Why Short Cat-Naps Are Not Good Enough

Posted by in No-Cry Discipline, No-Cry Nap, No-Cry Sleep

If your child’s naps are shorter than an hour and a half in length, you may have wondered if these brief naps provide enough rest for your little one. You might suspect that these catnaps aren’t meeting your child’s sleep needs – and you could be right. The science of sleep explains why a short nap takes the edge off, but doesn’t offer the same physical and mental nourishment that a longer nap provides.



It takes between 90 and 120 minutes for your child to move through one entire sleep cycle, resulting in a Perfect Nap. It has been discovered that each stage of sleep brings a different benefit to the sleeper.

Imagine, if you will, magic gifts that are awarded at each new stage of sleep:


Stage 1 – Very light sleep

Lasts 5 to 15 minutes

The gifts:

Prepares body for sleep

Reduces feelings of sleepiness


Stage 2 – Light to moderate sleep

Lasts up 15 minutes

The gifts:

Increases alertness

Improves motor skills

Stabilizes mood

Slightly reduces homeostatic sleep pressure


Stage 3 – Deep sleep

Lasts up to 15 minutes

The gifts:

Strengthens memory

Release of growth hormone

Repair of bones, tissues and muscles

Fortification of immune system

Regulates appetite

Releases bottled up stress

Restores energy

Reduces homeostatic sleep pressure




Stage 4 – Deepest sleep

Lasts up to 15 minutes

The gifts:

Same benefits as Stage 3, but enhanced


Next Stage – Dreaming

Lasts up to 9 to 30 minutes

The gifts:

Transfers short-term memory into long-term memory

Organizes thoughts

Secures new learning

Enhances brain connections

Sharpens visual and perceptual skills

Processes emotions

Relieves stress

Inspires creativity

Boosts energy

Reduces homeostatic sleep pressure (The biological process that creates fatigue and irritability.)

Longer naps

For as long as your child sleeps

The gifts:

Repeat all of the above stages in cycles




In order for your child to receive all of these wonderful gifts he must sleep long enough to pass at least once through each stage of sleep. Longer naps will encompass additional sleep cycles and provide a continuous presentation of gifts.

Newborn babies have unique cycles that slowly mature over time. A newborn sleep cycle is about 40 to 60 minutes long, and an infant enters dream sleep quickly, skipping several sleep stages. Infants need several sleep cycles to receive their full allotment of gifts. If your infant is sleeping only 40-60 minutes at naptime it is an indication that your baby is waking between cycles instead of returning to sleep on his own. We’ll cover a plethora of ideas to help your baby learn to go back to sleep without your intervention.

Now you can clearly see why a short nap often doesn’t provide your baby or young child the best benefits of napping. You can also see why a mini-nap can fool you into thinking it is enough – since the very first five to fifteen minutes reduce feelings of sleepiness. But if your child wakes up and gets a whoosh of second-wind energy that dissipates quickly, resulting in fussiness, crying, crankiness, tantrums and whining, then consider working to help your child take longer naps.

From The No-Cry Nap Solution: Guaranteed Gentle Ways to Solve All Your Naptime Problems by Elizabeth Pantley (McGraw-Hill, January 2009). Here is the link for information and more excerpts:  http://www.pantley.com/elizabeth


Share: How have you improved naptime at your house?




  1. Thanks for the guilt trip. My baby just WILL NOT nap more than 40 minutes whatever I do, I felt bad enough about it already. Perhaps you could get in touch with her and explain to her why it’s so important because it seems to me she hasn’t read all the books!

    • Hi Rachel – No guilt trip intended! This information is based on science and how the human body works — and how it works best. Since we clearly can’t explain science to a baby we need to set up the environment to help aid good sleep. Keep the napping room dark – use quiet lullabies or white noise to create a soothing sound – use soft sheets ( like flannel or fleece ) – give a short massage before naptme – and make sure your baby gets plenty of physical activity during waking hours to create tiredness at naptime. If a 40-minute nap is your baby’s routine it may take a couple of weeks of consistent use of these tools, but it should help. –

  2. Hj Elizabeth.
    I read your no cry nap solution and sleep solution books. I’m currently trying to lengthen my son’s naps from 10-30min. I have to intervene when he is waking up from the in between stages. I currently have a travelling crib that the sides come down so can keep him on the floor and ‘sleep’ beside him and nurse to sleep. I’ve been using the gentle removal plan, which sometime works. I have managed, with a lot of intervention, to get him to sleep 1-2 hrs!!! However, I am curious how he is going to fall asleep on his own with me doing this? I literally have to sit by the crib and pounce in and breastfeed/nurse or the window is missed and he’s awake. Do they learn to sleep with all this intervention?
    I have another question about night sleep and gentle removal plan but not sure this is the right place?

    • Hi Larysa ~ Sounds like you’re making good progress! Keep going. In order to make this a new “habit” you’ll need to stay consistent. Also make sure the napping room is darkened and perhaps add some white noise to mask sounds that could wake your baby up. And don’t stay too close! If he hears/smells/senses that you are there he will of course want you! Scoot a little farther away. If you have more questions feel free to email me – elizabeth@pantley.com

  3. Hi Elizabeth

    I have a 12 week old that only naps once or twice a day. She may nap 1-2 hours in the morning then another 2 in afternoon. She will be awake 5-7 hours at a time. I’m concerned she’s not getting enough sleep. On occasion she will nap 3-4 hours.

    She usually falls asleep around 10pm in my arms or on my chest and will sleep 4-6 hours, wake up and nurse then sleep another 3 hours.

    She wil go in crib at night but wakes up within the hour, I’ll feed her and then she will just cry if I put her back in crib so she ends up sleeping with me.

    I don’t want to create a bad habit but I also refuse to let her cry it out.

    Any feedback is most appreciated.

    • Hi Susan, Congratulations on adding your new baby to your family! Sleep is something you’ll both need to figure out together, and takes some detective work! You are dealing with common newborn issues. There are lots of sleep tips for you here on the blog and on my website at nocrysolution.com.

  4. Thanks for all your valuable information. My son is what dr sears would call a “high need baby” so he is a pretty sensitive/very light sleeper. He is 13 months old and still seems to do best with two naps. He’s been waking at about 40 minutes into his naps. I generally can get him back asleep right away, but not always. What do you recommended I do when he wakes early into his first nap and won’t settle back to sleep? When this happens, he becomes fussy and seems overtired very quickly but won’t go back down for at least a half hour. Should I try after that half hour, keep him up till his second nap, or move his second nap much earlier to accommodate how tired he is? Thoughts? (This happened today- woke up for day @ 7am, down at 9am for nap, woke at 945am, grumpy by 1030, finally back down at 12 somethig but his 2nd nap is “typically” closer to 130 or even 3 at times). With this early second nap, history has shown he’ll want another nap around 4 or 5 and then be up till 10pm OR crash at 630 for an hour or two and then be up till very late. We try to get him down for the night between 7-8pm. Any advice?

    • Hi LeeAnn – Every child is different, and it sounds like you really understand what sleep your son needs, versus what he actually gets! There isn’t one exact answer – and you’ve listed a number of excellent ideas. You may want to try one way for a few days and monitor the results. If you didn’t see positive change, try something else for a few days. There are many tips in The No-Cry Nap Solution that could help you. Check out the many excerps here on the blog or on my website nocrysolution.com

  5. Hi Elizabeth! I’m so thankful to have found your book! Our nighttime sleeping isn’t ideal, but it is getting much better, thanks to your advice. My real problem is naps!! I have a naptime routine, keep the room dark, play white noise (since birth) and she will fight and fight and on good days, fall asleep after about 15-20 minutes of back rubs and ssshh-ing. But then she wakes up 20 minutes later. When I can get in there immediately she will sometimes fall back asleep. If not, it’s all over. Even if I do make it in there she’s usually up 10-20 minutes later again. Once she’s UP…should I keep her up a bit and try again, or should I stick to more of a time schedule…like: Naps are at 10 and 1 regardless of length. Trying to figure out how to get her clock on track. Is it better to stick to actual times, or more like intervals? Thank you for your help! Oh and my little one is 8 months old. She will only take long naps in her carseat!!!