NAP TRANSITIONS: how and when your baby will drop their naps
Want the quick answer? This is when your baby will drop their naps
- Up until around 6 months, babies usually have 3 naps.
- Between 6-8 months old, babies usually drop down to 2 naps.
- Between 12-15 months old, babies usually drop down to 1 nap. The aim here is to drop the morning nap and transition to one long midday nap.
- Around 2.5-3 years old, naps disappear altogether. Most toddlers will gradually reduce the nap first, before dropping it completely.
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How and when your baby will drop their naps
You may have reached a point where your baby is finally napping well in the day or sleeping well at night (or both!). They have consolidated their day sleep into three regular naps and you feel like you’ve nailed this baby sleep game.
BUT, just when you think everything is going well, all of a sudden things go awry. Your baby starts fighting going to bed or they start waking more overnight or they start waking at 5 AM!
What is going on?!
If you can rule out causes like over or under tiredness, hunger, room conditions or sickness and your baby is in the age brackets specified further down this article, you are left with the likelihood that it might be time to drop a nap.
Dropping a nap is no quick and easy feat, this transition takes time. To ease this transition, babies need to decrease their naps incrementally, but that won’t happen on its own. Your baby or toddler will still need your guidance when it comes to regulating their naps.
It’s also important that you don’t feel pressured to drop a nap at the ‘right’ time - especially when it comes to toddlers dropping their nap altogether. University of Colorado Boulder researcher, Assistant Professor Monique LeBourgeois, says that many young children today are not getting enough sleep. Her research showed that toddlers who miss only a single daily nap show more anxiety, less joy and interest and a poorer understanding of how to solve problems. “For toddlers, daytime naps are one way of making sure their 'sleep tanks' are set to full each day."
However, if you feel it’s definitely time to drop a nap, then one way of helping your little one to do this is by implementing a consistent nap routine - this will help you to know when these nap transitions are due to happen and how to handle them.
Read our article about routines and why they don’t suck here.
Signs your baby or toddler is ready to drop a nap
One thing to remember is not all changing sleep patterns mean it’s time to drop a nap - in fact, it could be a pesky sleep regression that’s disturbing your bubs’ sleep, depending on their age.
A sleep regression is a period when a baby or toddler who has been sleeping well suddenly starts waking at night and/or skipping naps. Babies become harder to settle for naps and at bedtime during this tricky period.
There are a number of distinct regressions that most babies and toddlers experience, the first being as early as eight weeks - it’s a small blip, but it happens. The 4 month sleep regression is next, followed by another one around 8 months, then again between 12-15 months and as if that wasn’t enough, there is another big regression around 2 years old!
But if you do suspect it’s time to drop a nap and can rule out the other causes that we listed above, then the key things you need to look out for (over the course of several days in a row) are:
- Taking a long time to settle at the normal nap time.
- Settling well but waking early from the nap.
- Settling well at one nap but not tired and not sleeping well at the next nap.
- Settling/sleeping well at naps but taking a long time to go to sleep at bedtime in the evening.
- Waking overnight multiple times or waking and staying awake for long periods.
- Waking in the early morning (before 6 AM) and not resettling back to sleep
What age do babies/toddlers drop a nap? And when do kids stop napping altogether?
So, you’ve gone through the list of key signs and it seems like your wee one is ready to drop a nap. Unfortunately, there is no magical document that will let you know exactly when your little one is due for a nap transition, but we’ve found that there are specific ages that these nap transitions generally occur:
- By 3 months your little one would have hopefully consolidated their day sleep into 3 naps.
- Around 5 months your baby may start to show signs that they are getting ready to drop their third nap of the day, such as night waking or being generally unsettled. This doesn’t necessarily mean it is time to drop that third nap just yet though.
- Between 6 - 8 months your little one should be ready to drop from 3 naps down to 2 naps.
- Around 10 months your baby may again start to show signs that they are coming up to another nap transition, with many resisting or refusing the morning nap. This doesn’t mean it is time to drop the morning nap yet.
- Between 12 - 15 months your little one should be ready to drop the morning nap and just have one long nap in the middle of the day.
- Around 2 years many toddlers will start to resist or refuse their nap but this is usually due to the regression mentioned earlier. Keep offering the nap and they should settle and sleep well again once this regression passes.
- Between 2.5 - 3.5 years most toddlers are ready to drop their nap altogether.
Managing each nap transition
The transition periods for all nap changes need to be handled delicately and with some understanding of what your baby is going through. Sometimes it is just trial and error to work out if dropping a nap is the thing that your child needs at that time.
Let’s take a peek at what your little one will experience during these tricky transitions and how you can help manage them.
While your little one may start showing signs of a nap transition at this age, this doesn’t mean it’s time to drop that nap, in fact at 6 months the third nap is essential as it makes sure your wee one isn’t overtired come bedtime. Even just a 10 minute power nap is enough to stave off any residual overtiredness to get your baby through to bedtime.
6-8 Months: from 3 naps to 2
Somewhere between 6-8 months your baby will go from 3 naps to 2. This transition to 2 naps depends on your baby having consolidated their napping so that they are doing at least one good long nap (over 45 minutes) as well as one shorter nap during the day. We would recommend that the longest nap be in the middle of the day rather than the morning, as a shorter lunchtime nap can cause your little one to become overtired at bedtime and affect their nighttime sleep.
For more information about this nap transition, check out our article here.
Just like in the lead-up to the previous nap transition, as your little one approaches 12 months you may find they start to resist or even refuse the morning nap. If their morning nap is too long, it can also cause them to be hard to settle or wake early from the lunch nap. This doesn’t mean they are ready to drop the morning nap yet though. In fact, that morning nap plays a really crucial role in helping to prevent overtiredness. If your little one is resisting or refusing the morning nap, waking them slightly earlier in the morning can help to squeeze that nap in. If they are sleeping for 30 mins (or longer) at the morning nap, you may also need to look at reducing that now to 20 mins or even 10 mins, in order for them to settle and sleep well at the lunch nap.
12-15 months: from 2 naps to 1
Dropping down to one nap is a slightly harder and longer transition than dropping the afternoon nap. Again, your baby’s nap structure is going to have a big impact on this transition. If you’ve previously been doing a long morning nap and a shorter midday/afternoon nap, it will be harder for you to merge those into one long midday nap because you’ll effectively be dropping a nap and dramatically changing another nap time all at once. Ideally you want to gradually reduce the morning nap over time, until it finally fades away.
NOTE: There can be a "sleep regression" closer to 15 months, which is mainly caused if your toddler is still having two day sleeps. This regression will mean your toddler starts resisting bedtime in the evening, resisting their second nap, waking again overnight or waking early in the morning. If this is the case with your toddler, it is definitely time to drop to one nap and aim for a good restorative sleep across the middle of the day rather than 2 fragmented naps.
Around this age many toddlers will start to resist or refuse their nap but this doesn’t mean they are ready to drop their nap altogether yet. This nap resistance is commonly due to the regression at this age and will pass in time. The best thing you can do is to continue offering the nap each day, even getting it done in the car from time to time if needed - just to help prevent overtiredness building up.
2.5 - 3.5 years: the nap disappears
This is the trickiest transition of them all! You’ve had your little one’s napping sorted for ages, they’ve been having a solid 2 hour sleep in the middle of the day, when suddenly they aren’t settling at bedtime anymore. If your toddler is resisting bedtime, waking overnight or waking early in the morning, it may be time to start getting rid of the nap. Ideally you’d do this gradually, reducing the length of the nap first, trialling it every few days against your toddlers settling and/or night waking to find the right balance. You might even reduce the frequency of the nap so it happens every second day.
Eventually though, their nap will get dropped altogether and at that time you might need to introduce a slightly earlier bedtime to avoid too much overtiredness by the end of the day. As your toddler adjusts, you can then start to push bedtime out later again.
Find out more about what your child’s sleep will look like after dropping their nap here.
How long should a nap transition last?
Each transition is different and it purely depends on your little one’s nap structure leading up to the transition, which is made a lot easier if following our Little Ones App. It’s best to take it day by day, as a lot will depend on how your baby has slept for their other naps that day and also how they sleep overnight.
We suggest giving it a good week to see if there is any effect from your baby’s ‘new schedule’. Remember too that your little one isn’t going to simply just drop the naps on their own, they still need your support. You don’t want to be rushing around the shops or visiting friends when trying to transition naps either, keeping a consistent routine is going to really help your little one through this period. Most importantly, the timing of these nap transitions has to be dictated by your little ones developmental needs.
Dropping a nap too early
The biggest sign that you may have dropped a nap too soon is your little one’s mood, behaviour and sleep has changed. They may be restless and start waking more at night or refusing the remainder of their naps. This happens because your baby can’t tolerate their maximum awake time yet, which then causes them to be overtired. So, if you feel you have dropped the nap too soon, simply re-integrate it back into your routine.
What can I do to help during these transitions?
- Once you've dropped a nap bring their next nap or bedtime forward a little bit to compensate, while your baby gets used to the longer awake time
- Help your little one to stay rested by not making any huge alterations in the schedule at once.
- You can replace the nap with a period of ‘quiet time’, so they are still resting even if they’re not sleeping.
- Keep a consistent routine, that way you know when a nap transition needs to happen and what to do.
Our comprehensive Little Ones App can help you to stay on top of your little one’s nap needs and our certified sleep consultants in the Little Ones Village are available to support you through these tricky nap transition periods.
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