I wrote a special article for Mommy Bites website about the two to one nap transition.
The two-to-one nap transition can be a sticky situation for parents. How do you know when to take the leap to one nap?
This transition is the toughest of the bunch and takes the longest to work through. Most babies reach a point at which two naps is too many and leaves them bouncing off the walls at bedtime. On the flip side, one nap is just not enough and leaves them falling apart at the dinner table, while you desperately look through the cupboards for chocolate!
By looking at the science of sleep and using a couple sleep tricks and tips, the road to one nap doesn’t have to be quite so bumpy.
Most babies make the transition to one nap between 14-18 months old. Some babies may appear to be making the transition earlier than 14 months, but this is usually not ideal. I always recommend trying to keep two naps as long as you can. The two to one transition can be rough, and the older they are when you make the leap, the easier it will be. Dr. Weissbluth states that 23% of 18-month-olds are still taking two naps 1. So take your time!
The hallmark signs that your baby is getting ready to transition is that she has a hard time falling asleep for the morning nap. Before, your baby used to conk out within a couple minutes of being put down, but now she sits up babbling for a while, or she starts to practice advanced gymnastic skills, or just goofs off in her crib. She may eventually fall asleep or not sleep at all.
There is also a good percentage of babies who love their morning naps and continue to take them without issue, but come that afternoon nap, no way – she is having none of it!
A small percentage of babies will continue to take both naps, but this pushes bedtime too late.
Does this mean it’s time to make the switch? Well, not quite yet.
As I mentioned above, I love to try to keep two naps as long as possible. So here are some tips to help keep those going.
Move that morning nap earlier. Yes, I did type that correctly. Earlier! Timing is key when it comes to naps. Normally, we aim for a 9 a.m. morning nap. This is the best time to hit your child’s sleep wave. But moving the nap a bit earlier can help when a child is fighting that morning nap. So instead of 9 a.m., try 8:30-8:45 a.m. If your child already naps before 9 a.m., this tip won’t really apply to you.
The second tip? Start capping that morning nap. This is a big one. If your child is still taking a beautiful nap and you are still able to shower… awesome! Keep it, but start controlling it. Normally, I recommend capping the morning nap at 45-60 minutes. If your child normally takes a long morning nap, cap it at an hour. If that still interferes with the afternoon nap, try capping it at 45 minutes. This allows him to take a short cat nap in the morning and takes the edge off while still allowing him to take a nice afternoon nap.
Usually, one or both of these tips can buy you at least a couple of weeks – if not a couple months – depending on the age of your child. These tips can be especially useful if your child is younger than 14 months and is prematurely trying to make the transition.
If you have tried these guidelines for over a week and your baby’s naps are still short or non-existent, then it is time to make the leap to one nap.
Sometimes, as a last ditch effort, you can do two naps one day and one the next – but I don’t recommend doing this for very long. It creates inconsistencies in the body clock and can’t be sustained for long.
When we make the transition from two naps to one, the morning nap is the nap that disappears. Our children will keep an afternoon nap until they are at least 3.5 years old.
When the day arrives, we want to push the nap as late as we can, or to at least 11 a.m. If you make it to 11 a.m., then hold it there for a couple days. After a couple days, push her a little further to 11:15-11:30 a.m., then hold there for a couple more days. Our eventual goal is to get her to a noon nap.
As your baby enters the toddler years, this time will slowly move back even more, until you end up with a nap time of around 12:30-1 p.m. We want to make sure that we don’t camp out at a mid-morning nap. Again, timing is key, and a mid-morning nap completely misses the sleep wave of baby’s body clock. That is why our goal time is around noon.
A couple last minute tips to help you make it through the two to one nap transition:
It is normal for your baby’s one nap to initially be shorter. Don’t be alarmed. This is common and if you have good sleep habits in place, the nap will usually lengthen on its own. I recommend leaving your child for at least 90 minutes. So if he wakes after an hour, we want to give him more time to fall back to sleep.
Remember that an early bed time is your best friend! Anyone who knows me knows how fond I am of early bedtimes. They really can fix a multitude of sins! Children who are over-tired create an actual sleep debt that has to be “re-paid”. The best way to re-pay this sleep debt is with more nighttime sleep. Your child will be a little over-tired during this transition, especially if her nap is initially shorter. The early bedtime should be utilized. Never fear – an early bedtime will not cause her to wake earlier!
Last, but not least, be patient and consistent. This transition can be tricky, but your child will adjust. Consistency always wins the day with sleep training!