NAP TRANSITIONS: how and when your baby will drop their naps

Nap transitions

Written by: Nicky Barker, Founder of Little Ones & Paediatric Sleep Specialist

Want the quick answer? This is when your baby will drop their naps

  • 3 month-old babies usually have 3 naps
  • 6-8 month-old babies usually drop to 2 naps
  • 12-15 month-old babies usually drop to 1 nap
  • At 2.5-3 years naps disappear

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 3 quite regular naps.

BUT, just when you think everything is going well, all of a sudden things go awry. Your baby is fighting you to go 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 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. 

And remember, naps are good for children! It’s important not to feel pressured to drop a nap at the ‘right’ time. A University of Colorado Boulder researcher, Assistant Professor Monique LeBourgeois, says that in fact, 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 a way of helping your wee one is by implementing a nap routine - this will help you to know when the transitions happen and how to handle them.

Read our article about routines and why they don’t suck here.

What age do babies/toddlers drop a nap?

So, you’ve gone through the list of key signs and you’re ready to help your wee one to drop a nap and while there is no magical document that will let you know when your little one is due for a nap transition, we’ve found that there are specific ages that nap transitions generally occur.

  • By 3 months your little one would have hopefully consolidated their day sleep into 3 naps.
  • At 5 months your baby may start to show signs of a nap transition, such as night waking or being generally unsettled, but it doesn’t mean it is time to drop that third nap just yet.
  • 6 - 8 months - Your little one should be ready to drop from 3 naps to 2
  • 12 - 15 months - 2 naps turn to 1
  • 2.5 - 3 years - Naps disappear altogether

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 four-month sleep regression is next followed by eight months, a fourth at 12/15 months and as if four wasn’t enough then a fifth regression at two years.

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

Managing each nap transition

The transition periods for all nap changes needs 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.


5 months

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: 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.


12-15 months: 2 naps to 1

Dropping down to one nap is slightly harder and longer than 3 to 2 transition. 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 naps into one long midday nap because you’ll effectively be dropping a nap and dramatically changing another naptime all at once. The aim here is to alter the morning nap 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.


2.5 - 3 years: The nap disappears

This is the trickiest transition of them all! You’ve had your little ones napping sorted for ages and your toddler is napping for 2 hours in the middle of the day, when suddenly they aren’t settling at bedtime anymore. If your toddler is resisting bedtime or is difficult to settle for their nap or waking early in the morning, it is time to start getting rid of the nap. 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 nap so it happens every second day. Eventually though, it’s gone.

Once you've dropped the nap altogether you might need to introduce a slightly earlier bedtime until your toddler adjusts and to avoid too much overtiredness by the end of the day.

NOTE: At around 2, another sleep regression creeps in and many toddlers start to refuse their naps all together, this doesn’t mean they’re ready to drop their naps. This is way too early for your little one to drop their naps altogether. It will just be a tricky patch of hit and miss naps, that will get better after a month or so.

Find out more about the 2 year sleep regression 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 Sleep Programs. 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’. Remember your little one isn’t going to simply just drop this nap alone, they still need your support. You don’t want to be rushing around the shops or visiting friends when trying to transition naps. Most importantly the timing has to be dictated by your little ones developmental needs primarily.

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 just integrate it back into your routine.

What can I do to help during these transitions?

  • Once you've dropped a nap bring 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.
  • Implement a good routine before the transitions happen, that way you know when a transition needs to happen and what to do.  
Nap transitions are certainly not easy, after all, no one likes it when their little one goes on nap strike, but you can manage nap transitions better by following our Sleep Program. We know how confusing it can be, so through our Programs we gently guide you through the stages in your baby or toddler’s development, by following routines that will take you through one sleep stage to another and minimise the impact of sleep regressions and nap transitions.

 

Watch our video about dropping to one nap:

When do I drop to one nap? from Little Ones on Vimeo.

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Bibliography

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If you liked this sleep article, be sure to read: ROUTINES: Mythbusting fact from fallacy and NAPS: the art and importance of good day sleeps for more great sleep advice!