The Four-Month-Old Power Napper
I’ve found your sleep columns so helpful I thought I’d ask about our situation. We have a 4 month old who was a great sleeper until the 4 month sleep regression (like all the babies, right?). So, we made some changes. We moved him from the co-sleeper in our room where he was waking to all the sounds to the crib in his room. We also implemented a bedtime routine (bath, boob, books) and have been using some strategies from the No Cry Sleep Solution to help him learn how to fall asleep on his own in the crib. And all of that is going really well. He’s learning to fall asleep on his own (he needs more soothing/checking for some sleeps than others, but is generally getting pretty good at going down drowsy but awake) He sleeps from 7:30 pm until 7:30 am with 1 or 2 wakings to nurse, and wakes up happy.
Our problem is naps. This little guy is a rainbow baby, and I love holding him. I do. And so for better or worse, I’ve been holding him for his naps since he was born. He has slept on his back on his own sleep surface at night since birth, but during the day he sleeps on my chest, tummy to tummy. But, as much as I love holding the little man, I also love doing other things…like occasionally taking a bathroom break or eating a meal. So when we made the transition to the crib at night, we also did it for naps. We keep his room set up the same–super dark with blackout blinds and curtains, put him in his zipadee zip, give him his pacifier and turn on white noise.
So now he will go down for naps in his crib fine (yay!), but he won’t sleep nearly as long as he would sleep on me. Often he’ll wake up after around 45 minutes, and will not go back to sleep. We’ve tried going in at 30 minutes to rouse him, hoping to circumvent the “45 minute intruder” thing, but he still wakes up. He’ll take 3-4 naps a day like this, and so we thought maybe he doesn’t need as much sleep during the day since he’s getting more at night, but he gets crabbier and crabbier as the day goes on, and is kind of a mess by bedtime.
What do we do? Do we continue to do short naps in his crib, hoping they’ll lengthen on their own? Or let him sleep on me for 1 or more naps a day? Will this ruin all the work we’ve gone through to help him sleep in his crib?
Here’s what you do: Pat y’all selves on the back, because you’re doing JUST FINE! Everything you’re describing here is so well within the realm of Normal Four-Month-Old Sleep Habits.
I had to go jog my brain and consult a few sleep schedule sources, but even my hazy memories of this age are in line with what you’re describing. Lots of short-ish catnaps throughout the day, a slow but steady march to longer/better sleep at night with a couple feedings. The 45-minute naps aren’t a problem AT ALL! It’s super normal for babies to be taking three to four (or even five) “power naps” during the day until about six months old. Their brains are just developing too rapidly for them to conk out for much longer during the day. So I wouldn’t worry too much about the fact that he might sleep longer on you, and focus instead that you guys already have a decent foundation going for napping independently, in his crib. Which I assume is your ultimate goal, so stick with it!
(And look: I get it. Holding your sleeping tiny baby is delicious and fleeting, and everybody has a different point at which they eventually say, “ENOUGH.” Lots of us don’t mind it at first, or after a few months. BUT. Naps DO get much, much longer, and most of us don’t have the luxury or desire to spend three straight hours a day frozen in a chair holding a sleeping two-year-old lest we incur their wrath at changing what they’ve come to expect. So I’m completely on-board with breaking the habit sooner rather than later. Because yes, you need to eat and take a shower and check email and like, live life during the day.)
Follow an eat-play-sleep schedule all day
As for the getting crabbier during the day, I would try adding another nap or two, no matter how short, to the schedule, and maybe inching bedtime up a bit. At four months with multiple short naps, I wouldn’t try the 2-3-4 schedule just yet, but follow an eat-play-sleep schedule all day with wake times no longer than one or two hours, broken up as many times throughout the day as needed for a 30-45 minute nap break.
So something like this four-month sleep schedule from the Baby Sleep Site, which you’ll see also assumes nap lengths of 30/45 minutes (and one to three nighttime feedings). Which sounds pretty close to what you’re doing! He probably just needs 4-5 short naps rather than 3-4, to prevent crankiness.
Modified for your son’s wake-up/bedtime, it would look something like this:
7:30 – Wake up, nurse
8:45 – Nap
9:15 – 9:45 – Wake up, nurse
10:45 – 11:00 – Nap
11:45 – 12:15 – Wake up, nurse
12:45 – 1:00 – Nap
2:15 – 2:45 – Wake up, nurse
3:00 – Nap
4:45 – 5:15 – Wake up, nurse
5:45 – Nap
6:45 – Begin bedtime routine
7:00 – Nurse
7:15 – 7:30 – Bedtime, baby is asleep or mostly there
Obviously, if he naps for longer, that’s FINE. Those “wake up, nurse” times should still be entirely baby-led at this point. And yeah, this seems like a LOT of short naps and short awake times, but that’s really what he needs. So those 45 minute naps are NOT a cause for concern…he might just need another one (or two) throughout the late afternoon to get him to bedtime in better spirits, or for the bedtime routine to start a bit earlier so he’s actually falling asleep AT his actual bedtime.
Over the next few months, he’ll be able to stay awake longer and will likely drop back down to three naps a day, then two. The eat-play-sleep schedule will morph into the 2-3-4. The naps SHOULD get naturally longer on their own, especially if you stay consistent on the location and routine for both night and day sleep. You’re doing great! Just keep doing all the things that are great!