Here’s how to know when it’s time to drop a nap

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If it seems like your baby’s sleep schedule is constantly changing, it’s not just your imagination. In the first few years of life, as your child progresses developmentally, so does their sleep, and naps are specifically affected by these changes.

For many parents, figuring out when your baby should nap and for how long is one of the most challenging aspects of planning the day. And it can be extra confusing when trying to decide whether your child is ready to drop a nap.

If your child has been struggling with going down for one or both of their naps, it might be time for a transition in their schedule. But before you make any changes, you’ll want to ensure they are truly ready.

Transitioning from two naps to one nap

Typically, babies start to transition to two naps sometime between 9 and 10 months and will continue taking two naps until 15 to 18 months or so, after which point they’ll take just one midday nap. While there are some babies that will transition much later, I don’t recommend dropping the second nap any earlier than this, even if your child is rejecting their second nap.

Keep in mind while there are guidelines based on age, every child is going to have different sleep needs, so it’s important to pay close attention to your child’s sleepy cues, length of naps and quality of night sleep, which will help you determine if they are nearing a nap transition.

In addition to age, there are three other signs to watch out for that will tell you if your baby is ready to drop to one nap. 

  1. One or both of your child’s naps has gotten significantly shorter for a minimum of two consecutive weeks. When your child is on a two-nap schedule, one of their naps (typically the morning nap) will naturally be slightly longer than the other. But if you notice that there is a significant difference in their second nap, for example, the first nap is between 1.5 and 2 hours and the second is just 30 minutes, then this can be an indication that your child is nearing the two-to-one nap transition. Keep in mind that short naps can be caused by other factors such as sleep environment or awake windows that need to be adjusted, so these things should be addressed first to see if it helps to elongate one or both naps. 
  1.  Your child has been completely rejecting the second nap for two or more consecutive weeks. It’s normal for babies and toddlers to sometimes refuse their nap for various reasons, so this is not an automatic reason to suddenly drop the nap. But if your child has been rejecting their second nap consistently and they are nearing or within the recommended age range, then it’s likely they are ready to drop the second nap. Most commonly I see that babies and toddlers start to reject their second nap in the afternoon, but occasionally children may refuse their morning nap instead. 
  1. Your child is starting to experience night wakings, trouble falling asleep at bedtime and/or early risings. As babies and toddlers start to progress into new stages, their sleep needs change and shift. And if they are getting too much sleep during the day, this can start to affect their sleep at night. If you notice that your child is experiencing sudden issues falling asleep at night, waking up in the middle of the night when they didn’t previously, or waking up before 6am, for longer than 10-14 days, it could be a sign they are getting too much day sleep and they are ready for one nap. Keep in mind, most children between 12 and 18 months still need a minimum of 2.5 hours of day sleep, though, so if your child isn’t getting enough sleep even on two naps then you want to hang on to that second nap a bit longer.

If your child is experiencing two or more of these signs, and they are within the recommended age range to drop to one nap, then you can start to think about making the transition to one nap. But if your child isn’t quite 15 months yet, and/or is only showing one or none of these signs, then you will want to wait a bit longer before making this nap transition. 

You also want to make sure the transition isn’t coming at a time when there are other major transitions happening at home. While you can’t always control this, you do want to avoid making too many changes at once. So if you have a move planned, your child is starting daycare, or any other big change is happening, try to wait until your child is adjusted before shifting their nap schedule.

How to help your baby drop a nap

When your child is ready, there are a few steps you will want to take to ensure this is a smooth transition for both of you…

Step 1: Gradually start to lengthen your child’s first awake window so their first nap is slightly later. 

This is typically done best in 30-minute increments over the course of a week or longer. For example, if your child’s first nap is normally at 9:30 am, you will want to try putting your baby down at 10 am instead for a few days and then increase again by another 30 minutes once it is clear they can handle it. You will then continue to push their morning nap time by 30-minute increments until you reach the desired one-nap schedule.

Step 2: As you lengthen the first awake window, you will decrease the second nap slightly or remove it all together and start to move up bedtime. 

If your child wakes up from their morning nap at 12:30 pm, rather than offering their second nap, you would move up bedtime to as early as 6 pm to close that gap. But this can be a bit tricky, because often during this transition you will end up with a very large awake window before bed, which can be a recipe for disaster. So there may be some days when you need to offer a quick cat nap if your child will take one. 

Generally, if the child’s awake window before bed has to be larger than 5.5 hours, I would recommend attempting a short cat nap for no more than 30 minutes in the afternoon in order to get them to bedtime. But each day is likely going to look a little different and this process does require some flexibility.

Step 3: Once you have pushed the morning nap later and eliminated the second nap all together, you will want to follow a consistent schedule and maintain an earlier bedtime, until your child is ready to extend their awake windows.

Sample one-nap sleep schedule during the transition

As you initially make this transition, your child’s sleep schedule might look something like this…

6:30/7 am: Awake for the day

11 am: Nap

1 pm: Awake

6/6:30 pm: Bedtime

If you find that some days your child takes a shorter nap and so the awake window before bed is too large, I would recommend attempting a cat nap around 3:45/4 pm and wake your child up by 4:15/4:30 pm latest for a 7:30/7:45 pm bedtime. It’s important to pay close attention to your child’s sleepy cues and patterns though, because some babies will struggle with extending the awake windows and become overtired in the process. Just do your best to honor their sleepy cues!

Sample one-nap sleep schedule post-transition

Once you have made the two to one nap transition, the ideal schedule will look like this…

6:30/7 am: Awake for the day

12 pm-2/2:30pm: Nap

6:30/7 pm: Bedtime

It’s important to remember that anytime your child is dropping a nap it is not going to be a linear process. There will be days your child needs one nap and days your child needs two naps, and your child might go back and forth for a few weeks before they truly settle into a one-nap schedule. If this is happening with your child, know that it’s normal, so try not to stress.

The good news is that once your child settles into their one nap schedule, they will stay there until they drop the nap completely (around 3 or 4 years of age) so you have a nice chunk of time before you go through this process again.

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