I think people who say “sleep like a baby” do not have any children. Or at least, they don’t have to take care of their children.
Imagine your baby, who is supposed to take a good 2 hours nap, wakes up and cries after every 45 minutes. No matter how much you try, he stays awake.
Then a while later, when he is supposed to stay up, he falls back to sleep again.
You try to let him be, he cries his lung out for the entire hour, breaks up your heart but still doesn’t go to bed.
When it comes to sleep training, it is a long story. And there is no guaranteed success. Your baby can sleep well in some days, follow the sleep schedule like a clock. But after a few days, he goes back to sleep whenever he wants, and wake up whenever he feels like it.
What happens if this situation repeats more than once? What about when this happens in weeks? It is the 45-minute nap intruder!
When Ethan had the 45-minute nap intruder, he was around 2 months old. Peak time was his 3 to 4 months old. Then with all of the effort, the 45-minute intruder happened on and off until he was 6 months old. After that, he started to sleep better.
This left me stressed out. Big time. Especially with Ethan’s infant torticollis condition, we needed to sneak in and do some exercises for his neck during his sleep. But the 45-minute intruder messed up the whole thing!
Sometimes out of the desperation, I wondered when that shit would end. And I told myself, no baby had a 45-minute intruder when he is 5 or 6 years old. So no worry!
Let’s join me in finding out what’s the deal with this 45-minute nap, and how to deal with it.
What is the 45-minute intruder?
The 45-minute intruder is when your little one wakes up early from his nap, usually 30 to 45 minutes after falling asleep.
Generally, this is also the length of each sleep cycle. Even adults have sleep cycles and we go through several sleep cycles during the night. One thing is that we can connect the sleep cycles so fast that we don’t even realize we have them. But as babies’ brains are not fully developed and they cannot connect the sleep cycles as well as us, they can easily wake up after every sleep cycle.
If babies fail to connect the sleep cycles, the nap will end and he will be up.
Things that cause 45-minute naps
There are many things that can cause the 45-minute intruder.
For small babies, they cannot drink so much milk at once. Or maybe your milk doesn’t have enough fat in it, so your little one gets hungry faster.
Growth spurt can wreak on your well-made schedule. And on top of this, your baby can get very cranky and moody during his growth spurt time.
Fortunately, it doesn’t last forever even if it feels like it!
Some parents want to keep their babies up as long as possible, in the hope that their babies can sleep longer in the next nap, or at night. But this is a huge mistake.
Overtired babies tend to wake up very early, as their brains are too tired to connect the sleep cycles. As they are overtired, they wake up cranky and moody before falling back to sleep again.
When Ethan is overtired, he wakes up after every 30 minutes with a loud cry and keeps crying until he gets the nipple inside his mouth.
Waketime is an increasingly important part of your baby’s day because it is a time of learning. There is a balance, however, that we parents must stay mindful of. Over-stimulating a baby during waketime impacts the next set of feedings and naptimes.
Not enough stimulation
Another reason for babies to get up early is not enough stimulation or under tiredness. Your baby doesn’t burn enough calories and energy, which leaves him hyper and ready for the next playing time right after a short nap.
Learning new skills
If your little one is learning a new skill, like learning how to walk, how to flip, how to crawl, etc., he can get so excited that he wants to do something as soon as he opens his eyes.
My little boy Ethan can sit up during the transition time, even with his eyes closed. If we are not around to put him down, he will open his eyes looking for us and eventually cry.
Small babies can wet and soil their diapers quickly without letting us know. This irritates them and wakes them up from their sleep. Make sure your baby always has a clean diaper or a dry and clean cloth diaper.
Some other environmental factors can bother your baby too: too much noise, too much light, a sudden noise,...
How to deal with the 45-minute nap intruder
The first tip: treat it like hunger
The first thing you should do is to try feeding your little one. Sometimes because your baby is having a growth spurt or he didn’t get enough milk from the last feeding, or your milk doesn’t contain enough fat which leaves your baby hungry faster. So the first thing you do is to feed your baby. If the 45-minute nap intruder is a feeding problem, it will fix quickly and easily.
Now that some people advise moms to keep their babies on fixed schedules, even if the babies wake up early from their naps. Their advice is to allow the baby to cry it out until the next feeding time. And that the babies will learn from their short and limited experiences to try to drink more milk in the next feeding time. But if it is a hunger issue, withholding food will never fix it. A hungry baby should always be fed.
Wait a few minutes before jumping in
Sometimes Ethan woke up early from his nap while I was busy cooking or even in the shower. I tried to finish up as quickly as possible, which took me around 5 minutes. By the time I got to the bed, Ethan was back asleep.
It doesn’t work all the time but it can teach your little one to soothe himself too. So try to give your baby some time to see if he can get back to sleep. Or at least, so that you can tell why he is crying. Now that I don’t like the cry-it-out method, but a waiting period of 5 to 10 minutes is reasonable.
Tweak the schedule
If your baby is consistently waking early from her nap, there’s a good chance she could be under tired or overtired. Look at your schedule and make small changes if you think this is the case.
Some signs of overtiredness are yawning, face scratching, hair pulling, eyes rubbing, being cranky, and eventually crying.
Check the sleep environment:
Make sure you are using white noise and blackout curtains to help your baby stay asleep. If they haven’t started rolling over yet, you can swaddle them as well.
Consider the Wonder Weeks and growth spurt
Wonder weeks can cause sleep problems. This is especially true around 19 weeks old. If this is the case, there is nothing you can do except wait it out.
Keep fiddling with wake times but also try not to let the 45-minute nap intruder ruin your day. Time and development can be a big factor and some babies just take longer to kick it. Short naps don’t mean that you are doing anything wrong as a parent. Troubleshoot as much as you can, but know that some babies just take time to outgrow the sleep interruption.
Offer a comfort objects
You can try giving your baby some object to comfort him: pacifier, his favorite toy, favorite blanket…
As I sneaked to do Ethan some exercises during his sleep, I interfered with his sleep so much that he became very attached to me and his daddy. He doesn’t like the pacifier or any toy. He wants mommy or daddy to comfort him.
As I was desperately sleep-deprived, my husband installed the hammock and I slept with Ethan there, with him on my belly and his neck turning to his unfavored side. It was a win-win for us all. Mommy and daddy got to sleep, and Ethan got to do some exercise during his sleep.
WebMD also had a great list of DOs and DON'Ts regarding baby nap.
The misconception between good nap and good/modern/easy parenting
Many moms complain that their babies won’t fall back to sleep unless they get some attention from parents. And they can’t do anything to help them since they want their babies to be independent and be able to soothe themselves to sleep.
Well, there is a big ass difference here.
One is that your baby cannot sleep longer than 45 minutes. One is that parents don’t want to be around to help him get back to sleep. (I call this good/modern/easy parenting).
So if the 45-minute intruder is a serious thing, I recommend you get into his room, soothe him back to sleep. Once things get better, then you can start the sleep training.
Doing two different things at once is a battle, in which, we parents normally lose.
Some babies are natural 45-minute sleepers. If there is nothing you can do to stretch his naps, even if you hold him the entire time, he still takes a 45 minutes nap, then your only choice is to accept it and move on.
Things will get better one day. Don’t get stressed out. If your baby is happy and energetic after waking up from his naps, then he is well-rested even with a short nap. Just let him be, and be happy with them.
Trust your baby, and trust your instinct.