If you are a Babywise parent you are probably aware of this concept. If not, I am sure you have dealt with the intruder in one form or another. This post is dedicated to what we have learned about the intruder and the ways we have come up with to best deal with it. A word of warning though, the intruder can be very nasty and difficult to break. Babywise will have you believe that the intruder is rare and will likely go away in a week or two. From my experience and research this is not always the case.
Understanding the 45-Minute Intruder
Babies generally sleep in cycles during the day. Normally they fall asleep for about 45 minutes in the first cycle. When they wake from the first cycle they must put themselves back to sleep to get good, healthy sleep. A normal nap should be 1.5 -2 hours. Sounds easy, right???
Many babies, when they stir at around 45 minutes will find it difficult to fall back asleep. Sometime parents mistakenly believe when baby wakes after only 30-45 minutes of sleep that baby is no longer tired. This generally is not the case. Most babies are still very tired and need to move into the next phase of sleep to get a good nap.
Some babies may only do this for a few days or a week around the age of 3-4 months as they are becoming more alert and aware of their surroundings. However, this was not the case for our family. When the 45-minute intruder begins to create chronic 45-minute naps, it becomes very disruptive. When baby does not get good sleep, then he will tend to be very fussy and tired during the next cycle. This makes it very difficult to move into a stable 4-hour cycle. Worse it makes for a very cranky household where it is difficult to get anything done during the day – a household that revolves around baby. The good news is that this is temporary for most babies. The main reason I am writing about this is that I found very little information to troubleshoot this problem in the Babywise book, or anywhere else for that matter.
Things We Found Helpful
This is the most common problem in my mind. A baby who is consistently waking up at 45 minutes hungry is unlikely to fall back to sleep. In a typical 4-hour cycle there are two things that you can do to address this problem.
First, try and reorganize the 4-hour routine so that baby eats about 30-45 minutes after getting up from a nap. This may be hard at first but your baby will quickly readjust. This accomplishes 2 things. First it removes the association with waking and then immediately eating. Second it moves the feeding a little closer to nap time, which means baby is likely to have a little fuller stomach during the nap.
A second strategy is to add in cereal and/or age-appropriate baby foods. Do not do this immediately after nursing but give a baby a 30-45 minute break between nursing and taking food. The overall goal is to have more of baby’s food closer to the initiation of the nap. This makes it less likely that baby will wake hungry after 45 minutes. Rather baby will wake hungry after 1 1/2 hours… hopefully.
We implemented this strategy with our baby. It really only took a few days to accomplish this and it seems to help him not be so ravenous when he wakes up.
Too Tired or Not Tired Enough?
If you are confident that your baby is not hungry, then you may be dealing with a baby that is either too tired or not tired enough. This is, of course, confusing.
In the early months babies tire quickly. Most newborns do not cope well with more than 1- 1.5 hours of wake time. If you are keeping them up for longer than that they may get overtired. Overtired babies do not do anything well, including sleep. The cure for this is to put them down sooner, rather than later. Let them get more sleep, so they can get more sleep. It sounds strange but in the early weeks and months, sleep begets sleep.
As baby gets older (between 3-5 months) they will have established a rather predictable routine and their daily rhythm will be well established. They will normally go to bed around the same time, wake at the same time, nap at the same time, etc. etc. If you baby is not napping well at this point it is very possible that your baby is getting too much sleep.
If your suspect that your baby is getting too much sleep I suggest you read Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems, by Dr. Ferber. Simply put, it corrects all the lies that we believe. Dr. Ferber is a sleep expert at Harvard’s Boston Children’s Hospital. He tells you what is normal and what is not. This is important because what we hear in the community is not the norm. What we generally hear from our family and friends are “success” stories. Stories about angel babies that sleep through the night straight out of the womb and are perfect in just about every way. This is not the norm.
Many parents, especially first-time parents, struggle with many aspects of helping their baby establish healthy sleep patterns. Most eventually figure it out, largely through a trial and error process, but it may be painful along the way. These “negative” stories, although more common, are shared much less often because people generally don’t like to talk about their failures and struggles.
Reading the Ferber book opened my eyes to what is normal and what I could reasonably expect from our baby at different ages of development. Even better the book goes on to give lots of different examples of problems and how to fix them. I cannot recommend this book highly enough if you are having any trouble with sleep.
All of this to say, most of the stories we hear make us think as parent that baby should sleep 12 straight hours at night and then take (3) 2-hour naps during the day. This is just way too much sleep for any baby other than a newborn in the first weeks of life. The average 3 month old baby sleeps less than 10 hours at night and by the age of 6 months total nap time is just over 3 hours.
Establish a very predictable routine
We found this to be critical in the early days of sleep training. If you want your baby to take predictable naps, then you have to help him. This means that the naps should start at more or less the same time everyday and the number of naps should be the same every day. During this period of training you will need to forgo lots of little day trips. Catnaps in the car on the way to the grocery store, skipping naps several days a week, or mixing up the time that baby goes down for a nap will all interfere with developing healthy naps.
For us, we decided that our son needed two long naps a day. The first we wanted to be in the morning around 9am and the second in the afternoon around 1:30pm. Any field trips for baby (doctor appointments, play dates, etc.) or trips to the grocery store were always scheduled for late afternoon. This way our son (and us as parents) grew to expect the same thing every day.
Reduce nighttime sleep
According to Ferber, most babies 3-6 months of age only need about 10 hours of sleep at night. If your baby is sleeping 11, 12, or more hours at night, then they are probably getting all of the sleep they need at night. Try backing up the time they get up in the morning or pushing the bedtime back to reduce the overall nighttime sleep.
A word of caution here. Plan to do this for several days or maybe even a week or two before you assess the success. Any changes will initially be met with resistance. For us, our son was going to bed at 7pm and waking around 7am, with one feeding at 430am. This meant he was getting 11.5 hours of sleep at night. This was just too much nighttime sleep. So we pushed his bedtime back to 8pm and his wake-up time to 6:30. This was initially painful because pushing his bedtime back because he was especially fussy that last hour of the day. However, by doing it gradually over a week or two, this process becomes more manageable. After about three weeks of consistently doing this, he dropped his 4:30am feed all on his own and started taking better naps.
Avoid extra long naps
While it may be nice for baby to take a 3-hour nap, this will likely interfere with later naps. We generally do not wake our son from a deep sleep but we do open his door and “help” him wake up on his own between 1-5 and 2 hours.
Darken the room
We are suspicious that this may have been the final key to our success. There is a lot of light in our son’s room. I do not sleep well in a well lit room, so it only makes sense that this may be a problem for babies too. We put some darkening shades in our son’s room and this seemed to make a big difference is his ability to fall back to sleep on his own.
“Cry it out”
This is probably one of the most painful things about parenting. “Cry it out” was originally defined by Dr. Ferber. Since that time it has mutated into many different forms. Most of these are based on personal opinion rather than science. I would urge you to read Dr. Ferber’s book before you decide to implement cry it out. I plan to devote an entire post to this concept. Overall, while some short periods of letting baby “cry it out” may be needed, we found that prolonged periods of crying DO NOT work. If you are planning to let baby cry it out, I suggest you come up with a well-thought-out plan before you start and stick to the plan for a few days before evaluating its effectiveness.
Around 4-months our son really started struggling with the 45-minute intruder. He would not take any naps during the day longer than 45-minutes. Every time he woke from a nap he was very fussy and irritable. We gradually implemented the suggestions above and we slowly made progress. However, this (the sleep training) was the most painful part of being a new parent to date. It involved lots of crying and lots of questioning ourselves. The important things for us were to keep talking about it, troubleshooting what we were doing, and keeping our eye on the long-term goal… healthy sleep for our son that was functional for our family. Now, just shy of 6 months were have virtually eliminated the 45-minute intruder, but it was a formidable foe.
Update: Our Experience with our Second Baby
As with Baby #1, we had little trouble with nighttime sleep. In fact, Baby #2 started sleeping through the night (6-8 hours in one stretch) even earlier than Baby #1. However, the 45 minute intruder was again a real challenge. Based on the Ferber book, and our experience with our first baby, we decided to wait until 3-4 months before we even started to work on nap time sleep training. I am happy to report that we have again conquered the 45-minute intruder. Unfortunately it took us almost 4 months to get this beast out of our house.
We tried everything mentioned above. In the end, the problem was our routine. Given the demands of having a 2 year old and a newborn/infant, it was very difficult to get Baby #2 on a set schedule. While we tried to do naps at the same time every day, some times naps were ruined by a short nap in the car. Other times a nap was cut short on account of a doctor appointment. We also had several long summer trips planned and there is nothing like a week long vacation to disrupt your infants schedule. At the end of the day, the schedule just did not rank high enough on our list of priorities.
Around 7 months, after the 45-minute intruder had really started to take a toll on our family, we got very serious about the schedule. We enlisted the help of some friends and neighbors to cover nap time in the event that mom had to run an errand. We put our son down at the same time every day and set the duration of nap time to be at least 1 ½ hours but not more than 2 hours. We did tolerate some crying for a few days in the middle of the nap. We limited nighttime sleep to 10 hours. We did not schedule anymore trips.
It took a few weeks – but now we have 2 peaceful 1 ½ -2 hour naps EVERY day.