When Do Babies Drop To One Nap? How to Successfully Navigate The Transition
One of the most predictable things about babies is that they are unpredictable. Babies constantly change! This constant change affects everything, including their naps.
As babies approach their first birthday, parents often wonder when it is going to be time to drop to one nap. My answer: don’t rush it! Sleep is a glorious thing, and two consistent naps a day is great! If it is not broken, don’t fix it.
Getting the appropriate amount of daytime sleep helps to set a baby up for successful nights. If a baby gets too little daytime sleep, it affects both behavior and nighttime sleep. But, on the flip side, too much daytime sleep can also negatively affect nighttime sleep.
When should your baby drop to one nap?
Age is the least reliable cue. The average age for a baby to comfortably drop to one nap is 15-18 months of age. However some are ready as early as 12 months and others not until closer to their second birthday. This huge age range, of almost a year, is why age is not the best way to tell if your baby is ready for the 2 to 1 nap transition. Instead, there are several signs you want to see for at least two weeks.
Why two weeks? You want to make sure that your baby is truly ready for the 2 to 1 nap transition instead of being in a temporary sleep regression. Moving to one nap too early can spectacularly backfire in terms of meltdowns, nighttime wakings, and early mornings.
Signs your baby is ready for the 2 to 1 nap transition:
- Your baby is in the age range (at least 12 months of age)
- Your baby starts fighting one or both naps and either doesn’t sleep at all or falls asleep for less than an hour
- Your baby has gone from taking two long (60 minute +) naps to one long nap and one short nap
- Your baby is taking a great morning nap but takes a long time to fall asleep for the afternoon nap; pushing bedtime too late (no chance for 11-12 hours of nighttime sleep)
- Your baby is taking two great naps but is having trouble falling asleep at bedtime; pushing bedtime too late (no chance for 11-12 hours of nighttime sleep)
- Your baby is able to stay awake for 4-5 hours without becoming unduly fussy
- Your baby is able to stay awake for a car ride in the late morning without falling asleep or getting extra fussy
You may notice one or more of these signs on occasion, but when you have noticed them for two solid weeks then it is time to start the 2 to 1 nap transition.
Signs your baby is NOT ready to drop to one nap:
- Your baby is under 12 months of age
- Your baby is fighting sleep but once asleep naps for an hour or longer
- Your baby is in the middle of a developmental leap (starting to crawl, walk, talk, etc)
- Your baby typically falls asleep in the car if out in the late morning
- Your baby cannot happily stay awake for 4-5 hours
Transitioning to a one nap schedule
Once you are confident that your baby is ready, exactly HOW do you move to one nap?
Slowly push your baby’s morning nap later by 15 minutes later every day until you hit 12:00-12:30 PM. During this transition, distraction is key! Take them outside to play, offer a special snack, or bring out a favorite toy to help tide them over until their new, later nap.
As the morning nap moves later, the afternoon nap will move later too. It is time to shorten and then drop the afternoon nap once bedtime reaches 7:30 PM.
After several days, you'll arrive at the sweet spot. This is when the nap starts 5-6 hours after your baby wakes for the day and ends 4-5 hours before bedtime. Before age 2, babies are usually on the short end of those ranges and nap will likely start 12:00 - 12:30 PM. Closer to age 2, the nap will likely move closer to 1:00 - 1:30 PM.
Early bedtimes are a key to success
During the transition it is common to temporarily need some very early bedtimes (yes, even 5:00 PM). Why? Because your baby can only happily stay awake for 4-5 hours after their nap. If they stay up past this window, their body starts to produce "stay awake" hormones which makes it very difficult for them to settle to sleep. It can then take a few hours for this "second wind" to wear off and them to be able to fall asleep. This results in a late bedtime and not getting enough nighttime sleep, which in turn makes your baby more tired the next day. It can quickly become a vicious cycle! So, early bedtimes are a key to success when your baby first drops to one nap.
The occasional 5:00 PM bedtime is a great way to prevent overtiredness. But a consistent 5:00 PM bedtime will result in a shifted schedule...meaning your child will start to consistently wake around 5:00 AM. Not what most parents want! This is why it is important to slowly but steadily work your child’s nap towards a 12:00 PM or later start time. Once your baby starts napping until 2:00 PM or later, you will start hitting the 6:00 PM - 7:00 PM bedtimes that work better for most families.
What if it doesn't work?
What if your child is really struggling with moving the nap just a little bit later? Some babies truly love their morning nap, could easily sleep 2-3 hours if given the chance, and have a hard time moving it at all. In this case, move the morning nap as early in the day as possible and turn it into a 30 minute cat nap. Then, offer a "real" nap around noon. Babies this dedicated to their morning nap will often not have much trouble falling asleep if put down a little earlier than normal. This quick morning power nap can be a great way to get them over the hump and get them to that noon “real” nap. Then, slowly decrease the length of the morning power nap until it is gone.
If you do the 2 to 1 nap transition and then realize your baby just wasn’t ready, don’t panic! Simply go back to your previous two nap schedule for a month or two and then try again. It is very common for children to look like they are ready when it is really a developmentally related sleep regression or nap strike and in 1-3 weeks they will be back to napping as normal. That is why it is so important to see a solid two weeks of readiness signs before attempting to transition.
A Word About Daycare
If your child is in daycare, there is a good chance you just read all of this and panicked. What if your child is moved to a one nap schedule before they are ready? Most daycares automatically move children to a one nap schedule when they move to the toddler room, which can be as early as 9-10 months of age.
I’ve got good news for you! The activities and other children will go a long way towards helping to distract your child until nap time arrives. Ask the teachers to keep track of what time your child wakes up so you can get them down as close to the appropriate bedtime as possible.
When children are overtired (as can be the case when a baby is pushed towards one nap before they are developmentally ready), they often take short naps. So, even though the official naptime might be 12:30 - 2:30, your baby might only sleep until 1:30. This matters because a baby sleeping until 1:30 likely needs to go to bed at 5:30 (4 hours after they woke up) instead of the 6:30 bedtime you would use based on the official 12:30 - 2:30 PM nap schedule.
Using an early bedtime is a great way to help stop the overtired circle in its tracks. This unfortunately often looks like putting your child in bed very soon after you arrive home. Remember this is temporary. Many families find the early bedtime worth it and use mornings as their family time instead of evenings.
I also recommend offering 2 naps on the weekends until you feel your baby is truly ready for a one nap schedule. This will help them to “catch up” on any sleep they may have missed during the week.
Lastly, remember that this is only temporary! In a matter of months, your baby will be 100% ready for a one nap schedule and the early bedtimes will be a thing of the past.
What about lunch?
During the 2 to 1 nap transition, you will be putting your baby down at a bit of an awkward time when it comes to meals. If your baby is napping at 11:30 for 2-3 hours, when is lunch?
Until their nap reaches noon or later, I recommend doing a split lunch. Feed your baby half of their lunch before nap and half when they wake up. That way they don't have to eat their full meal when they just had breakfast a couple hours ago, but they also won't wake hungry halfway into their nap.
Patience is a virtue
The 2 to 1 nap transition can be challenging. It definitely requires a good deal of parental patience as you help your little one adjust to their new schedule. It is an adjustment for you as well as you lose the morning nap you were accustomed to your child having. Soon, the one nap schedule will feel familiar and you can high five yourself for having successfully helped your baby drop to one nap.
Are you ready to make sleep a thing at your house, but feel stuck or unsure how? Working with parents 1-1 to take the stress out of baby and toddler sleep is my joy.
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