Sometime between 15 and 18 months, your child will go through a major napping adjustment.
It’s a weird time.
Some days he’s a happy bubbly little guy that just doesn’t seem tired for his morning nap – but MY GOODNESS what a monster he becomes around dinner time!
Or there are days where it seems he’ll fall asleep anywhere.
It feels like you’re gambling with your family’s happiness…and losing.
The idea of “one nap” starts to pop up in your head.
Perhaps that’s the solution to the napmare you’re all living in?
Today I’m putting my Certified Sleep Coach bowler hat on (blame Downton Abbey) to offer you some pointers and tips on the process of transitioning a child from two naps down to a single, long, afternoon nap.
How Do You Know It’s “Time”
to Switch to One Nap?
As with most sleep coaching, timing is everything.
If you try to do this transition and your baby isn’t ready, it will backfire and you’ll be left with an extremely grumpy baby, nighttime wakeups, ulcers, and broken toes (from kicking things in frustration).
Here are the four tests I encourage my clients to use in determining whether or not “it’s time”.
Test #1: Ageism. It Happens.
If your toddler is younger than 15 months, he is not going to be ready for one nap a day.
I’m sure there’s an exception to this rule out there somewhere, but for most of you reading this, heed this warning: Don’t try to make this transition unless he’s passed the other three tests below!
Pushing any sleep coaching when a child isn’t ready is like diving into a pool 10-inches deep. Disaster.
You see, when a baby is overtired, his brain stops making the “sleepy happy” hormone melatonin, and starts secreting the “Red Bull for Babies” hormone cortisol instead.
This gives him a second-wind. (Sound familiar? Adults do this too!) This means he’s going to act wired and energized, but his body and brain is really exhausted. The result is more wakeups at night and early wakening (pre-6am).
Pushing a child to a single nap before he’s ready will mean he’s producing more and more cortisol, leading to a lot of crying and wakeups down the road.
If you’re struggling with naps and your baby isn’t ready for this one-nap transition, be encouraged. I go over all kinds of napping strategies and tips in the Napping Know-How Webinar. It will give you plenty of tools for your parenting toolbox.
Test #2: Sleeping All Night Consistently
If your child is not consistently getting 10-11 hours of uninterrupted sleep at night, then it’s not time to transition to one nap.
You can try, yes, but it’s going to be a disaster. (The cortisol thing, remember?)
Instead of trying to move to a single nap, I would concentrate on helping him get those 10-11 hours of solid sleep at night instead.
Test #3: Wonky Morning Naps
Use a sleep log for 4-5 days and see if you notice a greater gap between the time you put him down for his morning nap and when he actually sleeps.
If it’s taking longer and longer for him to fall asleep for that first nap, that’s a good sign that he may be ready to stay awake longer in the morning.
Or, you may notice that the morning nap is shorter.
Or, you may notice the morning nap is longer, and then he’s refusing to take an afternoon nap.
My point here is that you’re going to need to keep a sleeping log for several days in order to spot these morning patterns. Without seeing these things over a period of several days it will be hard to determine whether or not it’s time to transition.
Test #4: It Feels Like Groundhog Day
(If you haven’t seen Groundhog Day, you’re totally missing out on A) classic Bill Murray awesomeness and B) my joke. 😥 Get caught up to speed here.)
If your baby is older than 15 months, is sleeping through the night, and seems to be repeating the same wonky napmares every day for 10-14 days, I have a message for you.
“A” is for Adapt Slowly
Think of this process like Celebrity Rehab.
You’ll need to move slowly, to avoid a ton of *snapsnapsnap* Diva moments.
First, gradually start to push his morning nap back.
- Day 1 -2: 11:00am nap
- Day 3 -4: 11:30am nap
- Day 5-6: Noon nap
- Day 6-8: 12:30am nap
The goal here is for the afternoon nap to start between 12:30 and 1pm and last around 2 – 2.5 hours.
He can sleep longer than 2.5 hours, but don’t let him sleep past 4 or 4:30pm, or it will mess up bedtime.
“B” is for Be Flexible
You will want to have a casual approach to the daily schedule, using your Little One’s cues and signals to help you.
Try to move bedtime up earlier (maybe closer to 7pm?) while you’re making this transition, to prevent making him overtired.
You also should be open to having an occasional “two-nap” day.
If it’s clear that he’s not going to make it until 12:30 one day, go ahead and put him down for a Quiet Time or nap at around 11. Just limit any morning nap to 45 minutes, max.
“C” is for Call for Help
(If You Need It)
If your toddler goes down for a nap just fine at 12:30, but wakes after only an hour, you’re going to need to go back in and try to soothe him back to sleep. (He won’t be able to make it to bedtime without hitting the overtired-cortisol wall.)
I go over how to coach him through longer naps in the Napping Know-How Webinar. The “Sleep Averages Cheat Sheet” given away as a bonus for attending that webinar will help you make sure he’s reach his “sleep totals” for the day, helping to prevent nighttime wakeups.
The webinar is only $20 and gives you almost 2 hours of tips, tricks, and practical instruction on how to help your little one improve his daytime naps. Click here to see the upcoming class schedule.
Is Your Baby in Daycare?
There are two common questions that pop up usually around this point from parents with children in daycare.
What if daycare insists he takes one nap and he’s not ready?
This is a common issue. The first thing I would suggest is to talk to your provider about possibly moving your baby to a younger age group until he’s ready to move to a single daytime nap.
If that’s not an option, than I would perhaps try to slip in another nap for him at the end of the day, perhaps around 3:30 or 4pm for about 45 minutes. Then put him to bed for good around 8pm. This may totally backfire! You’ll have to test it and see what happens.
Worst case, you can always concentrate on giving him two naps on the weekends, to try to catch up from the week.
What if my child is only in daycare part of the week?
I would try to synchronize the afternoon nap at home with the time they usually put him down at daycare. (Assuming it’s between 12 and 1pm.)
This way his internal clock will stay in sync.
How is Your Switch to One Nap Going?
Have you tried these ABC’s?
How are they working for you?
Or, if your child has already gone through the two-to-one nap transition, what suggestions would you give parents who are stuck in the midst of it?
Meet Heather Taylor
Heather is the Chief Encouragement Officer here at Incredible Infant and has been writing and encouraging parents online since 2007. She's certified in baby sleep coaching (yes, that's a real thing), has served as an Expert Parenting Panelist for numerous events, and has been a featured writer on blogs like DaveRamsey.com, SimpleKids.net, My Kid's Adventures, Cafe Mom, and others. If it's 2am and you're desperate to read SOMETHING, click here for all her darkest secrets, including why she really shouldn't be allowed to blog.