Navigating Nap Transitions
You have worked long and hard on perfecting your child’s nap routine and schedule, when all of a sudden they become a little bit older and you realize that the schedule will need to change once again! Within the first 18 months of your child’s life, there will be many schedule changes. Here are some of the signs that your little one is ready to make a change in their nap schedule, and some ways you can make those nap transitions easier on you and your child.
First transition: from 3 naps to 2
Babies typically have three naps per day until they reach nine months of age, more or less, which is when you will start to see the late afternoon nap disappear.
It will take some time for your little one to adjust to the longer stretch of awake time between their last nap of the day and bedtime. You may find that they will need an earlier bedtime during this transition, and it helps to push the afternoon nap a little bit later for a week or two, to help them get through to bedtime without becoming too overtired.
You may also find that, at the beginning, your baby can handle one or two days without the nap but then on day three, they will need a quick 20–30 minute power snooze. It can take anywhere from 1–3 weeks for them to fully adjust to the new routine.
Here are some common signs that your baby is ready to transition from three naps to two:
- Your baby is around nine months old.
- Your baby is taking a longer second nap, not allowing much time for the third.
- Your baby is consistently refusing the third nap.
- Your baby is taking the third nap and is not tired enough at bedtime.
Method #1: Gradual
Start by cutting down the third nap of the day slowly from 45 minutes to 30 minutes and then down to 20 minutes. Once your baby has been napping for 20 minutes for a few days you can cut out the nap all together, making sure to compensate with an earlier bedtime.
Method #2: Cold turkey
If your baby has been refusing the third nap consistently and you feel that they are ready, begin by pushing their second nap a little later in the afternoon to avoid a very long wake window before bedtime. Since they will no longer be having the third nap, it is important to compensate with an earlier bedtime until your baby’s system has had time to adjust.
Second transition: from 2 naps to 1
Most toddlers will still need two naps per day up until the age of 14-18 months. A small percentage of toddlers will be ready as early as 13 months.
Here are some common signs that your child is ready to transition from two naps to one:
- Your child is between 14 and 18 months old.
- Your child consistently refuses the morning nap.
- Your little one is consistently (for 3–5 days) taking a long time to fall asleep in the morning, pushing the morning nap too late. Some children will do this for a day or two and then go back to napping well again.
- Your child sleeps in the morning but not in the afternoon or has a very short afternoon nap if they sleep in the morning.
Method #1: Gradual
Start with a slow transition by cutting down the morning nap by 15-minute increments every day or every two days. If your child sleeps for one hour in the morning, cut it down to 45 minutes, then 30 minutes, and then go down to 20 (providing your child is still falling asleep in the morning.) Put them down for their afternoon nap at the regular time.
Once their morning nap is lasting 20 minutes for a few days, you can go ahead and make the change to cut it out all together but start with small steps. Try for a morning nap 2–3 days a week so that they are given the opportunity to catch up (if they will still nap). The afternoon nap is the most important, as we need to make sure the window between nap and bedtime is not too long so they are not going to bed overtired, which could lead to night wakings.
We understand it can be difficult to wake them when they are sleeping so well, but protecting the afternoon nap and overnight sleep is more than worth it.
Method #2: Cold turkey
This method is more effective for those children who are refusing to have a morning nap despite your best efforts. If your child falls in this category and has given up their morning nap on their own, they will need an earlier afternoon nap for a few days to a week as their system adjusts. You can adjust their nap schedule by 15-minute increments every day or every two days. For the first day, your child may need to go down for their afternoon nap at 11:30, the next day at 11:45, etc., until they have reached their regular 12:30 or 1:00 nap schedule again.
Note: If your child attends daycare and they only offer one nap there during the week, you can still offer 2 naps on the weekend while they are at home until they have adjusted.
Sometimes children will go on a “nap strike.” This does not necessarily mean that they are ready to give it up completely but it may mean that a nap transition is coming up in the near future. They may also be going through a developmental change, which would cause them to object to naps. However, they still very much need that sleep even though they seem to think they don't! Before diving into cutting out the nap, give them a few days to a week to see if they will go back to their regular schedule, especially if your child is significantly younger than the recommended age.
It is advised to take caution when you are contemplating dropping a nap, as there can be consequences when making this change too early. This could lead to early rising, frequent night wakings and short naps.
While your child is going through this transition, it is very important to recognize that their system will need some time to adjust to the change in routine. Try not to get discouraged if it does not work out quite as planned for the first few nights. Keep in mind that it is also imperative to ensure that you adjust bedtime accordingly during this transition. You want to avoid your child becoming overtired, which could cause more disruption with their overall sleep. Once they reach two-and-a-half to three years old, they may be ready to give up their naps for good. Until then, keep calm, and transition on!
*Originally published February 15, 2016