When I work with families one-on-one, I often start my plans by saying that naps tend to be the hardest part of the sleep puzzle. We almost always see bedtime start clicking into place within just a few days, however naps often take longer, and if we’re in the middle of or coming upon a nap transition, that’s a whole other story.
I have found that transitioning from 3 naps to 2 and 2 naps to 1 are the toughest transitions, so let me help you!
Three Naps to Two Naps
Most babies make the transition around 7 months old, though I have seen babies as young as 6 months transition, and I’ve also seen babies hang on until around 8 months.
Signs they’re ready
You’ll know your baby is ready for the switch when there’s just not enough time in the day to squeeze in that third nap without pushing bedtime too late. At this age, a bedtime between 6:30-8:00 pm is ideal, and we’re looking for around 11-12 hours of nighttime sleep. So if you’re finding that with 3 naps bedtime is regularly getting pushed beyond 8:00 pm, it’s likely time to switch!
How to make the switch
It’s okay if your child can still only handle around 2.5 hours of awake time in the morning, but we want to see that afternoon awake time stretch to 3 hours.
There may be a few days at the beginning of the transition that you still need to offer a third little cat nap to make it to bedtime, so in that case I would plan on making it a nap on the go (i.e. stroller or car) and plan for a short 20-30 minute nap. As your child adjusts to just 2 naps a day she will likely need an early bedtime (hopefully 6:30, though I’ve been known to put my girls down as early as 6:00/6:15 during this transition).
Finally, one of the most exciting pieces of this 3 to 2 nap transition is you can now get your baby on a set schedule!
Two Naps to One Nap
In my personal and professional experience, I have found that this transition tends to be the toughest. But it might also be the most exciting, as you now have most of the morning and much of the afternoon to get out of the house and not race back for a mid-morning and mid-afternoon nap!
Most babies make this transition between 13-15 months, although I’ve seen some babies make it closer to 11-12 months, and others make it as late as 18 months.
One reason this transition is so hard is simply determining when to make it! There are so many developmental milestones happening around the same time (namely walking and talking) that can make it tough to determine if it’s a regression we simply need to wait out or if a change in schedule is appropriate.
My general rule of thumb is wait about two weeks before making a big change to rule out a regression due to a milestone.
Signs they’re ready
The most common sign it’s time to transition to just one nap is that your child’s afternoon nap is becoming a struggle. She likely still takes a great morning nap but either refuses the afternoon nap altogether (by protesting or just happily not sleeping), it takes longer than 20 minutes to fall asleep, or she’ll only nap for about 30 minutes.
But we’re not looking for just one or two off days to pull the plug! Naps may not be a challenge every day, but if naps are a struggle for the majority of the time over two weeks and you’re still not seeing an improvement, it’s time to transition.
How to make the switch
We’re essentially going to be taking your child’s morning nap and slowly moving it later and later so it eventually becomes the one and only afternoon nap.
So we’re going to delay the morning nap by 30 minutes every three days, until that nap time reaches your desired time (I suggest 12 or 12:30, 1 pm at the very latest). For example, if your child typically takes a nap at 10:00 am but it’s time to transition, it will look like:
- Days 1-3: Nap at 10:30
- Days 4-6: Nap at 11:00
- Days 5-7: Nap at 11:30
- Days 8-10: Nap at 12:00
If your child wakes up before noon while slowly delaying that morning nap, try to put her down for an afternoon nap. She may not actually sleep, but give her some time to try to sleep/at least rest in her crib for about 30 minutes. You can also plan to be on a walk with the stroller or carrier, or driving in the car at this time to squeeze in a little nap.
Ideally your child will slip into a regular 2-2.5 hour afternoon nap. We don’t want that nap to be under 1.5 hours, and I’ve occasionally seen babies who take 3 hour afternoon naps and still get 11-12 hours at night, but more often than not, 2-2.5 hours is just right.
- Your little one will likely seem to “hit a wall” at her old morning nap time (around 10 am), so try to get outside and/or offer a snack with some natural sugars in it (i.e. fresh fruit!) to push through. She will get a second wind!
- Try to avoid stroller rides, car rides, and anything else that generally puts your child to sleep at her old morning nap time!
- Once you’ve made the decision to move forward with this nap transition, stick to it! If your child has been regularly taking one nap a day for a week or two and you all of a sudden offer a second nap, her little body clock will get thrown off (the exception here is sickness; your child may need extra sleep if she’s sick!).
It generally takes 4-6 weeks for young kids to adjust to any sort of nap transition, so while your baby may be regularly taking just one nap each day, her body is likely still adjusting and an early bedtime (as early as 6:00 pm!) may still be helpful.
Wondering how to transition from 1 nap to 0?
See my blog post about dropping that final nap.
Nap transitions can be tough, both on the parents and baby, because it tends to throw any predictability that may have been there out the window. But remember that these transitions are short lived and you’ll be back on track before you know it!
ps Don’t miss my FREE guide to sleep schedules to help you navigate these changes even further!