Written by: Nicky Barker, Founder of Little Ones & Paediatric Sleep Specialist
Posted on the 24th September 2019
Naps are super important for our little ones, but the importance of these day sleeps isn't stressed enough, nor is it emphasised how it can affect your baby's development and behaviour if they are not getting enough sleep.
In fact, A University of Colorado Boulder researcher, Assistant Professor Monique LeBourgeois, found 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."
With this in mind, the idea of dropping a nap may sound bizarre, but it all comes back to day sleep affecting nighttime sleep and as your baby grows older, their sleep needs change.
Find out more about the importance of naps here.
So, what is a nap transition?
If your wee one is between 6-8 months & has started fighting you to go to bed or they’re waking more overnight, it’s more than likely time to drop a nap.
By this age, your baby should have consolidated their day sleep into 3 regular naps and you should now be looking at dropping from 3 naps to 2.
But before making the drop, make sure to rule out the following: overtiredness, undertiredness, hunger, room conditions and sickness.
Dropping a nap is no easy feat, this transition happens over time. Babies need to decrease their amount of naps incrementally, but that won’t happen on its own as babies and toddlers still need your guidance to help ease these changes.
Signs your baby is ready to drop a nap
One thing to remember is not all changes in sleep patterns mean it’s time to drop a nap, In fact, it could be a sleep regression that’s wreaking havoc on your little ones sleep. Find out more about these pesky regressions and how they disrupt your wee ones sleep here.
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.
- There are also lots of developmental milestones that your baby will experience like sitting, rolling, starting solids etc - all of which could affect their sleep.
TIP: Your little one may start showing signs of a nap transition at 5 months, but hold up - this doesn’t mean it’s time to drop a nap yet. At this age, still aim for a short later afternoon power nap until your baby reaches at least 6 months. This will stop your wee one from becoming overtired come bedtime.
How to manage the 6-8 month nap transition
All transitions need to be handled delicately. Sometimes it is just trial and error to work out if dropping a nap is the thing that your child needs at that time.
Here’s our tips for managing the 3-2 nap transition:
- You will need to try having dropped the nap for at least a week to see if it works. Your baby will take a while to get used to this change and can be grizzly during this time.
- Aim for at least one good long nap and one shorter nap. The transition is a lot easier for babies who are having their longer nap around midday in the afternoon because it means your baby is going into the afternoon well rested and will be less overtired come bedtime, rather than a baby who is having a long morning nap and a shorter midday/afternoon nap. This is when overtiredness can creep in, which means they won’t settle well at bedtime and can cause more night and early morning waking.
- Bring bedtime forward to compensate, eg 6:30 pm - just while your little one gets used to the longer awake times.
- You can replace the third nap with quiet time so that they are still getting rest.
How long should it take to drop from 3 naps to 2?
You can’t rush these things. Each transition is different and the timing has to be dictated by your baby’s developmental needs primarily. It can also depend on your little one’s nap structure leading up to the transition.
It’s best to take it day by day as it will depend on how your baby has slept for their other naps that day and overnight. We suggest giving it a good week to see any real effect of your baby’s ‘new schedule’.
Between 6-8 months, your baby might need the late afternoon nap on and off again depending on how their day sleep has gone. This is a lot more predictable if following our nap schedule in our Sleep Programs. By 8 months the third nap should be gone altogether, or it will really start wreaking havoc with their night sleep leading into the 8-month regression.
What else could be affecting baby’s sleep at this time?
It’s also important to remember that there is A LOT happening in your baby’s life at this age.
- Your baby could still be in the midst of the 4-month regression, which might mean that your little ones naps are short anyway. If your baby is unable to self settle then they’re going to be having shorter naps, which will mean they can’t drop the third nap when it’s time.
- The World Health Organization says “around the age of 6 months, an infant’s need for energy and nutrients starts to exceed what is provided by breast milk, and complementary foods are necessary to meet those needs.” So in other words, around this age, your little one is ready to start solids, which can actually have an impact on their sleep. Find out more about starting solids here.
So imagine all these massive things happening in their lives and then you throw in a nap transition! It’s a hard time for a baby, but definitely made easier with a consistent, predictable schedule like the ones found in our Sleep Programs.
What happens if I drop a nap too early?
- Look out for changes in your little ones mood, behaviour, sleep
- They may wake at night, be restless or refuse the remainder of their naps and this is because they can’t tolerate their maximum awake time yet. If this is the case, simply integrate a shorter late afternoon nap back into your routine.
How to drop the third nap…
Your little one isn’t going to simply just drop their nap, it will take some time. With that in mind slowly wean them away from the third nap. Be sure to do it slowly and shorten it by 5 minutes every 2 days and bring bedtime forward by 5 minutes too. Do this until the nap has completely gone and bedtime is at 6.30 PM.
Nap transitions are certainly not easy, after all, no one likes it when their little one goes on nap strike. Try implementing a good routine before the transitions happen, that way you know when a transition needs to happen and what to do. Our Sleep Program can help you with implementing a good routine and managing nap transitions.