Navigating Nap Transitions
Updated: Mar 13, 2020
A newborn sleeps much of the day. As the baby gets older, he can stay up for longer periods of time in between sleep. By the time he is a toddler, he is only taking one nap a day, and soon won't need a nap at all. Many parents wonder how many naps their child should be taking a day and when should he transition to one less #nap? I'm going to share the average naps according to age, and also the signs that let you know it's time to transition down to the next stage!
Number of Naps Needed
The ages given below are averages. Good sleepers tend to transition on the earlier end whereas babies who fight sleep and wake often transition later. This is because a well-rested baby is able to stay awake for longer periods of time, and can drop naps earlier because he is getting quality rest when he is sleeping. An #overtired baby often fights sleep, which only causes him to be more overtired. It can be a vicious cycle. These little ones cannot last as long awake because they're not getting as restful sleep and will need more naps to "catch up" for the sleep they're missing out on. With that said, here are the average ages of nap transitions:
0-3 months: 4 or more naps a day is common
4-5 months: transition from 4 to 3 naps
6-8 months: transition from 3 to 2 naps
11-18 months: transition from 2 to 1 nap
2.5-3 years: transition to no naps
Signs of Readiness to Drop a Nap
Since the age ranges are so varied, it can seem confusing to know when your child should be ready to drop a nap. The good news is that there are some clear signs that your child is letting you know he is ready to make the transition to one less nap. These signs will be true at any of the above transitions, no matter the age of your child. Each of these signs could be attributed to another cause, as described below. However, if your child is in the correct age range for a transition, and you are consistently experiencing these signs, then it's a good chance he's ready.
Fighting naps: If your child is normally one who goes down for his naps easily, and then all of a sudden starts fighting one of them, this may be a sign that he's ready to drop a nap. A child will usually fight the last nap of the day when this is the case, and will continue to sleep normally for other naps. (He may fight an earlier one instead if his schedule is off). If your child starts fighting all naps, then it could be for another reason, such as an illness, teething, or schedule issues. Wait a few days to see if there is another issue before assuming a nap transition.
Waking up at night: If your child all of a sudden starts waking up more at night without reason (hunger/growth spurt, illness, teething, etc.), then he may be telling you he's ready to drop a nap. It is best to view sleep as an overall time for a 24-hour day. A child's sleep needs change as he gets older. When your child is ready to transition to one less nap, he may not need as much total sleep. If he continues to get the same amount of day sleep (naps), it will eventually begin to affect his night sleep (bedtime-morning wake-up) until the nap is dropped.
Waking up earlier: Similar to above, once a child has gotten enough sleep for the "day" (24-hour period), then he wakes up. If your child has habitually woken up around 7:00 am, and all of a sudden starts waking up at 5:30 or 6:00, this could be a sign that he is ready to drop a nap. He's getting more than enough day sleep and therefore doesn't need as much night sleep, so he's up and ready to go earlier. Once you drop the nap and adjust his schedule, he should get back to his normal wake-up time.
Again, there can be other reasons for each of these signs, so give it a few days to make sure there isn't another issue before deciding to go ahead and drop a nap.
Dropping the Nap
Your child's temperament and sensitivity to his schedule will determine the best way to drop a nap.
If your child is mostly pleasant and isn't very sensitive to his schedule, meaning that he's not a complete monster if his nap is 30 minutes later one day, or completely skipped another day, then you may be able to drop the nap cold turkey. You will of course need to adjust his schedule. For example, if he's transitioning from 2 naps down to 1, you wouldn't want to still put him down for his regular morning nap and then just skip the afternoon one. He will likely be a monster by bedtime if that happens. When you drop a nap, you need to move the remaining one(s) to evenly space them out between wake-up and bedtime.
If your child is usually cranky or is very sensitive to his schedule, then you may not want to drop the nap cold turkey. In this case, you would gradually adjust the time of his nap(s) that will remain, while capping the nap that will go away. For example, if you're going from 3 naps down to 2, you'd gradually move the first two naps back and shorten the length of the third nap, until it's basically non-existent. If he usually takes a 2-hour nap, shorten it to 1.5 hours, then 1 hour, then 30 minutes. For more detail on how to gradually adjust the timing of the naps, see my post about Daylight Savings and follow the same guidelines.
However you choose to drop the nap, keep in mind that it can take about a week for your child to fully adjust to the new schedule. Many times, nap lengths will get longer and your child may be napping for the same total amount of time as before. If this doesn't happen right away, give his body some time to adjust. If it doesn't happen at all, then his sleep needs are likely changing and he just doesn't need as much sleep during the day.
If your child is in the appropriate age range, and is showing one or more of the signs of readiness, it may be time to drop a nap.
~Ashley Bell, pediatric sleep coach