Updated: Aug 16, 2022
I get soooooo many questions about nap transitions. How do I know it's time? Is my child ready? What about when my child goes to daycare?
If you're finding that your little one is...
-starting to refuse naps and takes more than 30 minutes to fall asleep
-has starting skipping naps
-has lengthened one nap and consequently refused others
-is waking earlier than normal, or
-is starting to have somewhat fragmented nights
...and you know it's not a regression or developmental progression...it might be time for a nap transition. I recommend holding onto naps for as long as you can, so to really be certain that your child is ready, I want you to look for this pattern: any of the above happening or occurring consistently, at least ten times in 14 days. This ensures that it is not a regression or developmental progression, and that your baby's sleep needs are truly changing - the amount of sleep they need and/or where that sleep occurs in a 24 hour period.
Scroll through to find where your child is at...
Newborns sleep a lot. It is normal from them to have anywhere from 4-6 naps per day. The lengths of their naps vary and are incredibly inconsistent from day to day; what worked one day will not work the next. They are very sporadic sleepers because they only have two sleep cycles at this age.
Because you cannot really plan your life with certainty around naps with a newborn, I recommend following "awake windows" at this stage to make sure your little one is getting an appropriate amount of sleep and enough naps to carry them over to bedtime. If you need more information about that (life changing information, in my opinion!), click here. The only time I recommend capping a nap with a newborn - waking them up - is if they are approaching the three hour mark. We want your newborn to consolidate nighttime sleep first, so if those long stretches are occurring during the day, we want to help your baby shift the long stretches of sleep to nighttime...capping those long naps is one way to start helping their circadian rhythm develop and differentiate between day and night. Around 6-8 weeks of age they should start to have their days and nights figured out.
Due to their sporadic nature, newborn naps may remain fairly inconsistent until about 12-16 weeks or even later. As time goes on, you will notice your baby naturally moving from shorter, more frequent naps, to slightly longer ones, and the ability to handle a bit more time awake between naps. There really is no magic to getting to a consistent 4 nap day - it just kind of happens as your baby matures and enters infanthood.
3-2 Nap Transition
Most babies are ready for this transition between six and nine months of age, although it can vary depending on the child. While your baby is taking three naps a day these naps and aren't necessarily occurring at the same times each day. I recommend following age-appropriate "awake windows" to know when naps are needed. Due to the nature of a 3-nap day, bedtime is still fluid, and should be falling between 6:00-8:00 p.m. depending on when that last nap occurred. It can be easy to manipulate naps (cap them) at this stage to get an appropriate bedtime. I actually do this all the time with my little one to make sure bedtime is around 7:00/7:30 each night to help his circadian rhythm develop.
You might think be thinking, "What?! Shouldn't I leave my baby to sleep during their nap?"
Here's the thing - nighttime sleep is always my priority because it is more restorative, so if daytime sleep is going to affect that, you bet I'm going to be controlling the naps at this stage a bit more. I also like to think of naps simply as a tool to help get your baby to bedtime and take some of the "sleep pressure" off. On a 3-nap day, I'd shoot for no more than 3.5 hours of total sleep. So, if the first nap is 2 hours long, the next two I would cap at 45 minutes each. If you have questions about how to manipulate these naps, please reach out!
As time goes on, you will likely find the third nap of the day starts to get pushed later and later and begins to interfere with bedtime. The timing simply gets awkward. Once this happens fairly consistently, or any of the other things listed at the beginning of this post, it is a sign that it might be time to drop the third nap. When this happens, you may need to incorporate an earlier bedtime until your child adjusts to slightly longer awake windows. For tips and tricks on how to to stretch awake windows without making your baby overly fussy, make sure you refer to my free "Newborn Sleep Guide" by subscribing to my email list on my homepage (you'll be spoiled with goodies, get updates when a new blog is posted, and be the first to know of everything happening at Lake Country Sleep - I promise, it's worth it!).
Once your baby has dropped the third nap, and you're on a 2-nap day, you can incorporate more of a set daily schedule, offering naps within the same 1/2 hour each day. You'll want to figure out these times based on your child's awake window (see guide link above ^^^) and what time they typically wake up for the day. For example, if your baby wakes around 7:30 a.m., naps will likely be around 10:00/10:30 a.m. and 2:30/3:00 p.m., for a total of ~3 hours of daytime sleep. Again, these sleep needs vary from child to child - some may need more day time sleep while others may need less. Bedtime would likely fall around 7:00 p.m. You could plan your day around a similar schedule to this - obviously this will vary from child to child and how their specific circadian rhythm shakes out. A good rule of thumb is to always plan for 12 hours of nighttime sleep, so if they are waking for the day around 6:30 a.m., you should plan for bedtime around 6:30 p.m., with 2 naps splitting the day accordingly based on your little one's sleep needs. It is quite a formula, so if you find you need help or guidance, that's what I'm here for.
2-1 Nap Transition
The 2-1 nap transition is historically one of the most difficult. It can take 4-6 weeks to complete this transition for some children. This transition can occur anywhere between 10-18 months, most typically around 14-15 months. Some children are pushed to drop to one nap a bit early when they move to a certain room at daycare, and if you need help with the transition, I am here for you! Note that it is best to keep the same schedule on the weekends that your little one has during the week to maintain consistency and to not throw off their circadian rhythm - I'll get more into this in a future post.
Anyway, this transition should be done gradually. Let's say your little one has been taking naps at 10:00 a.m. and 2:45 p.m. each day and they've been showing signs (10 out of 14 days) that it's time to drop down to only one nap. To start, I'd like you to push back the morning nap to 10:30 and do this for 3-4 days. The afternoon nap should also be pushed back to 3:15 for these same days. Then the following 3-4 days you'll want to push it back another 30 minutes to 11:00 and 3:45, respectfully. You'll now want to cap the afternoon nap and wake them by 4:15 so they can still have a decent bedtime. This is just a short cat-nap to help carry them over until bedtime.
For the following 3-4 days, I'd like you to now move to one nap at 11:30 and start to implement an early bedtime. For tips and tricks on how to to stretch all the way to bedtime without making your baby overly fussy, make sure you refer to my free "Newborn Sleep Guide" by subscribing to my email list on my homepage (you'll be spoiled with goodies, get updates when a new blog is posted, and be the first to know of everything happening at Lake Country Sleep - I promise, it's worth it!). We are shifting the sleep from what used to be the second nap and tacking it onto their nighttime sleep. Continue to push this one nap back every 3-4 days by 30 minutes until you are putting them down around 12:30 every day for their one long nap. Continue to use an earlier bedtime until this one nap consolidates to a set 2-3 hours right in the middle of the day, each day. Once the nap is set, you can push bedtime back to your usual time. Like I mentioned, this process can take time, so be patient.
1-0 Nap Transition (Implementing Quiet Time)
Most children are ready to drop this last nap between 2.5 to 3.5 years old. I've had children ready, and mamas who aren't! The good news is, you can now implement quiet time! Come up with a list of approved quiet time activities (no screens) your little one can do on their own, in their bedroom. I love puzzles, books, and blocks for this time. Make sure you are very clear with your expectations for this time so that your child completely understands what they can and cannot do during this time. A visual timer can be extremely helpful. I recommend that quiet time lasts between one and two hours. It may also take some time to complete the transition, and for their little body to get used to this new rhythm, but be consistent and implement a slightly earlier bedtime to hold them over. You'll find in time you'll be able to push it back to their regular time as their body adjusts.
Transitions can be hard for any child at any age because it is CHANGE. Aren't we all a bit resistant to change? My best advice is to stay flexible, yet consistent, with your expectations, and know that with a little time and effort you will all survive. And if you need help with any scheduling or rearranging of sleep times, please reach out - I'd love to help!
Let's get sleeping.