How do you know it’s time to transition your toddler to one nap? What are the benefits to delaying this transition and how do you do it? Read more about the ideal age to switch to one nap and how to make the transition go as smoothly as possible.
Times of sleep transitions can feel scary. If things are going well, the thought of switching things up can be intimidating. Will they go back to normal?
If sleep is already shaky, a nap transition may help get things back on track. However, it’s not always the answer and it may backfire if your little one is not ready yet.
Being thoughtful and intentional about the process will ensure that this time of transition is short lived and your little one adjusts well to a single nap. Being reactive or rushing the process may lead to more problems. So what are the right questions to ask? How can you help this process be a success? Read on!
How to know it’s the right time
The transition from two naps to one nap may be the trickiest transition to get through. It can typically happen around 15-18 months but the range can be as long as 13-24 months. That’s a huge range! Keep in mind that each baby’s sleep needs are different, and also that each baby comes into this time with their own sleep history. Have they recently been well rested? Do they wake up a lot at night? Looking at the full picture may help guide your decision.
Why should I wait to offer only one nap?
Try to preserve two naps as long as possible! The older your little one is when you drop the nap, the smoother the transition may be. As babies become older, they are able to handle more awake time between sleeps. Switching to one nap too early may mean that your baby may struggle to stay awake and become overtired.
Sometimes switching to one nap may mean that overall day sleep decreases. Offering less opportunities for sleep may lead to sleep debt building (this is the difference in the sleep your baby needs to the sleep they are actually getting).
Both of these situations (becoming overtired and building sleep debt) will inevitably start to impact night sleep as well. This means night wakes and/or early mornings may start. Sometimes families want to transition to one nap when these situations are currently happening as a way to fix nights. Dropping a nap will most often not solve the night issues.
Make sure you are dropping the morning nap for the right reasons. If night sleep has been a challenge (fighting sleep, many night wake ups), consider different possibilities before assuming that your little one is sleeping too much and needs to drop a nap. Check through these scenarios to understand why night wakes may be happening.
Dropping a nap usually doesn't solve a sleep problem.
The right schedule matters!
Also double check that you are following a schedule that is biologically appropriate for your toddler. Read this post to understand why this is important. If your schedule is very off from this and your little one is resisting naps, I recommend first shifting to this schedule before moving to drop a nap. Perhaps a schedule adjustment is all that was needed to maintain two naps for a bit longer!
It really is time to make the switch!
So your little one is being offered naps at the right times and if night wakes are happening, you’ve made sure that nothing else is going on. Don’t go straight to the transition yet!
When considering dropping a nap, you may see two situation to prompt the switch:
Your little one may play through and skip the morning nap (Nap 1)
Your child may take the morning nap and skip the afternoon nap (Nap 2)
Keep in mind that we want to see these disrupted sleep patterns for at least one to two weeks before considering any changes to the schedule. If your little one is still falling asleep for both naps within this time, consider that they may not yet be ready, and continue offering two naps.
Now you already know that I want to delay the transition to one nap for as long as possible. How to do this will depend on what is going on. Let’s dive into these situations.
Situation one: when skipping the morning nap
Generally nap 1 starts between 8:30am and 9:00am, and the morning wake up is happening by 7:00am. It’s been at least a week or more that your toddler is consistently skipping the morning nap.
When this happens, try pushing the nap later- even starting as late as 10:00am. Work your way up slowly with 15 minute intervals. This will be temporary before this nap eventually gets dropped. This may also push nap 2 closer to 2:00pm. Keep in mind that these start times are starting to push outside of your little one’s biological rhythms so it may not be as restorative sleep.
This may buy you anything from a few weeks to even a few months. Remember that waiting until they are older may make the transition to one nap easier. Once you notice that this stops working (your toddler isn't taking the nap, the naps don't feel restorative, night wakes or early wakes appear), transition to one nap.
Situation two: when skipping the afternoon nap
Your toddler may take the morning nap but start to resist the afternoon nap. When nap 2 doesn’t happen, it’s a long day until bedtime!
Try to control the length of the morning nap to try and make the afternoon nap come back. This means that if the morning nap usually ends at 11:00am, try shaving 15 minutes off (aka wake them up at 10:45am). Give this a few days and see if it makes the nap 2 return. If not, try another 15 minutes (10:30am in this case).
Continue to do this until nap 1 is about an hour long. If this makes nap 2 return, continue with this until it’s no longer working. If you start to see that other sleep is affected (nights and/or early mornings), or nap 2 is still not happening, transition to one nap.
How to make the transition to one nap
You’ve done your best to maintain two naps for as long as possible and now it’s finally time to move to that single nap!
When you start the transition, aim to start the nap as close to 12:00pm as you can. They may not be able to make it at first and that’s ok. Try to stretch as close as feels comfortable, but it’s ok to offer the nap earlier. Try getting your little one outside to help pass the time if needed.
Once the nap is regularly happening after 12:00pm, is consolidated (aka no wake ups), and the length is restorative (generally over one hour), you can start pushing the nap closer to 12:30pm/1:00pm depending on your child.
Once your toddler is settled, the single nap should start between 12:30pm and 1:00pm. However, remember that it may take your little one a bit to get there, particularly if they are waking early.
What if the nap ends very early?
If the nap starts and/or ends early, lean into that early bedtime, especially during the transition to a single nap. A bedtime as early as 5:30pm will help prevent your little one from being overtired. Remember that when a child is overtired, fighting sleep, night wakes and early mornings are more common. You will not get stuck at the early bedtime forever. This is temporary as the nap can get pushed closer to 12:30pm/1:00pm, and as it elongates.
A common worry about early bedtimes is that your little one will wake up super early the next morning as a result of an early bedtime. Quite the opposite, it should help them sleep in longer, as we are only offering it when they need the opportunity for extra sleep. Think of sleep in 24 hours. The early bedtime is making up for missed daytime sleep rather than taking away from sleep the next morning.
Sometimes the number of naps offered is out of our control, particularly for daycare babies that are moved out of the infant room at around twelve months. When this move happens, some (many!) daycares also shift the babies to one nap. In my experience, this is often too early and most babies aren’t ready for it.
Try speaking with the daycare staff. Is there a way to continue offering two naps? Could they still sleep in the infant room for a few more months? Is there any flexibility? Oftentimes there is not and there are rules about how/when sleep is offered.
Don’t panic! If they have to switch to one nap at daycare, consider that an early bedtime can help make up for some of that daytime sleep they are not getting. An early bedtime will help transfer that missing day sleep to night sleep and help keep your baby from becoming overtired.
Continue offering two naps on weekends and other home days. Your baby may use this time to catch up on some missed sleep from the week.
The bottom line
The transition to one nap can be daunting and challenging. However, being thoughtful about the process and not rushing to transition too early can make it go more smoothly. Make sure your toddler is within the appropriate age range and you’re making the shift for the right reasons. If night sleep has been off, ensure that everything is in line before taking away sleep.
After trying to keep two naps as long as possible, start by shifting the single nap as close to 12:00pm as possible. Offset with an early bedtime during the transition, if necessary, when the nap ends too early.
It may take some time to adjust but soon enough, both you and your little one will enjoy the single nap. It opens up your mornings and you can settle on a routine that should last through toddlerhood and beyond!
Have a friend that needs help with the 2:1 nap transition? Send them this article!
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