If you’re a parent to a toddler, you’ll know that naps are sacred – they’re as much for your sanity as for your little one’s restoration and development. But here’s a twist on the sleep saga: transitioning from two naps to just one. It’s a delicate dance, where you teeter between risking overtiredness and fostering and nurturing developmental growth for your toddler. So, how do you know when it’s time for this big nap transition? Well, let’s dive into knowing the signs that your child is ready to drop the second nap and how to accomplish it with success.
Is it Time?
There is great variability in age for little ones preparing to drop their second nap. The average age is somewhere between 12 to 16 months. When a child starts to show signs that they are ready to drop their second nap of the day they may start experiencing a long morning nap and a short or nonexistent second nap. They may play in their crib for 30-60 minutes in the afternoon before eventually falling asleep or never fall asleep. Another sign that they may be ready for the change is early morning wake-ups but this is a tricky one because early morning wake-ups are often associated with overtiredness. These changes in your child’s sleep may not be happening 7 days per week, which adds a whole other element of confusion to know if it’s time. So, before making the change, make sure your child is following age-appropriate wake windows (check out my reference guide for this) and that the naps are a struggle at least 4-5 days per week for 2 weeks before you make the jump to 1 nap.
Make a Commitment
Nap transitions are hard and a long process, so unless you are 100% ready to commit to the change, don’t start the process. Wavering between 1 to 2 naps just adds confusion to your child’s natural body clock and the new schedule will struggle to emerge because the consistency is not there. So, when you make the decision, go all in.
As a pediatric sleep consultant, I work with families who are in the process of transitioning from 2 naps to 1 and my biggest piece of advice is to remind them that this is a marathon, not a sprint. The entire process can take upwards to 4-6 weeks before their child’s body clock is adjusted and they are taking one long nap per day and doing so with ease.
So, you are ready to take the leap. The first thing you are going to do is to adjust your child’s first nap by 30 minutes for 3 days. If your child was taking their first nap of the day at 10:00 am, you would move the start of the nap to 10:30 am and you would do this for 3 days. Let your little one sleep as long as they would like to for this nap. After three days, you would adjust the nap again by another 30 minutes, going from 10:30 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. for another 3 days. This process will continue until you’ve reached your desired nap time and for most families, it is between 12:00-12:30 pm. Anything later than 12:30 pm, your child could struggle to stay awake and they may ultimately get a second wind and not be able to go down for a nap altogether.
What About the Second Nap?
The existing second nap of the day will stay for the first part of the transition as you slowly start adjusting their morning naps. If they usually take their second nap of the day at 2:00 p.m., you would continue to put them down at 2:00 p.m. There is a good chance that they will not take the second nap but you are going to leave them in their crib for an hour before taking them out. If they did not nap, consider a short (30-45 minute) car seat nap or a stroller nap to help bridge the time until bedtime. As always, move their bedtime earlier if they do not take a second nap (as early as 6:00 p.m.). Bedtime should be between 6:30-7:30 p.m. during this process.
This journey of transitioning from two naps to one can seem daunting at first, but remember, every child is unique and will adapt to the new schedule at their own pace. Patience is key during this developmental milestone. Watch out for signs of overtiredness and adjust your approach as needed. Don’t hesitate to bring bedtime earlier or squeeze in a car seat nap if your little one is struggling. You’re doing a great job navigating these changes. Keep going, and before you know it, you and your child will be in a smooth one-nap routine.