November 9, 2020

Nap Transitions Made Simple: 3-to-2, 2-to-1, and 1-to-0

Babies

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, it could take even longer.

That’s because daytime sleep is just plain different than night time sleep, and if sleep is going to get thrown off by a change, it’s likely the naps that will take the first or hardest hit.

But that doesn’t mean naps have to be impossible or you have to struggle through them!

I often have people ask me how to transition their baby from three naps to two, how to transition to a one-nap schedule, and what it looks like for a toddler or older child to stop napping altogether.

So let me help you!

nap transitions

How Long Do Nap Transitions Take?

The actual nap transition itself doesn’t generally take very long; there may be a week or two of back and forth schedules, but your little one will work it out pretty quickly.

That does, however, mean they’re body will be fully adjusted!

It generally takes 4-6 weeks for babies and toddlers to fully adjust to any sort of nap transition, so while your baby may be on that new schedule and her naps and overnight sleep look great, her body is likely still adjusting and an early bedtime (as early as 6:00 pm!) may still be helpful.

Similarly, if your little one is on her new schedule but naps are still short, or early mornings are starting to creep in, it may all still be connected to adjusting to the new schedule.

The Three Nap to Two Nap Transition

What age are babies usually ready to transition 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.

If your baby is 8+ months and takes two great naps and sleeps 11-12 hours overnight, then there’s really no need to switch! If, however, your baby is over 8 months old, is still taking three naps, and sleep is a struggle (naps and/or bedtime), it’s certainly time to transition to a two-nap schedule.

Signs babies are ready to transition to two naps

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!

Similarly, if your little one is around 7 months old, is still taking three naps and it’s working fairly well, but is struggling with waking up before 6:00 am most mornings, it’s also likely time to transition to two naps.

How to make the switch from three naps to two naps

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 about 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 baby 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!

The Two Nap to One Nap Transition

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!

What age are babies usually ready to transition to one 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 to wait about two weeks before making a big sleep change to rule out a regression due to a milestone. This will prevent you from making a transition too soon, resulting in further sleep challenges.

Signs babies ready to transition to one nap

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.

Your child may also take a short morning nap and a short afternoon nap.

Another sign your baby is ready to transition to one nap is they are struggling with early morning wakings, or even prolonged wakings in the night; and that’s all due to sleep pressure.

Sleep pressure is what our kids build up during the day, both between naps in order to fall asleep well and have a nice and long nap, AND to sleep well through the night!

If our kids don’t have enough sleep pressure built up from the day, they may struggle with night wakings and/or starting the day super early, so that’s another sign it’s time to transition to one nap.

Finally, it’s time to transition to one nap if your baby’s bedtime continues to get pushed back later and later. Ideally, your baby’s bedtime would not be later than 8 pm, because we want them to have time to get 11-12 hours of nighttime sleep. And if bedtime has to get pushed much later in order to squeeze in both naps and be tired enough at bedtime, it’s time to make the transition.

But remember, just because you have one or two off days does not mean it’s time to transition naps! Naps may not be a challenge every day, but if they 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 to one nap.

How to make the switch from two naps to one nap

The end goal is a schedule that looks something like:

7:00 am wake up

12:00-2:00 nap

7:00 pm bedtime

To get here, 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.

As you continue bumping that morning nap back later and later, and she sleeps past noon, do not offer an afternoon nap that day. It will likely be a stretch, but go ahead and do an early bedtime that night (as early as 6:00 pm!).

This will help make up for the afternoon sleep she’s used to getting, and it will also help avoid any extra overtiredness.

During the first week of this transition, your little one may have a two nap day, then a one nap day, then two naps, etc., but soon you’ll come to a place of consistency where every day is a one nap day.

How long should my child nap?

Ideally your little one will slip into a regular schedule of taking a 2-2.5 hour nap every afternoon.

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.

Extra tips for the transition to one nap

  • 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 around 10:00 am, 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!).

The One Nap to No Nap Transition

What age do kids usually stop taking a nap?

This nap transition generally happens are the age of three. For some kids, it happens closer to 2.5 years old, and others are able to hang on a bit longer.

Signs they’re ready to drop that final nap

For some kids, they simply start refusing their nap regularly. More commonly, however, I see kids who are still napping consistently during the day, however bedtime is starting to become a struggle.

They may be fighting bedtime more than usual, taking 20+ minutes to fall asleep, or bedtime has to be around 8:30 pm (or later), as your child is just not tired enough to fall asleep until then.

Those are all signs it’s time to drop (or at least cap) that afternoon nap!

How to make the switch from taking a nap to no nap

In simplest form, you just stop offering the nap!

I am a big fan of replacing nap time with quiet time, as it still gives you and your child space to rest during the day.

Read this blog post about dropping that final nap to learn more about what this transition looks like and how to help your child navigate it!

Conclusion

Nap transitions can be tough, both on the parents and our babies and toddlers, because it tends to throw any predictability that may have been there out the window. And I get it!

But remember that these transitions are short-lived and are good for you and your little one! And you’ll be back on track before you know it.

If you’re struggling to figure out what kind of schedule would work best for your little one, check out my FREE guide to sleep schedules to help you navigate these changes even further!

Or if you’d like help walking through these nap transitions, or you’ve made it through but something just isn’t working, don’t hesitate to book a free call and learn more about how I can help you!

With Grace,

Lauren

nap transitions