By Dr. Suruchi Goyal, Consultant – Paediatrics and Paediatric Endocrinology, Columbia Asia Hospital Whitefield
Maria was happy that she could take time off from looking after her baby, whilst her baby slept. Her little one had a set routine of naps! 2 months into this set routine Maria noted a sudden change: her baby had shorter naps with erratic patterns. The little one remained happy, feeding well, growing well, taking her feeds but it was these little erratic cat naps that worried Maria. She had to skip her breakfast, bathing time, house chores due to the reduced sleep time of the baby. She found it difficult to adjust to the changed sleep duration of the baby and began feeling 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 about the varying and evolving sleep cycles of babies and shared a few tips to manage her time between the baby’s nap. This helped Maria to manage her time better and enjoy her time with the baby.
This is a common scenario faced by parents where a set routine appears to be difficult to maintain especially with respect to sleep. The short sleep wake cycle where the little one wakes up in 30-45 mins after being put to sleep is called ‘cat napping’. Catnap in babies is completely normal in the first few months of birth. However, understandably it could be quite distressing for the parents to see their baby having extremely short sleeps and at the same time tiring too.
Babies normally tend to drift between sleep cycles during day-time nap and night time sleeps, however around the age of 4 months, the part of the brain that is responsible for sleep matures and babies start drifting less between the cycles of sleep. Most of the babies wake up completely between the sleep cycles from this age.
Why do babies catnap? One of the primary reasons is that babies spend more time in a light stage of sleep called REM, which means that they wake up easily and may also find it difficult to go back to sleep. As kids pass through that light sleep stage, they wake up. As they grow older, they learn to put themselves back to sleep, however newborns do not have that ability. Kids who are put to sleep by bouncing or rocking, bottle or breast feeding, they will always look for the thing that helps them fall asleep.
Babies and newborns take time to establish a routine which allows their bodies to understand the difference between day and night, therefore in the first few months, babies’ sleep is very unpredictable.
Catnap and inconsolable babies: A cause of concern would be if the baby wakes up early from his or her nap and is inconsolable, even after feeding, changing diaper and rocking. It is always recommended to go to the doctor since there are chances of an underlying problem with the baby. Ultimately if the baby is growing and generally healthy, catnapping is not a concern. Whether they take catnaps or extended naps, it means that they are getting appropriate sleep they require for their age.The entire process becomes tiring for the parents especially mothers as she has to wake up at night to feed and even during day she does not get sufficient time to rest resulting in stress.
How can you help your baby extend its sleep time? Try to look for cues when the little one is tired: yawning, suckling their fingers etc. Put them down in their cot and let them lull themselves to sleep without you rocking or feeding. If they sleep on their own they are more likely to pacify themselves to sleep when their sleep enters the light phase rather than needing you. If they wake up, try not picking them up immediately instead try patting them back to sleep. Try to maintain a routine and a constant environment around the baby; light, noises etc. Parents while trying to do their best for the child must not ignore themselves and must get enough rest. Try to get out for a walk each day, accept any helping hand for either sitting with your little one or with household chores. Get some sleep as time permits. Catnapping is an activity every baby does at some point. It is simply a routine that babies go through during a particular point of time. It is important for parents to get familiar and adjust to this and remember that it will pass. Then the entire process becomes easier and you can sail through this stage without much trouble.