By Brittney Stefanic
Some babies will naturally drop down on the number of naps they take on their own, whereas others fall into habits pretty quickly and hold on to shorter (and much more annoying) naps for dear life! If you are reading this, you likely have a baby who falls into the latter category. Let’s fix that!
Since you are going to be nudging your little in making the transition down on number of naps, it might not go as smooth as you would like it to. The best thing to do is to commit to the change and stick with the process! And trust me… It will be worth it in the end!
When to make the transition
Most babies are ready to drop from 4 naps to 3 naps between 4 and 5 months old. From there, most littles are ready for a 2 nap day by 7 to 8 months of age. Luckily, the two naps hang around for quite some time, until about 13-17 months before dropping to 1 nap. Most toddlers hang on to a nap until 3.5 to 4 years old.
As with all aspects of parenting, please keep in mind that these are AVERAGES. Some babies are ready to transition a little sooner, and some a little later. Use these ranges as a guide, but follow your baby’s cues, too.
The best indication that it is time to drop a nap is extended protest before naps and bed. If your little is normally falling asleep within 10 minutes of being in their crib and suddenly they are babbling to themselves for 30 minutes before getting some shut eye, it may be time! Typically, I like to see about 3 or 4 days in a week of this behavior before making the swap. The days are most often not consecutive but can still indicate readiness.
Things to know before you start the transition
- In the end, each current nap time will need to be pushed later to bridge the gap in daytime hours and make it to bed time with fewer naps.
- If a 3 nap schedule was 9am, 12:30pm, and 3:30pm, the new schedule should be in the range of 9:00/9:30am and 2:00/2:30pm to get down to two naps a day. You can base this schedule on baby’s wake windows or by clock time, whichever you prefer.
- If a 2 nap schedule was 9:00/9:30am and 2:00/2:30pm, the new schedule with 1 nap should be about 12:00/12:30 pm.
- For some babes, the transition down on naps instantly improves nap length but for some, it decreases nap length in the beginning due to overtiredness.
- If nap length decreases, an extra nap in the car or stroller can be used temporarily to take the edge off before bedtime. This is meant to be a short catnap of 15 to 20 minutes to allow baby to push through until bedtime.
Let’s do it – Step by step method for dropping a nap
I recommend a gradual approach for this nap transition. In my experience, if you try to push the nap times too quickly, you run the risk of your little one getting their second wind and being more difficult to put down later on. If you miss the window of time that your babe is starting to get tired, they will be in the overtired state which means it will be more difficult to fall asleep.
Days 1 - 3
In order to make the transition, push each nap time back by 15 to 30 minutes for three days (example: if nap was 9am, go to 9:15am for three days). This may be a time when you use the above-mentioned catnap to get them through to bedtime.
You will likely notice your baby still appears tired at the usual naptime, so you will have to distract them a bit to get them to the desired nap time. This can also be a great time for some PLAY time outside (but not a ride in the stroller) or some solids/purees to use natural sugars to push baby pat their tired state if you have started solid foods.
Days 4 - 6
On day four move baby’s nap times later another 15 to 30 minutes. Stick with this time for the next three days.
Days 7 - 9
Finally, on day seven move each naptime another 15 to 30 minutes later. Keep nap times here for the next three days.
You should now be nearing your new daytime schedule. Keep in mind that consistency is key in getting these new times to “stick”.
Keep in mind
It can take up to a month to fully adjust to a new nap schedule. To help with morning grumpiness, try taking baby outside or giving baby a snack, but avoid a ride in the stroller as it will likely result in an unintended nap.
Early bedtime for the win
Bedtime will likely need to be earlier during the transitional period to accommodate this schedule change. If there is a big gap in time between the last nap and “normal” bedtime, consider moving bedtime as early as 6:00 pm. This will help prevent overtiredness.
Don’t get too frustrated
If naps are tricky in your house, you are not alone. Most families struggle with naps and nap transitions, but know that they will work themselves out as long as you are consistent in offering nap opportunities for your littles.
Nap transitions can take some time so be patient! After all, no kindergartners are still napping 3 times a day!
Brittney Stefanic is a whole-family certified sleep consultant. She gets that being a parent can be exhausting and frustrating at times, especially if your little one is struggling with sleep or is a chronic “crap napper”. As an educator, Brittney believes in the power of teaching and loves to support families in meeting their sleep goals through her customized sleep plans. You can follow her on Pinterest, Instagram and Facebook @brittneystefanicsleep for access to her free sleep tips and tricks and opportunities for free sleep Q&A sessions.
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