Having spent months getting your child sleeping through the night and into a good napping routine, the thought of making changes can be horrifying. At some point your toddler will need to make the transition to one nap and getting them to sleep less can actually be as tricky as getting them to sleep more.
How Many Naps do Toddlers Need?
By toddlerhood, generally considered to begin at around 18 months, most children will have moved through the newborn sleeping most of the time phase to have three naps a day and then down to two naps a day. These usually take the form of a shorter nap in the morning followed by a longer nap after lunch. The exact time and length of these will vary according to the child, for some these will be at set times and take place in the cot, for others it might half an hour in the pram or on a lap. Some toddlers will also prefer their longer nap in the morning and their shorter nap in the afternoon. At some point, your toddler will stop needing to sleep twice a day and you will need to transition form two naps to one.
Signs that it’s Time to Transition to One Nap
The most obvious sign that your toddler is ready to transition to one nap is that they become difficult to settle at nap times. When you put them in their cot they will either object by crying or shouting or when you leave the room you’ll be able to hear them babbling to themselves for a long time before they drop off.
If you’ve learnt to recognise your babies sleepy sign, you might notice they are no longer happening when you would expect them to. If your toddler usually starts rubbing their eyes, grizzling or chewing when they are tired and these signs are no longer happening, the might be ready to drop a nap.
You may also notice your toddler starting to become difficult to settle at night. If bedtime has been working well an is now starting to go haywire it could be a sign that your toddler is getting too much daytime sleep.
Another sign that its time to transition to one nap is early morning waking. There is a correlation between waking early and the morning nap starting too early so if you’re toddler starts to get up earlier than usual you might want to drop the morning nap.
What Happens if Your Toddler Naps Late?
If you’re starting to see the signs mentioned above then your initial reaction might be to push the naps back a bit. Its likely this will work in the short term but eventually will result in your toddler napping too close to bedtime, often referred to as the danger nap, because the likely result is a very difficult bedtime.
What time constitutes napping too late will vary with the child. Babies can often nap until 5.30 and still go off to sleep fine at seven. With younger toddlers you might get away with 4.30 but as they get older it’s likely anything after 3.30 will impact on bedtime.
Why is the Transition from Two Naps to One Tricky?
The simple answer is because everything about children and sleep is tricky! Taking a nap away means your toddler will be awake for longer stretches of time and they will need to adjust to that. That adjustment is likely to involve a fair amount of grumpiness.
Getting the timing right is tricky too. If you take a nap away before they are ready, the period of time they take to adjust will be longer. If you leave it too long to take it away you’re likely to have trouble with bedtimes as described above.
The adjustment period also often results in days or weeks when your toddler is over tired by bedtime and that can make it difficult for them to settle to sleep.
Preparing to Transition to One Nap
When you feel confident that your toddler is ready to drop a nap, the first job will be to decide which one. In most cases it will be the morning nap. This is because for most children it is the shorter nap and also means there will be less danger of them becoming overtired by bedtime. Having said that, if your toddler has a longer nap in the morning, it might be more suitable for them to drop the afternoon nap. If they cope with bedtime ok you can stick with a morning nap but if they are struggling you might want to gradually transition them to an afternoon nap.
You’ll want to choose a time when your toddler isn’t ill, isn’t teething (too badly) and doesn’t have any vaccinations scheduled. A time when you haven’t got too much going on is best if you can manage it.
If your toddler tends to fall asleep in the car or buggy, you’ll need to avoid these for a while as it will likely cause extra naps that will delay the transition to the new schedule. For example, if you skip the owning nap nut your toddler falls asleep in the car for ten minutes on the way home in the late morning, they will then probably struggle to settle for their father lunch nap.
You may also need to rethink your toddler’s mealtimes to fit around your new schedule.
Dropping a Nap
If you are dropping the morning nap, you’ll want to plan things that will help your baby stay awake. A local visit (somewhere they wont fall asleep on the journey too), a visit from someone or a play in the garden can work well. If you’re are dropping the afternoon nap then you’ll want to pan something like this for the afternoon.
To minimise how overtired they get, you’ll want to bring the afternoon nap forward a bit. If they have been napping at two, you could give them an early lunch and bring it forward to twelve.
If you are dropping the afternoon nap, its a good idea to delay the morning nap for a while if you can. If they usually sleep at ten, you might be able to push them to 11.30.
Weather you’re dropping the morning or afternoon nap you’ll want to make sure bedtime is at least on time, if not a little bit early, to make sure they aren’t overtired.
The adjustment takes time so it’s best to stick to your initial schedule for a week before you make any changes.
If, after a week, you feel like your toddler hasn’t made any progress towards adjusting to the changes, you should return to a two nap schedule. You can try dropping thee nap again in a few months.
If you are seeing some progress but aren’t there yet, you can look at smaller adjustments. If you are having trouble with them being overtired by bedtime, push the nap later. You can try just 30 minutes initially and keep increasing it until you find a balance.
If you’re struggling to keep your toddler awake until nap time, try bring the nap forward a little bit. Again, start with 30 minutes and increase as necessary. Just be careful not to go so early that you trigger early morning wakings or overtiredness before bed.
You may also find that being tired can interfere with mealtimes, don’t be afraid to swap mealtimes round so they eat bigger meals when they are less tired, they have no concept of what mealtimes should be anyway!
When Do Toddlers Stop Napping?
There is of course no definitive answer to this question. Some will have no interest in daytime sleep by 18 months and others will be still be napping when they start school. My oldest still napped at the weekend until the Christmas of his first year at school. We only stopped him when it started to interfere with bedtime. My youngest slept every day until she turned 4 and then just on some days until she was four and a half. I believe this is because i followed a pretty strict routine and it simple never occurred to them not to go for their nap!
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