Why Short Cat Naps Are Not Good Enough

Posted by in 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 would 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.

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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

Receiving all the gifts

In order for children to receive all of these wonderful gifts they 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.

Newborns have different sleep cycles

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.

This is why you should aim for longer naps

Now you can clearly see why a short nap 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 and bring that whoosh of second-wind energy that dissipates quickly, resulting is fussiness, crying, crankiness, tantrums and whining.


From The No-Cry Nap Solution: Guaranteed Gentle Ways to Solve All Your Naptime Problems by Elizabeth Pantley (McGraw-Hill, January 2009).

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