Dropping to one nap a day


We are talking naps again today, this time we are talking all about the dropping down to one nap per day. So that’s when we’re going from two naps down to one nap. Now this one can take a bit of time and it can cause a few hiccups along the way, but don’t worry. I’m going to address all of that and give you the tools you need to make a smooth transition down to one nap a day.

The first question is when do our toddlers or little ones feel ready to drop down to just having one nap a day instead of two? Usually it’s between 13 and 17 months. Occasionally, we see signs around 12 months, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re ready to make the move. And sometimes little ones aren’t ready until closer to 18 months. But typically between 13 and 17 months, this nap transition will start to occur, but this transition is longer than 3 naps to 2 naps. It can take a while. So don’t despair.

If you do have a little one that seems to want to make this transition on the earliest side, at 12 or 13 months, you’re more likely to be in there for a slightly longer ride with this, where it might progress a bit and then go back a bit. Hold onto those two naps for as long as your little one seems to be needing them and taking them. If they are enjoying three hours a day, split over two sleeps in the day and sleeping well at night, then don’t change it. Don’t change it just because age changes or just because their friends are changing, stick with it because they’re telling you that that’s what suits them right now, when they are ready to make the change you will start to see signs.

What are the signs?

What you’re going to see is probably one or the other of the naps becoming a little bit shorter in length or challenging to settle. So it could be the first nap or the second nap. Quite often, it is the second nap, but it could be the first nap. It might be that they take the first nap and they don’t have quite so long. And then they really struggle to settle for the second nap. That’s quite a common example and you just know that something’s changing, something’s shifting.

Now I always like to give you what not to use as a sign and don’t confuse this with actually a timing issue because sometimes people think, “We are ready to drop down to one nap now,” when actually they’re not ready to drop to one nap, they just have the timing of the two naps a little bit off. And so if the timing is off, you might find that you have bedtime struggles and feistiness at bedtime. And it’s because the little one is either overtired or untied at bedtime. But that could be because the naps aren’t placed quite right for them at this point in time. And that they’re not having adequate awake windows or they’re too long or too short.

So always look at that first, whether it is timing related. On a two nap schedule, we’re usually looking for about three hours in total and no more than three hours a week between sleeps, assuming they’re having a good full nap. Short awake windows, if the nap is shorter than we would like, this can be a timing issue that can confuse us and let us think that actually little one’s ready to drop a nap. Which might be the worst thing to do. So be sure.
How do you go about it? And what steps you take?

Well, there are a few ideas and things that do work differently for different people, but I would definitely, recommend my favorite approach, which is where you nudge the first nap. So the morning nap later, so you extend the morning wake for window.

So instead of waking up at let’s say 6:30 and then nap time happening around 9, 9:30, we start pushing that out. Now we want to push it to as close to midday as we can get it. But sometimes especially if these are early stages with your little one making the transition, they’re not quite ready to go all the way to midday. And you might find that they are falling asleep on their early lunch. So it might be 11, it might even be 10:30. If you can’t get them to 10:30 or 11, they’re possibly not actually ready yet to make this move. And you do still need the morning nap, which means you’re going to need a second nap. It might just mean you need to do a good solid morning nap, a shorter afternoon nap for the time being and wait till they’re really ready.

But once they’re ready, if you can push that first nap out and get it as closer to midday, as you can see how long they sleep for that nap, if it’s more than two hours, you’re winning. If it’s less than two hours, they’re going to need another sleep. But if we are getting there, we’re consolidating their day sleep into one good big nap, then we may find that we don’t need an afternoon top up or a second nap.

So what options can you have with this? So if they go to sleep, you’ve pushed out that wake for window, they go to sleep and they don’t have a great nap, put a second nap in, just think, “They had about an hour. So let’s give it two hours and then we’ll try for another nap,” and just see what they do. There is a lot of testing and experimenting when you’re going through this transition and it’s like no two days are the same. You have to be prepared and armed with the knowledge of what to do if, and then take each day as it comes and go, “Okay, well this happens. So I do this next.” So take each sleep as it comes.

If the nap is great, say they do two and a half hours, three hours, then boom, you’ve got one nap and you don’t need to do a second nap. So just take them through to bedtime. If the wake window is good, fine, if they are exhausted, just bring bedtime a little bit earlier and that will work and that will be fine. And they’ll soon build on the stamina to go for those longer chunks of wakeful time either side of their one good nap in the middle of the day. It does sit best when they are firmly on one nap a day. It does sit best around 12 to 12:30 for it starting and for a good two, like two hours is the minimum. Initially I’d be looking for two and a half hours.

Some will do three, but I would still be looking for around two and a half hours until they’re at least two years of age. And once they’re age two, it might start to shrink down to two hours and a steady two hours throughout most of age two is perfectly, perfectly normal and suitable. The backup plan is always you can slot in an extra nap. You can slot in a power nap, a push chair nap, a motion nap or whatever you need, early bedtime, but no more than an hour earlier for bedtime.

There is another approach that you may find helpful to know, but it is a bit risky. And this is where you limit the first nap. So instead of letting them take their full first nap, you cut it a little shorter. You actually wake them from it in order to then get that second nap in but without them having too much and it slowly shifts.
Now, the reason I don’t like this approach and I find it risky is because if you wake a baby, a sleeping toddler from their morning nap, when they were quite happily sleeping and wanted to be asleep, not only will they probably be quite cranky, but they may have taken the edge off enough and then it might sabotage nap two from happening at all. And then you’re like, “Well, we might not get enough sleep at all today.” And so it can be a risky game. Likewise, if a little one nods off, say in the car on the way home from somewhere in the morning, even five, 10 minutes of a little snooze, you might think, “No, that’s just totally meant that the nap is now going to be impossible.” I’m sure we’ve all done. That thing where we get home and we’re like, “Okay, well we were going to go for nap time, but I know they won’t settle now.”

And you end up sitting in the car for a bit with them just to let them have a nice bit of sleep. So, capping naps and waking little ones up for naps, there is a time and a place for it. We call it nap manipulation. I would only probably do that under the guidance of a certified sleep specialist who can give you the clues as to when and when not to do it. Because like I said, otherwise you might end up cutting short on really well needed sleep.

I want to remind you too that an early bedtime is always, always, always a good thing to do. And you might find that for some weeks when you’re going through this transition that you are using an early bedtime, don’t worry. It’s not forever. You won’t be able to nudge back to the usual bedtime.

Eventually once you’ve got that solid one nap a day in place, but early bedtime up to an hour early is fine and it might just be what you need to do for a while. And if you know, people find it inconvenient because they’re like, “Well, the time I get home from work or we have dinner and it can sometimes be a little bit annoying,” just remember it’s not forever. And it’s for the greater good. It’s for the health and brain development of your little one. It’s for the peaceful night’s sleep for your whole family. So it’s kind of a little inconvenient, but it has a huge payoff.

Take care and sleep well.

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