How to Manage Your Child's 2 to 1 Nap Transition

Individual sleep needs vary significantly from kid to kid. On average, most children are ready to...

Figuring out when your child is ready to make the 2 to 1 nap transition can be tricky. Maybe your little one has started rejecting a nap, or possibly they are taking longer and longer to fall asleep for one of their naps when previously they had no trouble. Of course you don’t want to force them to drop a nap too early, but you’re also tired of battling at naptime. And you may not want to lose those amazing two breaks you have in the middle of the day! So let’s look at what you need to know.

The National Sleep Foundation has published guidelines for optimum sleep requirements by age. According to their extensive research, infants between 4-11 months need 12-15 hours of sleep, toddlers 12-24 months need 11-14 hours of total sleep in a 24 hour period.

The National Sleep Foundation provides evidence-based, medically reviewed sleep health information

When are Kids Typically Ready for a 2 to 1 Nap Transition?

Individual sleep needs vary significantly from kid to kid. On average, most children are ready to make the 2 to 1 nap transition sometime between 13-15 months old. Some children will demonstrate a need for two naps for a bit longer, up to 18 months. Rarely do children naturally stop napping twice a day before 12 months, but sometimes it happens and we find it is often related to a lack of independent sleep skills or a schedule issue.

What if my Child Goes to Daycare?

One reason your child may transition to one nap early is because of a daycare schedule. Your daycare may switch your child to one nap before they are naturally ready. The best way to handle this is to allow your child to "catch up" on day sleep over the weekend by making time for two naps. It may take your child 1-2 months to fully transition to one nap for all 7 days of the week, so don't be alarmed if they are still showing a need for two naps on weekends well after they dropped to one nap at daycare.

If at all possible, we recommend asking your daycare to allow your child to nap in the "two nap room" until they are showing natural signs they are ready to transition.

Signs your Child is Ready for the 2 to 1 Nap Transition

There are several signs that your child may be ready for the 2 to 1 nap transition. Some kids demonstrate more than one of these signs, and others may show only one.

1. Your child is between 13-16 months old.

As mentioned above, the majority of children need at least two naps (or more) until they are a minimum of one year old. If your child is under 13 months, we encourage you to ensure your little one has independent sleep skills, you’re following the right wake windows, and you are being consistent about where and when you offer your child their naps before discontinuing the second nap completely.

2. Your child outright rejects one of their naps at least 3-5 days in a week.

All kids are different, so it’s not always the afternoon nap that a child begins to reject first. It may be the morning nap for your little one. Either way, in general a consistently rejected nap is a good sign your child may be ready for their 2 to 1 nap transition.

We consider a nap “rejected” if you’ve tried giving your little one a minimum of one hour to fall asleep before taking them out of their crib or bed and calling it a day. It’s important to make sure you are not contributing to the nap rejection by responding too quickly when they are trying to fall asleep on their own. Sometimes a child will learn that if they protest long enough, they will be given the opportunity to get up and play. To ensure this doesn’t happen, we recommend letting your child work it out and try falling asleep on their own before giving up too soon.

Additionally, check their nap schedule before dropping their second nap. Before concluding they no longer need it, make sure the difficulty falling asleep is not related to a wake window issue, such as going down for a nap too early.

3. Your child begins taking more than 20 minutes to fall asleep for one of their naps.

Before making conclusions, first we want to rule out scheduling issues. To do this, make sure you are putting your child down for their naps using the appropriate wake windows. Once you’ve ruled out scheduling issues and your little one is 13 months or older, it may be time to begin the 2 to 1 nap transition.

4. One of your child’s naps becomes consistently shorter than 45 minutes.

If one of your child’s naps changes from a consistent 1-2 hours a day to less than 45 minutes for more than a week, it’s safe to say they may be showing signs of 2 to 1 nap transition readiness.

5. Your child suddenly begins waking up before 6:00am.

Early morning wakes are not always a sign that your child is ready to drop a nap. However, if early waking was not a previous issue, your child falls asleep independently for nap and at bedtime, and they are waking for “morning” less than 11 hours before falling asleep the previous night, it may be a sign your child is getting too much daytime sleep, and they are ready to begin the 2 to 1 nap transition. To rule out any other causes of early morning wakes, head over to our blog post here.

You’re Ready for the 2 to 1 Nap Transition, Now What?

If you’ve determined that your little one is officially ready for their 2 to 1 nap transition, congratulations! It means your little one is growing up into a healthy toddler.

Once you determine your little one is ready, it’s time to commit! Know that a nap transition is hardly ever perfect, and your little one may show signs of overtiredness during the process. For a smooth 2 to 1 nap transition experience, we will proceed with a gradual process. If you make the transition too quickly, you risk a complete sleep meltdown once your baby becomes overtired and inconsolable.

The Gradual 2 to 1 Nap Transition: Days 1-3

For the first 3 days, start by moving their morning nap later by 30 minutes. If your little one usually naps at 10:00am, move nap to 10:30am, allowing them to sleep as long as they would like.

Whether your child is napping well in the afternoon or not, make sure they still have quiet time in their crib around 2:30pm. This will help take the edge off until bedtime. Try to leave them in the crib for one full hour. They may not sleep, but at least they’ll have had some down time on their own. If they do fall asleep, don’t let them sleep past 3:30-4:00pm so that bedtime stays on track.

If your baby did not sleep during the afternoon “quiet time”, then you will need to move bedtime up as early as 6:15pm to prevent overtiredness. Your little one is going to need an opportunity to catch up on sleep they are no longer getting, which means an early bedtime should happen at least for the first month or two post transition. This will help manage your child’s initial overtiredness, and ensure they have the opportunity to sleep as much as they need to overnight.

Days 4 – 6

On day four, move morning naptime back another half an hour to 11:00 am. Continue with this time for the next three days, and continue to offer afternoon quiet time or nap should they need it.

Days 7 – 9

On day seven, move naptime back another half hour to 11:30am for yet another three days. There probably won’t be any time for afternoon quiet time by this point, and you may find that your child is very grumpy around dinnertime. Remember, it’s okay to put your little one to bed early. It’s much better to allow them to catch up on sleep than to push to a later bedtime!

Day 10

On day 10 move your baby’s naptime to 12 pm. This means that you will have to move lunchtime up to 11:30 or earlier. Don’t be surprised if your little one starts nodding off in the highchair for a few weeks, this is normal!

Common Mistakes To Avoid During the 2 to 1 Nap Transition

What are the most common mistakes people make during a nap transition? Let's find out.

Don’t Confuse Readiness for a 2 to 1 Nap Transition with a Developmental Leap

When a child is going through a rapid developmental leap, their brain wants to focus on the new skill (such as crawling or walking) over sleep. This often manifests in new sleep struggles, as they are more interested and motivated to crawl or walk than they are to sleep. You might notice they are crawling or standing in their cribs, which is a sign this is happening!

Developmental milestones like learning to walk around this age can often be confused with readiness for a 2 to 1 nap transition. Don’t fall into this trap! The best way to handle the leap is to provide LOTS of opportunity for new milestone practice so that your child’s brain can acquire and integrate the skill as quickly as possible, and get back to their regular sleep patterns! Additionally, your child needs more sleep during these rapid developmental periods, so dropping a nap is not ideal during this time.

Early Bedtime is Your Friend, Not Your Enemy

Many parents believe that early bedtime will lead to early morning wakes, and that’s simply not the case. Your child is far more likely to wake early if they go to bed overtired at a later hour than if they go to bed before they reach that point. Remember, your little one needs 11-14 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period, and we find most kids to be on the high end of that. This means that a 6:30pm bedtime often leads to a 6:30-7:30am morning wake time. Don’t be afraid to put your child down early, especially right after dropping a nap!

Be Patient, it will all be Okay!

Nap transitions are never easy. Your child may have a little bit of a sleep debt for most likely four to six weeks after you implement the nap transition. Just know that it’s going to be a bit of a struggle. Your child will still seem tired, there will be a little bit of afternoon grouchiness happening, and that’s normal! Make sure that once you’ve made the decision to go for it, just go for it, because the sooner your child’s body clock gets in line, the stronger their wake time stamina will be, and the better their mood and tiredness levels will become.

Offer Yourself Space and Grace During the 2 to 1 Nap Transition

It can take up to 4-8 weeks to fully adjust to a new nap structure. To help with grumpiness and fatigue, try taking your child outside for some natural sunlight and fresh air, or provide a healthy afternoon snack to help with energy levels. Avoid a ride in the stroller close to naptime as it will likely result in an unwanted nap. Your little one’s naptime will likely be around the 12:00pm mark for several months, or even a full year. A 1:00pm naptime is more common around 2 years of age.

Do your best not to become frustrated with yourself. You are not alone – most parents struggle during nap transitions! The transition will be successful with time as long as you remain consistent and provide space for your success. Remind yourself of the accomplishments you have made thus far with sleep. Before you know it, this new schedule will be like clockwork, too!

And cheers to the freedom that comes with not having to be home for two naps a day!

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