, and babies begin to drift less between the cycles of sleep.

In fact, most babies stay awake between the sleep cycles from this age onwards.

Why Do Babies Catnap?

Catnapping
Catnapping

Image courtesy: Pixabay

One of the primary reasons is that babies spend more time in a light stage of sleep called REM. This means that they wake up easily and may also find it difficult to go back to sleep. They also take longer to establish a routine, which allows their bodies to understand the difference between day and night.

It’s also worth noting that babies who are put to sleep by bouncing or rocking, bottle or breastfeeding will always look for the thing that helps them fall asleep. Therefore, in the first few months, their sleep is quite unpredictable.

But as kids pass through that light sleep stage, they stay awake. And as they grow older, they learn to put themselves back to sleep.

Catnapping And Inconsolable Babies

Catnapping may not be harmful if the baby is growing and generally healthy. Whether they take catnaps or extended naps, it means that they are getting appropriate sleep they require for their age.

But the cause for concern arises be when the baby wakes up early from his or her nap and is inconsolable. This, even after feeding, changing diaper, and rocking him/her. It is always recommended to go to the doctor since there are chances of an underlying problem.

The entire process can be tiring for the parents especially for new mums, as they also wake up for night feeds.

How Can You Help Your Babies Extend Their Sleep Time?

Catnapping
Catnapping

Image courtesy: Pixabay

  • Try to look for cues when the little one is tired: yawning and suckling their fingers. Put them down in their crib and let them lull themselves to sleep without you rocking or feeding.

  • If they nap on their own they are more likely to pacify themselves to sleep. This typically happens when they enter the light phase and won’t need you to rock them to sleep.

  • If they wake up, avoid picking them up immediately. Instead, try patting them back to sleep.

  • Maintain a routine and a harmonious environment around the baby.

Catnapping is simply a routine that babies go through during at some point in time. It is important for parents to get familiar and adjust to this and remember that this too shall pass. This way the entire process will become easier and you can sail through this stage without much trouble.

Written by Dr. Suruchi Goyal, Consultant – Paediatrics and Paediatric Endocrinology, Columbia Asia Hospital Whitefield

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