‘When should my baby drop a nap?’ and ‘how do we handle nap transitions?’ are questions that every parent askes themselves. It can be a minefield for parents as there is so much information out there and it’s easy to compare your little one to their peers. For nap transitions, my simple rule is that you should be led by your child. Dropping naps can be a reasonably smooth transition if it’s done at the right time. This simple guide goes through the different stages of nap transitions, what age this typically happen and what you can do to support your little one through it.
From about 4 months babies are able to stay awake for longer stretches and typically fall into a pattern of 3 naps per day. As they develop and grow, how much sleep they need, and when they have that sleep changes. Little ones often drop naps themselves and the only reason to encourage them to do so is if it’s impacting bedtime or their mood. Please note that throughout this I will talk about ‘typical’ ages. This is just a guide and your little one may show signs of dropping a nap earlier or later.
Dropping from 3 to 2 naps
Babies typically start to drop to 2 naps around 8 months. They are often keen to drop their late afternoon nap first and most babies will do this themselves. What’s challenging is this is the power afternoon nap that got them through to bedtime!
To help with the transition, try and push the early afternoon nap back. Even if it’s just 10 minutes gradually over a few days; the key is trying to get them to wake later in the afternoon as close to 4pm (for a 7pm bedtime) as possible so they are able to get through until bedtime not too overtired.
If you can do this then keep bedtime the same so they maintain their normal routine e.g. 7am – 7pm, or whatever your family’s schedule is. If not, then bring bedtime forward by 30-45 minutes and gradually push it back out in 5-10 minute intervals over the coming days and weeks. As mad as it sounds, the more tired the baby is, the less easily they go down at night. Having a baby that’s super tired at bedtime can actually make it much more of a struggle for you and them.
Dropping from 2 to 1 nap
This typically occurs about 12-18 months but from my experience working with families, I find it’s closer to 12-14 months.
There are two key signs that your little one is ready to drop to one nap:
1) Having a morning nap means they aren’t tired post lunch and they push their afternoon nap later. This means the nap finishes later and they aren’t tired enough at their usual bedtime.
2) Their morning nap covers their sleep needs for the day and they drop their afternoon nap altogether as they just aren’t tired at lunchtime. But it’s too long a stretch until bedtime which means they are grumpy and can’t make it to bedtime.
When bedtime is being impacted, it’s the morning nap that little ones need to drop, or consolidate into one post lunch nap. The best way to do this is to drop the morning nap altogether and bring the afternoon nap forward.
Plan a week of engaging morning activities that will keep your little one going until 10:30/11am. Offer them a light lunch – I know this sounds early, but you can gradually push lunch back to your usual time. When they wake from their nap they can have a substantial snack so it’s a bit like a split lunch. Over the course of the next couple of weeks try and push lunchtime back in 5-10 minutes increments until it’s back to about 11:30am/12pm, then have the single nap around 12.30/1pm, with wake-up no later than 3pm for a 7pm bedtime.
If you need to bring bedtime forward during the transitional period that’s ok. Just bring dinner forward too to allow for proper digestion.
Dropping from 1 to 0 naps
Dropping all day naps typically occurs from about 2 and a half but some children drop all their naps as early as 2 or continue until almost 4 years old.
Again, the only reason to encourage your little one to drop their post-lunch nap is if it’s impacting bedtime. If they are refusing to go to bed at bedtime or they are chatting in bed for over an hour, then it might be time to reduce or remove day naps.
If your little one is still having 1.5-2 hours nap time, firstly reduce their nap to 45 minutes. It might just be the nap is currently too long and waking them after one sleep cycle will put bedtime back on track.
If they are already only having 45 minutes, then I advise dropping it altogether rather than reducing it. You would be breaking a sleep cycle and that can be more disruptive. In the early days of no naps, you might find that you need to bring their bedtime forward by about 30-45 minutes to make sure they aren’t overtired. Bring dinner forward too if possible to allow for proper digestion.
There will be days in this transition period when they just need a day nap. That’s ok – they likely have a higher sleep need that day and it won’t impact bedtime. I’d still wake them after 45 minutes. When my eldest son dropped his day naps he sometimes needed a bit of a ‘reset’ day every 4-5 days. He would start to get grumpy and a bit naughty and a wee 45 minute nap refreshed him to go again. It also gave his Mum and Dad a wee rest too!
I am the first male baby and toddler sleep consultant in the UK and Ireland and I specialise in gentle sleep training. I have a series of age specific online courses starting from £29 that go into nap transitions in more detail as well as having a full sleep training programme for night waking’s and early morning wake ups. I also work with families on a 1:1 basis to design bespoke sleep training programmes that work around their lifestyle