Following an Eat-Play-Sleep Schedule When Your Baby Takes Short Naps

eat-play-sleep lengthening naps short naps sleep associations sleep props wake windows Jan 11, 2022
Following an Eat-Play-Sleep Schedule When Your Baby Takes Short Naps

Do you have a baby that often takes “cat-naps?” I know how frustrating these short naps can be and how they can make it seem like the whole rest of your day is thrown off; Especially when you’re trying to follow an eat-play-sleep schedule! Sometimes it can feel like getting your baby to sleep well is an impossible task, but just know these things are extremely common.

If you are trying to stick to an eat-play-sleep "flow," it’s important to remember that this flow is a general guide for your day rather than a strict schedule. If your baby does take short naps; first, you are not alone! Short naps are a common issue among thousands of parents. My own daughter took 30-minute naps for the first year of her life (before I knew about sleep tools). And second, your day is not ruined by your baby taking a short nap! 

Here is how you can still successfully follow an eat-play-sleep schedule when your baby is taking short naps, as well as some tips for lengthening your little one’s daytime sleep! 

Sticking to an Eat-Play-Sleep Schedule with Short Naps

An eat-play-sleep schedule is a fantastic tool when it comes to baby sleep and can be so useful! Following this flow throughout the day can help you differentiate between your baby’s tired and hunger cues, and all-around can make the day go much more smoothly for you and your baby. But what if you run into the problem of your baby taking a short nap and suddenly feeling like the timing of your day is completely thrown off?

For instance, you lay your baby down for a nap, knowing that the next step in your routine will be for them to eat when they wake. But, your baby who typically naps for 1-2 hours wakes up after only 30 minutes… now what? It’s not quite time to feed them, so what do you do? Do you try feeding them since that is the next step in the routine? It may come as a surprise, but no - rather than get your baby up and feed them as soon as they start to fuss, it’s best to try and lengthen their nap (however you can). This will help you avoid feeding unnecessarily too often (which can lead to your baby not taking full feedings and feeling uncomfortable) for the sake of trying to stick to a schedule! 

Remember, an eat-play-sleep schedule is just the order of the routine flow throughout the day. Don’t stress over it! If you’re unable to lengthen your baby’s nap and their feed ends up being closer to the middle of their wake window or even before their next nap, that’s okay! The main goal is just to not feed your baby to sleep and create a strong sleep association that will end up being difficult to change later down the road.   

A Tip for Lengthening Your Baby’s Short Naps

When it comes to sticking to an eat-play-sleep daily flow when your baby is taking short naps, the number one tool I recommend is to try leaving your baby (as long as they aren’t hysterical) for the remainder of an hour nap in their crib or bassinet to see if they will fall back to sleep on their own.

Often, we actually wake sleeping babies when they begin to whimper or grunt by removing them from their crib or bassinet the second they open their eyes when they could have easily fallen back into a sleep cycle. 

Give your baby the opportunity to fall back to sleep independently. If they don’t fall back to sleep but are content, still leave them for the remainder of the hour. They are still getting essential rest! 

If your baby is consistently taking short cat-naps, try these tips:

Avoid creating strong sleep associations: Rocking, shushing, and even a pacifier are all great tools for soothing your fussy baby. But if you're able to practice avoiding them to put your baby to sleep, you'll have an easier time lengthening those naps as your baby grows! When something is putting your baby to sleep, it’s likely that your baby will continue to wake after just one sleep cycle during naps (short nap), as well as wake often during the night! Sleep associations aren’t “bad,” but when your baby is developmentally able to connect sleep cycles yet still NEEDS the help of an association to fall back to sleep, then they can become a “problem” because they’re actually disrupting sleep. Pacifiers are a common culprit in chronic short naps.

Check out this blog to learn more about sleep associations and how to know when it may be time to get rid of them!

Watch wake windows: Exhaustion plays a large role in short naps. If your baby is fighting naps as well as waking up early from their naps, it’s likely that they are overly tired. Watching their wake windows to make sure they are getting the appropriate amount of wake time that they are developmentally able to handle is so important in meeting your baby’s sleep needs. So is sticking to an eat-play-sleep schedule.  

If you’re unsure how long your baby should be awake during the day, here is what I recommend:

  • 0-8 weeks: awake for 45-60 minutes
  • 2-3 months: awake for 90 minutes MAX
  • 3-6 months: awake for 2 hours MAX
  • 6-9 months: awake for around 3 hours MAX
  • 9-12 months: awake for around 3-4 hours MAX
  • 12-18 months: awake for 5 hours MAX

*Note: Babies born before 37 weeks should follow the wake window of their adjusted age.

Provide an ideal environment: Setting your baby’s room up for ideal sleep may seem like a simple step, but it is an important one. I recommend keeping the room cool (68-72 degrees), as dark as possible, and using a white noise machine to drown out any outside noises that can wake your baby out of their light stage of sleep. 

Check out this blog for more about setting up the ideal sleep environment for your little one!

Lastly, if your baby is 5 months or younger, remember that most babies are not developmentally able to connect sleep cycles until around 5 months old, which is often the main culprit of short naps [1]. I know, this fact is torturous! But, it doesn’t mean that you can’t implement these tactics. Practicing now will help them learn these skills more quickly and set them up for success when the time comes!

Following an eat-play-sleep daily flow doesn’t always go as planned. Some days work out just like you want them to, and some don’t. Try your best, move on if it doesn’t happen, and practice again tomorrow.

If you find yourself still struggling with your little one’s sleep, please know that you are not alone and that I am here to help. Download one of my comprehensive sleep guides or schedule a call with me for some personalized support.





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