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Every child is different, but one thing is for sure. At some point, your child will transition from taking multiple naps a day to taking just one. When to transition to one nap will depend a lot on how your child is growing and developing.
It will be at their own pace, whenever they’re ready. You may even start to notice that you can relate to your child, because even adults find that aging affects their sleep schedule.
However, there are some things you can look out for and indicators that your child might be ready to make the switch. You know your child better than anyone, and if you watch for these signs, it will make your decision a lot easier.
When to Transition
The transition from two naps to one can be a tough one. Your child may be at a point where two naps is too many and they have way too much energy at bedtime. However, one nap may not be enough and they may be falling asleep at the dinner table.
It’s normal for this transition to take place between 12 and 24 months. It’s more likely to happen somewhere in the 14 to 18-month range, but it could happen anytime in the second year. Keep in mind that you should allow them to continue taking two naps for as long as possible, especially if they still act like they need it.
The transition will be easier the older they are, and many 18-month-olds are still taking two naps, so you’re not alone in this camp if you don’t feel like you’re quite ready yet. Also remember that some toddlers will drop the morning nap, others will drop the afternoon nap, and a totally separate group will alternate dropping the morning and afternoon naps every day.
Signs Your Child is Ready
If your child is reaching the age at which they may transition to one nap, you can look for the following signs to determine if they’re ready:
- Starts to refuse the morning or afternoon nap
- Fights to take a second nap after having one already
- Takes short naps
- Has trouble falling asleep for a nap or at bedtime
- Starts staying up later at night with two naps
- Frequently wakes up too early
- Stays awake for longer periods at a time without much fussiness
If you see these signs consistently for around two weeks, it may be time to try transitioning.
However, there are some signs that your child is not ready for a nap. Look for these indicators that may tell you not to do anything just yet:
- Fusses or stays awake when you put them down, but then falls asleep and sleeps well for at least an hour
- Cranky, irritable, or throws tantrums when missing a nap
- Can’t stay awake for four hours or more at a time without being fussy
- Has recently experienced a developmental milestone that might require more sleep
It’s important that if any other changes, such as developmental milestones or a shift in night sleep has occurred recently, it’s important to hold off on nap transitioning until you get through the milestone or fix the night sleep issues.
If you need more help determining whether or not it’s time to switch, here’s a comprehensive nap schedule by age.
How to Transition
It may take a few weeks of alternating between one and two naps a day to successfully transition. Often, parents find that their child actually needs 1.5 naps per day. One of the best strategies is to at least have your child sit down for a period of rest during one of their nap times, whether they sleep or not.
Here are some other tips to help ease the transition:
1. Shift the nap gradually
The ultimate goal is for your child to have one nap in the middle of the day. It may happen around lunch time or you may be able to hold them off until after they’ve eaten their midday meal. Either way, it usually begins about 5-6 hours after they’ve woken up in the morning.
This is a big chunk of time to stay awake if your child isn’t used to it, so you can make that change gradually by adjusting their morning nap by 15-30 minutes at a time. Increase the awake time every few days until your child can stay awake.
Try to make it until at least 11am if you can and then hold it there for a couple of days. As your child gets older, they will start being able to stay awake for longer periods of time and the morning nap will completely disappear.
As they enter toddlerhood, the nap will happen after lunchtime and then eventually disappear. However, it’s important to catch your child’s natural sleepwave, which is why between 12 and 1pm is an ideal naptime.
2. Offer a routine to wind down
Much like a bedtime routine, you can make nap time much more predictable with a routine. It sets your child up for a restful nap, and it doesn’t have to be too complicated. Just offer then 5-10 minutes to calm down before you put them down.
Remove uncomfortable clothing, read a book, change their diaper, read a book, and lay them down awake. You can send their brain little clues that it’s time to sleep and it will help them rest easier and make the nap more effective.
3. Adjust bedtime
While adjusting to one nap, bedtime can be a bit tricky, too. A single 2-3 hour nap should be the goal for 5-6 hours after they wake up in the morning, and bedtime should be 5-6 hours after they’ve woken up from their nap.
However, if you can’t seem to get the nap length just right, your child may have a hard time staying awake until bedtime. You may have to move bedtime up to accommodate a shorter midday nap. It’s common to have to do this for a few weeks while transitioning naps.
As your child transitions to one nap, they become overtired and create a sleep debt. Early bedtimes can be your best friend. It’s not uncommon to have to put your child to bed around 6 or 6:30pm on some nights.
Don’t worry about it causing inconsistencies in their night time sleep schedule either. Putting them to bed early when they’re overtired allows them to catch up and won’t cause them to wake up earlier.
Your child’s one nap may initially be shorter than it should be, but it will eventually lengthen on its own. In the meantime, rather than worrying about it, help your child replenish their sleep at night as needed.
4. Be consistent
When you start to adjust sleep routines, keep it consistent. The transition can take as long as four weeks, so you need to be patient. If it doesn’t work out on day one, try again on day two. Stick with it.
If you still find yourself struggling with any of these techniques after 4-5 weeks of trying, go back to a two-nap system that works and try again in a few weeks or months.
If Your Child Isn’t Ready
Your child may display signs that they’re ready to transition, but you just can’t seem to make the transition work. It happens. They just may not be ready quite yet. Let them take two naps for as long as possible. There are things you can do to make two naps work for longer.
1. Move the morning nap earlier
When it comes to napping, getting the timing right helps a lot. If your child has woken up at 6 or 7am, you can try putting them down for a morning nap as early as 8:30am. It seems early, but if you can hit your child’s sleep wave at just the right time, it’ll help them get more effective sleep.
2. Cap the morning nap
Let your child keep their morning nap, but start controlling it. If your child takes a long morning nap, you can start capping it at an hour. If they typically only nap for an hour to begin with, start capping it at 30-45 minutes.
This will take the edge off, give them the rest they need, but still allow for an afternoon nap. A combination of adjusting the morning naptime and capping it at the same time can work for a couple of weeks, if not longer.
3. Alternate between two naps and one
In order to keep two naps for as long as possible, you can try alternating between two naps and one. It might help make the transition easier when you get there, but allow your child to still get the sleep they need on most days.
The problem with this technique is that it can establish inconsistencies in your child’s internal clock, making it harder for them to adjust if you keep up with this routine for too long.
Don’t stress, don’t push it, and don’t be worried if the transition doesn’t go as smoothly as you think it should. Every child is different, and your child may do something totally different. The best thing you can do is be supportive and consistent. Most of the time, going with the flow and being flexible is what will keep the transition stress-free for both you and your child.