Baby and Toddler Nap Transitions: When and How to Drop a Nap

NAP JAIL.  It’s a real thing, and often times, you won’t understand the meaning unless you’re a Mom or Dad living through it.  Nap Jail as I call it, refers to the time(s) of day where you are locked down in your home, unable to leave due to your baby or toddler’s nap time.  In the beginning of your little one’s life, you’re quite literally in nap jail all day!  The good news: all these naps won’t last forever, and wake windows will increase with age, which means it could be time for you to begin thinking about introducing an older age-appropriate schedule that includes less naps.  But when do you know that your baby is ready?  How long should each of these naps be in length?  And how exactly do you go about changing up your child’s schedule so gently that it doesn’t affect their night sleep?  Let’s discuss by starting with the younger babes below.

nap transitions for baby and toddler sleep

Let’s start with the necessary number of naps by age for children under 12 months of age: 

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These are the desirable nap totals per day by age for children 5-12 months. Under 5 months of age, naps are incredibly inconsistent in time and length, therefore only striving to meet napping totals is recommended.  Between the ages of 6-9 months is when you’ll want to drop down from three naps to two naps, timing them about 3-3.5 hours apart from one another.  You start the transition by simply increasing the time spent awake between sleeps, beginning with stretching baby’s wake window by 30 minutes each time for a week, then another 30 minutes the following week until you’ve met the goal of 3-3.5 hours apart.  

You’ll know that baby is ready to drop a nap once you see the following signs for at least three days per week, three weeks in a row: 

  • Baby refusing the first nap of the day, or playing/fussing the entire time
  • Baby refusing the last nap of the day, playing/fussing the entire time
  • A nap that was consistently long in length drops to 30 minutes or less

Once baby is between 15-18 months, he or she is ready for the biggest step of all: the one-nap schedule!  On a one-nap schedule, your toddler should be achieving about one to two hours of napping per day. Once your child is showing the signs above of needing to drop one of the two naps, it’s time to begin thinking about lengthening your wake windows once again, this time to five to six hours between sleeps.  This is a large leap from the time between naps that they are used to having, so you’ll want to take it slow.  Here are the steps you’ll take to successfully drop down to one nap:

baby not tired sleep coach consultant
  • Make sure your child has a consistent schedule before you attempt to drop down to one nap.  This means you’ll be attempting to encourage a nap every 3-3.5 hours for at least a week before you introduce a one-nap schedule.
  • Starting with the morning wake window, you’ll want to slowly increase this wake window to four hours before offering a nap.
  • After the end of the one nap, aim for bedtime to occur about five to six hours after waking from the nap itself.
  • You’ll want your child to nap for at least 45 minutes, but no more than 2 hours.  If baby only sleeps 45 minutes the first few times you attempt the one-nap schedule, move bedtime up earlier that night by thirty minutes.
  • If baby naps more than 2 hours, wake him or her up and aim for bedtime to occur five hours after waking from the nap, or the max wake window suggested for this age (6 hours).
  • After your child is able to sleep one hour or more on a consistent basis, you can increase the time spent awake in the morning before naps to 5-6 hours from waking.

Here is an example of a transitional schedule for a toddler waking at 7am, followed by a “one-nap” schedule that you will introduce after the nap has once again lengthened:

onenapschedule toddler baby

The first three weeks that you attempt a one-nap schedule, expect short naps, this is extremely common!  Stay patient and celebrate the small wins, and make sure that you praise and reassure your child.

 Photo cred: @littlemissleighton

Photo cred: @littlemissleighton

In the end, always be sure to use my “Sleep and the City” rules for successful sleep shaping:

¥ The same sleeping environment is encouraged ( meaning one place over and over, or to start, at least one nap in the desired sleep place per day).

¥ Swaddle (0-6 months) for nighttime and nap times as needed 

¥ Comfy outfits for nap time

¥ White noise is continuously running; a one with low rumbling is best

¥ Room is completely dark for naps & nighttime (nightlight over 2+ years ok)

¥ Understand the Wake windows by age and know how to respond to night wakings accurately

¥ Pause before rushing in to see if child can resettle on their own first if nap is less than 45 minutes

¥ Feed upon WAKING from sleep, not before (bedtime is the exception)

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