All about ‘Nap Transitions’.

Nap transitions are another hot topic of many of the clients I work with. A nap transition is all in the name – it’s when your little one changes (or transitions) the number of naps they’re having. The most common transitions are when a little one goes from three to two naps, two to one naps, and then stops napping entirely. The last transition (when a little one stops sleeping during the day), tends to be the trickiest one to navigate. Not only is it difficult for your little one, who now has to get through an entire day without sleep (hello mood swings!), it’s also difficult for the parents who no longer have a break in the day to rest or catch up on other jobs (goodbye to that cuppa!).

Nevertheless, nap transitions in general can be difficult. You finally feel as if you’ve got into a bit of a routine with your little one, and then suddenly everything changes again. If you’re anything like me, there’s something quite comforting about having predictability to your day. However, we shouldn’t fear nap transitions. They are a natural part of our little one growing and developing. In fact, I found fewer naps to be quite freeing! It meant more time in the day for fun activities and seeing friends. And, if your little one is sleeping well overnight, the break then comes at the end of the day, when they’re tucked up in bed until the morning. 

In this blog, I’m going to answer some common questions about nap transitions.

What age do babies and toddlers drop a nap?

A common question I get asked is when these nap transitions occur. It’s a difficult question to answer given every child is different, and there isn’t an exact age that every baby will drop a nap. Every child develops at a different rate and multiple factors can contribute to when they are ready to go through a nap transition. Nevertheless, there are some average age groups for naps:

  • 4-5 months: settle into having 3-4 naps per day.
  • 6-9 months: transition to 2 naps a day (one morning and one afternoon nap).
  • 15-18 months: transition to 1 nap a day (after lunch, around midday).
  • 3-5 years: drop all naps.

Again, these are just a rough guide. Your little one may need more or less sleep than the ‘average’ child and, if they’re sleeping well and happy, there’s no need to make any changes to their routine. 

What are the signs that my little one is ready to drop a nap?:

The following signs should help you determine whether your little one is ready to drop a nap. Be aware, these should be consistently present for one to two weeks (rather than it being a one-off).

  1. They stop settling for their nap: they may boycott the nap completely or take much longer than usual to fall asleep. 
  2. Waking earlier than usual from a nap: may settle well but take a shorter nap than usual, indicating that that nap is ready to be dropped from their routine.
  3. Bedtime becomes a battle: some little ones don’t naturally resist or shorten their naps. Instead, bedtime becomes a battle ground where it’s harder to get them into bed for the night, or they’re awake for hours before falling asleep. 
  4. Resisting subsequent naps (if there is one): for those on 2 or 3 naps, little ones may take one nap but then resist the next one. For example, when they’re ready to move from 2 naps to 1, they may still take their first nap but then resist napping in the afternoon. 
  5. Waking earlier in the morning: there is only so much sleep that can happen in a 24 hour period. If a little one is ready for an adjustment of their daytime routine then night time sleep can also be affected. 

The odd nap strike, etc. is totally normal, and it’s not unusual for sleep to temporarily go off track during phases of development (like crawling, walking, talking). However, if you’re seeing some of these signs consistently, a nap transition may be required. 

How do I make a nap transition as easy as possible?

‘Gently, gently’ is my mantra when it comes to nap transitions. When your little one is showing signs of being ready to drop a nap, it can be tempting to simply cut the nap out completely. However, ideally, we want to approach the transition more gradually. 

In order to do this, you can start by reducing the length of the nap that is being dropped by 5-10 minutes per day and see how your little one responds. Be aware, that the timing of the next nap is then likely to be impacted – and it may need to happen slightly earlier. 

There will be days where your little one is more tired than usual (for example, when they’ve had a particularly busy morning or they’re feeling a little under the weather). In which case, they may need the dropped nap one day but not the next. Flexibility is needed during a transition! 

How do I know which nap to drop?

When moving from 3 naps to 2, it’s the late afternoon ‘Power Nap’ that should be dropped. This will leave you with one morning nap and one afternoon nap. Bedtime may need to be shifted earlier so your little one isn’t awake too longer before bed.

In the move from 2 naps to 1, it’s the morning nap that will be dropped, leaving you with one, longer, lunch time nap. Before making this transition, you can start by shortening the morning nap and bringing the afternoon nap forward. Again, an earlier bedtime may be needed during this transition. 

What about dropping all naps?

Dropping all naps tends to be the trickiest of transitions, and the adjustment can take longer. As with other nap transitions, it’s advisable to approach the change gently – starting by reducing the length of the nap rather than simply cutting it out completely. Again, flexibility is key here. It’s not unusual to need a nap one day but refuse it the next. It can take a few weeks or months for a little one to consistently stop napping. 

I would recommend introducing ‘Quiet Time’ to your routine to replace the dropped nap. This is a designated time (when your little one would normally have napped) where quiet play occurs. Create a cosy space for your little one to read books or play with toys reserved for this ‘Quiet Time’. While TV can be quite stimulating, it can also be the only way of encouraging some children to sit down and rest. If this is the case for your little one, pop on a movie after lunch. 

Need support with your little one’s naps?:

If you are struggling with your little one’s napping or sleep in general, and would like my support and guidance, get in touch and book a free Discovery Call.