Photo by Barbara Alçada
Sometimes the universe tries to be extra funny. Like when two of my kids are ready to transition from 1 to 0 and 2 to 1 nap(s) respectively AT THE SAME TIME. Keep reading if you are wondering how to spot that it’s time for a nap transition and to see the strategies I’m using with my own kids.
I’m a child sleep consultant, so this should be easy right? In theory, yes. In all honesty though, when things around my kids sleep change I always at first get the same knee jerk, primeval, deeply felt, end-of-world feeling most moms get. Like any change in schedule, nap transitions can induce quite some anxiety and lead you to question your judgement. And they can induce this crazy inner dialogue of “Oh no, now I’m losing out on MY break/time of the day to get x done” vs “Yeah, but life will be so much easier now, bye bye NAP JAIL”- but I digress…
Nap transitions are a process and it’s not always clear when it’s time to help things along. A nap dropped too soon can lead to sleep debt which in turn can lead to disruptions in night sleep and behavioral challenges even if there were no issues before. Once you start down the path of taking away sleep in one place you need to be sure that your kid is ready make up for it.
At one point you notice that naps are getting shorter. Or it takes your kid longer to fall asleep for naps and/or at night. Or the general schedule just doesn’t seem to fit anymore, and you may wonder if nap transition time has arrived.
Here are the 3 things that I look at when making the decision if it’s time to transition out of a nap- with my own kids and my clients’ kids. I’m also including one bonus point that is not a good, but often necessary reason to go down to one nap, along with tips on how to soften the blow.
How do you know that your child is ready to transition?
Age is the first big thing I look at. There are sleep regressions and developmental changes throughout baby- and toddlerhood that can make it appear like it’s time to cut out a nap. Babies on average drop down to two naps around 8 months, to one nap around 15 months, but it can be as late as 18months, and to 0 nap between 3-5 years old. If you think your kid is showing signs to dropping to one nap for instance, look at his/her age first. 12 months is almost always way too young to go down to a single nap.
Sleep seems to be off 👍🏼
Naps are getting shorter, it takes your kid longer to fall asleep for naps and/or at night, and the general schedule just doesn’t seem to fit anymore.
Ceteris paribus 👍🏼
Ok, I had to look this one up again, but it means all other things being equal. You just can’t explain the disruptions or changes you’re seeing any other way. There has been no change in sleep environment, bub is not on the brink of mastering a gross motor skill or language, the night sleep/ total sleep per day is adequate, separation anxiety isn’t flaring up, you didn’t go on a recent trip somewhere (the list is of course kind of endless…). You will know when and if there’s something that could have caused disruptions when you take a look at your big picture.
It’s been going on for a while. When you see things starting to shift, give it a few weeks before making the decision that now is the time to get rid of a nap.
External factors 👎🏼
Not because daycare says so. I don’t mean to bash daycares, but here’s the reality. A lot of parents I talk to and work with tell me that their kids are automatically moved to the higher age group room with only one nap once they turn one. Some kids can adjust to it more easily than others. But especially the sensitive sleepers will have a hard time. For them, this leads to months of inadequate sleep which then impacts their overall disposition, night sleep etc.
I totally get it. Oftentimes there isn’t much parents can do about the schedule while their kiddo is at daycare. If this is you, try to get your child to bed as early as you can. As early as 5pm (stop the eye roll!) is ok! I’ve had clients where this was the only tool we had and it worked really well! If 5pm is not feasible, do as early as you can. Additionally, see if you can keep two naps on the weekends and on days off. For some kids this won’t work, and they are better off with a more consistent schedule throughout the week and the early bedtime.
Grab your Cheat Sheet and Nap Tracker here
My real life example of the 2-1 and 1-0 nap transition
Now that you know what to look out for, I want to give you an idea of how to actually go about it. Here’s my real life example of how I am handling the 2-1 and 1-0 nap transitions in my house.
My 15 months old used to fall asleep within 5 minutes for both of his naps and sleep for 1.5-2hours each. Over the past 3 weeks or so, things started to change. At first, he still went down easily for his first nap, but falling asleep for his second nap took him up to an hour.
My first move was to cut his first nap to one hour to allow for more wake time between both naps. This him for about two weeks to fall asleep faster for nap #2.
When he started to take longer to fall asleep again, my second move was to push his second nap a little later. This worked for about another week, until he again took about 30min to go to sleep.
Two other things happened during the third week. He started to take longer to fall asleep for nap#1 which meant capping it made it <1hour and he started taking longer to fall asleep again for his second nap. Additionally, because he would fall asleep later, he would also sleep longer if I let him, which then was going to impact bedtime. Now we can’t have that 😉
So at this point, I only had one big move left: transitioning him to one nap/day.
Phase one is shifting his morning nap later and still allowing for a little catnap in the afternoon. As a guide for when to start his morning nap, I used the actual time of when he fell asleep for it the previous week and stopped capping it. If it ended before 12pm, he was allowed a catnap in the afternoon, if he made it to or past 12pm, he stayed up until a likely early bedtime.
Two days into it he had a glorious 2hour 20min nap and as any parent I was tempted to think that that was it. Yeah…about that…A day later we were back to a little catnap because he only napped for one hour. This was ok though: while the main goal at this point was to get him to sleep past 12pm we were simultaneously pushing the start of his nap later and adjusting to this simply takes some time. It’s tempting to try and speed this transition along, but going too fast in my experience easily results in over tiredness, wake ups at night, loss of overall sleep, and a drawn out process.
Phase two started around day 11 when he consistently slept past 12pm. With that, the catnap was gone. Now his nap starts at around 11:30am. For the past three days, he’s slept for 2+ hours and makes it to a reasonable bedtime around between 6:15-6:40 no problem.
Early on he had a few nights where he woke up briefly once or twice at night. He was also cutting a molar though, so this may have been part of it.
We continue to work on pushing his nap start closer to 12:30/1 pm and I’m really happy about the constant progress he’s making!
The one thing I’ve been very firm on is not to revert back to an earlier nap start. While we are going slowly by sticking with a given nap start time for two or three days, we don’t go back to starting it earlier.
Meanwhile, his older brother is also showing clear signs of transitioning.
He’s almost 4 and still naps most days, but some days he just won’t sleep and plays through the nap instead.
If he’s allowed to fall asleep and gets up late- you guessed it- bedtime gets pushed back too late, so I control for that by waking him up the latest at 3pm.
He’s also highly verbal- 63% of the time he doesn’t fail to let me know that napping is boring. So the deal is that he has to do quiet time in his room- if he doesn’t sleep, that’s fine. I do communicate very clearly to him and let him repeat back what the consequences of not napping (earlier bedtime) and breaking the quiet time (no <insert what he wants to do later is not gonna happen>) are.
I’m enforcing quiet time because a. He needs this to regroup even if he doesn’t sleep, b. It teaches boundaries, and c. I need a lunch break. On no nap days, his bedtime is about 30-45min earlier than on days with a nap.
That’s it! I’d love to hear what you do or are planning to do when the time comes! Leave me a reply below in the comments!
And as always,
Stay rested 🙂