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How to Use Crib Hour to Get Longer Naps

Are you dealing with short naps? Let’s talk about how crib hour can help turn things around and get your baby longer naps!

baby awake in crib - use crib hour to help baby fall back asleep

Handling wakings in the middle of the night was hard when my daughter was little. But I have to say the the most make-or-break element of our days was whether or not she took good naps!

I’m sure I’m preaching to the choir here, but when our babies are little, nap time is an especially sacred time for parents.

The possibilities are endless: you can nap too, or get organized, or work out, or veg out!

When naps are going well for your little one, things are good for everyone

But what if—all of a sudden—your baby is only napping for 30 minutes at a time? Maybe this is happening regularly and you’re at your wits end!

Did you know there’s a nap training technique to help with short naps? It’s called crib hour and can be used to get long naps back!

Let’s talk about how crib hour can help improve the length and quality of your baby’s naps.

baby awake in crib sucking on thumb

Why is My Baby Taking Short Naps?

When they are young, a baby’s sleep cycle can be as short as 20 minutes. Babies who wake up after short naps are usually waking up because they reach the end of one sleep cycle and haven’t moved into the next sleep cycle yet.

They may have trouble transitioning sleep cycles for many reasons but the most common ones are:

  • Not using the right wake windows. Babies can only be awake for so long before they need to sleep again. Make sure you’re following your baby’s sleep cues and the right wake windows for their age.

  • They’re overtired or undertired. An overtired baby will have a hard time falling asleep and staying asleep, while an undertired baby may wake up from a nap early because they didn’t have enough sleep pressure built up. Make sure your baby’s sleep schedule is dialed in properly!

  • They have a sleep association and need help getting back to sleep. If your baby is used to nursing or rocking to sleep, they may wake up after one sleep cycle and wonder why they’re in a different place than the one they fell asleep in! In order for crib hour to work, your baby must be able to put himself to sleep initially.

If your baby puts himself to sleep and you’ve triple checked their wake windows and sleep schedule, then you can use crib hour to help extend those naps!

baby asleep

What is Crib Hour?

Essentially, crib hour is exactly what it sounds like. The plan is to leave your baby in their crib for at least a full hour at nap time, regardless of whether they sleep that entire time.

If you’re dealing with short naps, crib hour means your baby will have to spend some awake time in their crib after they’ve woken up.

The purpose of this method is fairly straightforward. If you leave your baby in an optimal sleep space, they’re more likely to fall back asleep after one sleep cycle.

Crib hour provides the best setting and opportunity for your baby to weave two or more sleep cycles together. That means you can say goodbye to those frustratingly short naps!

While it’s tempting to just give in to short naps as “the way my baby is,” don’t forget that babies need good daytime sleep to improve their night sleep! In other words, sleep begets sleep.

baby awake in crib

When Should You Start Crib Hour?

It’s important to keep in mind that, biologically speaking, many babies aren’t capable of regulating their naps until they’re about 6 months old. 

However, I also teach parents to practice “Le Pause” in my Newborn Sleep Course from the very start!

If you’re not ready to practice crib hour, you could start by giving your baby 10 minutes to see if they fall back asleep.

It’s also important to only practice crib hour if your baby has learned independent sleep habits. If you’ve successfully used a sleep training method and your baby can put themselves to sleep independently, they’re ready for crib hour.

If your baby still nurses to sleep, is rocked to sleep, or otherwise relies on your presence in some way to fall asleep, crib hour will not be productive for them.

Take the steps to promote self-soothing habits (including not nursing to sleep) before giving crib hour a try.

Baby DREAM System mockup

Need Help With Independent Sleep Habits?

If your baby doesn’t fall asleep independently, let me help you get there! As a certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant, my goal is to help your family get rest!

The Baby D.R.E.AM. System is for ages 4 months through 2.5 years. I’ll walk you through the process of how to get your baby better sleep! Check it out here.

parents putting baby to sleep in crib

How To Do Crib Hour

The clock starts as soon as your baby falls asleep at nap time, so pay attention to when your baby dozes off.

Once they’re asleep, cross your fingers and hope they stay that way! But if they wake up before an hour has passed, plan to let them hang out in their crib until your timer hits the one hour mark.

Keep in mind that if you’re using age-appropriate wake windows to coordinate your baby’s sleep routine, their wake window will begin with their “out of crib” time. 

That means your baby’s wake window will start as soon as you pick them up from crib hour, not from the time they opened their eyes.

Make sure they’re in a dark room so they have the best chance at falling back asleep. See how to make a nursery dark if you need ideas!

You can choose to use crib hour for all of your baby’s naps, or start with the first nap of the day until that nap turns into a long nap.

baby awake in crib

Here’s an example of what this could look like:

  • Baby falls asleep at 9:30 AM (timer starts)
  • Baby wakes from nap at 10:10 AM (baby slept for 40 minutes)
  • Baby stays awake in the crib from 10:10-10:30 AM (until 60 minutes of crib hour has passed)
  • Get baby out of the crib and say nap time is over at 10:30 AM and start a new wake window

During your baby’s awake time of the crib hour, you can continue utilizing your sleep training method, but only do so if they are unhappy. 

If your baby isn’t upset while they’re laying awake, I wouldn’t intervene at all. Just let them hang out, and they might drift back off to sleep!

Keep in mind that your presence can be especially stimulating for naps. You can use your sleep training method or do full extinction for the middle of naps.

baby alseep in crib

Does Awake Time in the Crib Count?

When doing crib hour, I don’t count the time that your baby is awake in the crib as part of their wake times. There are two reasons for this:

  1. If your baby is awake but in a dark environment and not upset, it’s still restful for them.
  2. If you shorten the next wake window, it can perpetuate the cycle of short naps. If you’re doing crib hour with older babies, they should be able to make it to the next wake window even if it’s technically a bit longer.

Does Crib Hour Actually Work?

Yes, crib hour absolutely works!

Just like with any other sleep training method, it may not work right away. But with consistency, babies typically fall back asleep when given enough time and space to do so.

In fact, I’ve seen plenty of crib hour success. I have worked with several families who have implemented crib hour and it has worked each time, giving their baby (and them) better naps!

Don’t stress too much about your baby not getting enough daytime sleep when you first start crib hour. Even when your baby is awake in the crib, they’re still in a restful setting which is good for their tired bodies.

I understand that the first time or two that you use this method, you might be in for some crib hour crying. Hang in there, momma!

If the crying is too much to handle, try to use whichever sleep training method you’ve been using to help soothe your baby. Do your best not to pick them up until the hour is over.

I promise you’ll get through this! And as always, I’m here to help so let me know how it’s going in the comments below.

Amy Motroni
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