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 Babies & 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, at around a year, 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.
When Do Babies Transition to One Nap?
Every baby is different and so there are no exact rules about the age at which they should be transitioned to one nap. The average age to drop the morning nap is around 18 months but some will be ready at 12 months and others won’t be ready until they are closer to two. Below we’ll look at the signs that your baby is ready to change to one nap.
If your baby is under 12 months, settling well for their scheduled naps and dropping off to sleep at night within half an hour, it’s unlikely they are ready to drop to one nap a day yet.
Signs that it’s Time to Drop a 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 they drop off at all.
If you’ve learnt to recognise your baby’s 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 but is now starting to go haywire, it could be a sign that your toddler is getting too much daytime sleep and it’s effecting their night sleep.
Another sign that its time to transition to one nap is early morning waking. There is a correlation between an early walk time 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.
It’s 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. As they get older it’s likely any sleep that happens after 3.30 will impact negatively on bedtime.
Transitioning to One Nap for Childcare
As babies get older, parents are more likely to be heading back to work and need to make use of childcare. While it varies, the set up at some nurseries require that children only nap once a day. If you’ve looked for the signs of readiness described above and you don’t think your child is ready to go down to one nap, you have a few options.
Consider asking your childcare provider if a compromise can be reached. This might involve your child being placed with slightly younger children who still have the opportunity to nap twice a day but ideally this would only be for nap time. You could research other childcare providers in your area to identify one which has the flexibility about naps that you need.
Otherwise, I would suggest having a go at dropping the nap and see how your toddler copes. Some children will sleep if it’s offered but cope fine if it isn’t, so it’s worth giving it a try.
Why is the Transition from 2 Naps to 1 So 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.
Should You Drop the Morning Nap or the Afternoon 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 or falling asleep in their dinner.
Having said that, if your toddler has a longer nap in the morning, it might be more suitable for them to drop the second 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. Take your time with this nap transition by slowly increasing the awake time before the nap and it should be fairly smooth.
For some families, it’s more convenient for naps to happen in the morning. If that’s the case for you then it’s worth experimenting with dropping the afternoon nap instead. You might find you can get away with a late morning nap, at least until they get a bit older and need wearing out before they’ll settle for a nap.
When Should You Transition to One 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 micro naps that will delay the transition to the new schedule. For example, if you skip the morning nap but 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 after lunch nap.
If you have regular activities you do with your baby, have a think about how the change to napping will effect them. In the short term, while you’re adjusting, you’ll want to prioritise naps but in the long term, just having one nap a day will actually give you a bit more flexibility than when you had to fit two in. For example, if you have a sensory class that means you need to leave your house at 3pm but baby isn’t usually up until 3.30, you can pop them down for a nap a bit early and get them up a bit early. Something that’s not really an option when you’re fitting in two naps a day because the knock on effect on the next sleep would have been too great.
You may also need to rethink your toddler’s mealtimes to fit around your new schedule. If you’re dropping the morning nap, you might need to bring lunch a bit earlier so they aren’t too tired to eat it. If you are dropping the afternoon nap, you might want to give a larger than usual morning snack to make sure hunger doesn’t wake them too early.
How to Transition to 1 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 won’t fall asleep on the journey to), 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 plan 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 2pm, 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. This will help shorten the period of time between the end of the nap and bedtime.
Whether 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.
How Long Should They Nap for?
All toddlers will vary but a nap of 2-3 hours is really the goal. If they only sleep for an hour they will probably be tired and grumpy. The disruption of moving the nap might mean that they sleep for less time than usual for the first few days but within a week you should start to see nap times extending back towards the length of their longer nap before the transition to 1 nap.
One Nap Schedule Samples
A sleep schedule for a toddler dropping to one nap in in the afternoon:
- 7am awake
- 8am breakfast
- 10am morning Snack
- 12 midday lunch
- 1pm nap
- 3pm awake and snack
- 5pm dinner
- 6pm milk
- 7pm bed
A sleep schedule for a toddler dropping to one nap in the morning:
- 6.30m awake
- 8am breakfast
- 10am morning Snack
- 10.30 nap
- 12.30 awake and lunch
- 3pm snack
- 5pm dinner
- 6pm milk
- 6.30pm bed
Troubleshooting Nap Problems
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 month or 2.
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!
Dropping a Nap and Night Wakings
We all know that daytime sleep effects night time sleep. While it stands to reason that sleeping too much during the day can make it hard to sleep at night, it’s important to remember that not enough daytime sleep can also effect night sleep.
If your baby or toddler, who was previously sleeping through the night consistently, starts waking in the night shortly after dropping a nap, it could be a sign that they weren’t ready.
The transition can disturb sleep so give it a week to see if things settle down but if the night wakings are still happening a week after the nap was dropped, consider reinstating it for at least two weeks to see if it solves the problem.
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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