Getting to the bottom of cat naps and unsettled nights

cat napping and unsettled sleep

“Help my baby is a cat napper!” is the common cry from mums and dads. If your baby only sleeps for 20 minutes or less at a stretch during the day and wakes frequently at night, you are justified in feeling exhausted and frustrated. Many babies wake naturally after a sleep cycle – approximately 45 minutes. This is not unusual and it takes time for babies to link sleep cycles. But if your baby consistently wakes only 20 minutes into a sleep cycle or never links sleep cycles at night, you need to urgently get to the bottom of the sleep disruptions. Here are two common causes for catnapping:

Startle reflex

Waking after only 15 minutes of sleep is actually quite a common problem in the early days. As your baby falls asleep, he is in the light sleep state. In this state his little eyes will move under his eyelids and he is processing all the sensory information he received during the day. As your baby falls deeper into sleep, he experiences a sudden jerk of his muscles, called a hypnagogic startle. Even as adults we experience this jerk but generally sleep through the minor disturbance. Your baby may be woken by this startle as he falls into a deeper sleep state. This is particularly common in newborns but does need to be managed so your little one can sleep for a longer stretch:

  • Swaddle your baby in the uniquely designed Baby Sense Cuddlewrap or Cuddlegrow as this is the best way to inhibit the reflex, as the wrap will contain his arms from shooting out and waking him.
  • White noise such as the Baby Sense Womb to World will help him to sleep a little deeper and he will be less likely to be woken by the movement of his arms.
  • Leave your hand on him until he has passed through this startle and settles into a deeper sleep state.

Reflux

Many babies posit or bring up milk curds after a feed. There is nothing wrong with this and is in fact more common than one would know – we call these babies ‘happy pukers’.  However, for a small percentage of babies, the regurgitated milk curds burn the oesophagus and cause an irritation whenever the stomach contents rise up the pipe. We call this oesophagitis. This irritation will cause your baby to fuss when she feeds and to be woken when lying on her back for too long, which is why they become cat-nappers. To manage this:

  • See your doctor for an accurate diagnosis.
  • You may be prescribed medication to neutralize the stomach acids or to decrease the regurgitation.
  • Raise the head of the mattress that your baby sleeps on so the milk does not lie for lengths of time on the oesophagus.

By Meg Faure