Wondering whether your child is ready for one nap a day? Learn when to drop that second nap plus get essential tips to make that transition to one nap.
Did you notice back in the newborn days we never bothered to count naps? It seemed like we were trying to get our babies to nap so often we lost count.
But as they grew up, we began to see patterns emerge. We created schedules and routines. We may have started off with four daily naps, then it became three and finally two.
And just as we had been holding steady at two, our toddlers began to show signs to transition to one nap. This one nap schedule will be the one they’ll have—if you’re lucky—all through their preschool years.
So, how can we make that transition smooth and establish good napping habits?
How to transition to one nap
My three-year-old twins have been taking one long, mid-day nap since they were about a year and a half old. While the dwindling number of naps might seem like less opportunities to catch a break, I enjoy the long stretch of uninterrupted time. I also love how we can plan longer outings for the morning or afternoon with just one nap to schedule our days around.
If you feel like your toddler is ready to take one nap, try the following tips below for a smooth transition:
1. Follow your child’s cues
Every child has different sleep needs. While most toddlers tend to drop to one nap around 14-18 months old, this doesn’t mean your child has to follow suit.
Instead, follow your child’s cues and whether they point to his readiness to transition to one nap. You might feel he’s ready when he:
- Doesn’t nap well for one nap, especially for five consecutive days
- Can remain happy and alert for at least four hours straight
- Takes a long time to fall asleep for his morning nap
- Takes a short nap
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2. Push the morning nap back in 15-minute increments
Making the transition to one nap is much smoother when you do so gradually. So don’t just go from two naps one day and one nap the next. Instead, move sleep times around by 15 minutes at first. If you think you child can hang with it, try for 30 minute increments, but aim for a more gradual transition at first.
So, how does this look like for a typical day?
Let’s say your toddler naps from 10-11am in the morning, but you’d like to establish one long, two-hour nap from 12-2pm. On the first day, move his first nap to 10:15am. Keep him at this schedule for two to three days before pushing it further to 10:30am. And keep moving this back until you finally hit 12pm.
3. Let your toddler sleep in for the morning nap
After you begin to push back his morning naps, allow your toddler to sleep in. Let’s say he naps for an hour. Don’t wake him up an hour from when he naps and instead allow him to sleep in as long as possible.
This might disrupt the afternoon nap, but you’re helping him stretch one morning nap into one long afternoon one.
4. Take a late afternoon cat nap if needed
With your toddler sleeping in for that morning nap, he might need a quick cat nap in the afternoon. Base the time you put him to nap on his behavior. If he feels grumpy or sleepy, let him sleep for 30 minutes in the late afternoon.
Time it well so the cat nap isn’t too close to bedtime, either. Wake him up if need be so he has enough awake time before bedtime.
The goal is to drop this cat nap, especially as you continue to lengthen and push his morning one later in the day.
5. Move bedtime earlier if needed
At some point, your toddler’s morning nap will move later in the day that it doesn’t make sense to put him down for a second cat nap. But at the same time, he might begin to feel sleepy long before his regular bedtime.
To accommodate his new schedule and need for sleep, experiment with moving his bedtime earlier, even if just temporarily. If he falls asleep by 7pm, see if you can move bedtime earlier to 6:30pm. He might feel sleepy just taking one nap for the day, and the earlier bedtime can help make up for the lost hours.
6. Be patient during their grumpy moods
Change is hard on everybody, both parents and kids. You’ll likely find yourself with a grumpy child struggling with the lack of sleep as he makes this transition.
Move to one nap when you know there isn’t much else going on in his day. Don’t start on the weekend you know you’ll be out and about with lots of action. You might end up with a crabby child on your hands.
And when he does act up and fuss, keep in mind that he’s likely doing so because he’s adjusting to a new schedule. Prepare yourself to be as patient as you can while he moves to one nap.
Making the transition to one nap is a bittersweet moment. We’re letting go of the baby stage as our little ones grow into the toddlers and eventually preschoolers they’ll become.
But switching to one nap is also a convenience many parents welcome. We can be out and about more with just one nap to contend with. And we get a longer stretch of time alone instead of broken into smaller chunks.
Long gone are those days when our babies napped so often we lost count. Now we just have one long, mid-day nap, just what our toddlers need.
Does your child wake up cranky and screaming from naps? Learn how to help him wake up happier with my ebook, No Cranky Naps! Uncover the reasons he wakes up cranky, and learn how to equip him with the tools to cope with his big feelings.
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