From 3 naps to 2
From around about 3-4 months old, your baby will be getting to settling into 3 established, long, consolidated naps per day. When a baby is ready to drop a nap at around 5, 6 or 7 months old you might find they start waking early in the morning, perhaps their lunchtime nap regresses or you may find you have difficulty settling them in the evening, all of these can be signs that your baby is ready to drop a nap.
If you are experiencing this, always look at your baby’s awake times and their routines. If you are unsure of what your baby’s awake periods are, do take a look at my online shop to purchase my routine for your baby’s age group.
For a 7 month old baby, if you start to find that baby does not want to go to sleep in the late afternoon but they’re still napping well in the morning and after lunch, it’s a clear sign that they want to drop their nap.
If you think your baby is ready to drop a nap, I’d advise you to still keep trying even if they’ve refused it for 3-4 days. With nap transitions you can find that this is a process over time, it doesn’t just happen overnight. Even with 4 days without it, you might find that on the 5th day little one does need that nap. Continue to try to keep offering that sleep opportunity and, if they fall asleep before 5pm that’s fine. In a nap transition phase, first of all reduce the time of a nap, this prevents them from getting overtired and will have a positive effect on bedtime.
Dropping the late afternoon nap
Once you’ve then dropped that nap down to 10 minutes or so, you may find the other issues improve but you may still see things such as early morning waking. If this is the case, then that’s a signal that baby is ready to drop that nap completely. This tends to happen around 6 – 8 months old. I always say that sleep breeds sleep so please don’t try and drop it too soon, because it can create severe overtiredness.
If you do decide to drop the afternoon nap, what you want to do is try and reduce the awake time from the end of the lunchtime nap to bedtime. This means that, temporarily, you will need to bring bedtime forward, which could be as early as 6pm for a normal 7pm bedtime, basically an hour earlier than your normal routine. Although the awake time can stretch, you don’t want to make it too long and so reducing it initially means that baby isn’t overtired at bedtime.
It can, also, be helpful to shift the lunch sleep slightly, so – for example – with a 7.5 month old dropping their 15 minutes afternoon nap and they tend to wake at 2.30pm, you could either shift the lunchtime nap later so their awake time after the lunch nap and bed isn’t so long. This can mean their morning awake time is too long, so it’s really important to look at what works for you. Another thing to try would be to increase their morning sleep so that they sleep longer here, to catch up on what they would have had in the afternoon. This means their lunch sleep can be later and this keeps the bedtime gap not as big as it otherwise would it.
You can still increase their sleep even though they’re dropping an afternoon nap.
Sleep breeds sleep!
If early morning waking builds in, this is a sign of overtiredness and so – when dropping a nap – you need to shift their daytime sleep to reflect this. It’s also worth mentioning that just because a baby’s dropped a nap for a few weeks but seems overtired, it doesn’t mean you can’t offer it one day. The main thing is to ensure that your child is not overtired.
From 2 naps to 1
The 3-2 nap transition doesn’t tend to be the hardest transition, in fact it is quite a natural process for a lot of families. However, what does tend to prove trickier is the transition for 2 naps to 1 that usually occurs between the ages of 12 – 18 months of age. I appreciate that this a big age range but the most important thing with this one is to wait until your child is ready. The biggest cause that I see with toddlers and early morning waking is that the morning nap is dropped too soon. There are plenty of children I know that have dropped a morning nap between 11 and 12 months, however, there are also lots nearer 2! It really is important to consider what works for your child.
I would encourage, where possible, to keep trying if a child needs an extra nap at age 1 because of the huge change in their physical development at this age. They may show you that they don’t want to nap because they’ve learnt a new physical skill but stick with it, keep trying to offer them a nap for 2-3 weeks at least. Physical development skills can make them seem like they don’t need the nap but I would persist until you are sure that they no longer need the morning nap.
Signs that they’re ready to drop the morning nap
- you may find they refuse to go down at bedtime because they’ve had too much sleep in the daytime
- lunchtime sleep can be be short
- they may not settle well at their lunchtime nap
- early morning waking and, potentially, night time waking
I would try making the morning nap a little bit later and stretch their awake time. This means that their awake time before their lunch nap would start a little bit later, which can really help, as long as they wake before 3:30pm for a 7pm bedtime. If even putting them down at 10am and they’re still not settling then you know it’s time for them to drop their morning nap.
How do we drop the morning nap?
6:30am through to lunchtime without a nap can be overwhelming but the biggest tip I can give you is to bring everything forward. So, if they wake at 6:30am and the 9:30am has gone, you need to do a very very early lunch or a substantial snack and start their lunchtime nap anytime from 11/11:30am onwards. This reduces the awake time in the morning and then they have their one nap of the day earlier. By doing this, your child will not become overtired and their lunchtime nap will be consistent and they’ll have a deep sleep. Over time you can push this back but I’d definitely stick to it to start with.
After their nap, if they wake up around 1:30pm, you need to bring their bedtime earlier so that their awake window is not too long. Once again, bedtime may be as early as 6pm. I know you might say “but Heidi they’re already waking early surely if they go to bed at 6pm they’ll wake at 4am?!” But I promise you: the earlier they go to bed the more likely they are to sleep later in the morning and less likely they are to wake earlier.
Be confident: know that sleep breeds sleep and for this transitional phase shifting their bedtime will help. Look at their total amount of sleep over a 24 hour period and move their nap and bedtime to suit.
If you hit a bump in the road – perhaps they’re teething or they catch a cold – a couple of weeks in and you think they need the odd morning nap, do let them have it. You must remember that this is a longer phase than a few days; things can change and catch up with them so it’s a good idea to let them sleep if they need it.
From 1 nap to 0
I know that the lunchtime nap is precious time for parents and that you don’t want to drop it until you have to. This usually happens around 2.5 to 3+ years of age, but there are some children who can drop it at the age of 2 or those who nap up until they are 4 years. My advice is to hold onto that nap for as long as they can; they might be in a regression or physical development phase that means that they’re struggling to nap but it does not mean that they don’t need it forever. Keep offering it to ensure they don’t become overtired.
If you are continually seeing them refuse that one nap for a number of weeks, bedtime becomes difficult and their lunch nap doesn’t even start until 2pm if they do sleep, or they’re waking early or perhaps waking in the night then you know it could be time to drop that nap.
How to drop the final nap?
With 2 plus year olds, my biggest tip is to have an early bedtime. Similarly to the other nap transitions, your little one will be tired and you don’t want that awake window to go too far. Build in a quiet end of the day routine and wind-down process to helop them fall asleep in the early evening.
Because toddlers are constantly on the go, it’s a good idea if you can have some “quiet time” after lunch. They could have an audio book, some stories or peace so that you all get a rest in. Even if they do not sleep, your child has a dedicated opportunity to rest and stop racing around. This is a way to replace their nap with some quiet time, it brings structure to the day still whilst allowing your child to have some space, rest and calm.
If you would like any further support on the 3 biggest nap transitions, do take a look at my 1-1 services.