The Two to One Nap Transition and 7 Tips for Survival
When my boys were itty bitty I remember that feeling of utter relief when I finally mastered putting them down in their own cribs for 2 naps a day at the same time. I had a magical 1.5 hours in the morning and then another glorious 1.5 hours in the afternoon to clean up, eat something, take a shower, talk on the phone, or catch some extra sleep myself. No matter how chaotic the day was or how exhausted I was, I could count on those three magical hours to have some time to myself. I could recharge, catch up on TV, and even miss those little babies so I was ready to be my best mama self once they woke up again. That’s not to mention that once they started taking those two long dependable naps they were the happiest babies…. Life was so so good!
Around 15 months things started to shift. At first it was just a missed afternoon nap here and there by one of the babies. This would of course result in what felt like disaster because if one baby napped and one baby didn’t it would throw off the plan for bedtime. Then one of the boys just flat out skipped his afternoon nap for an entire week. 1 week became 2 weeks and I was shaking in my yoga pants. I wasn’t ready for this transition at 15 months. I had grown to depend on these 2 naps as part of my very limited self-care plan. Not only that, but the baby who was skipping his afternoon nap was miserable by the end of the day and becoming harder and harder to settle to bed at the end of the long day. I wasn’t a sleep consultant back in the day but did my research and came up with a plan. Turns out we did almost exactly the right thing and in the end it worked!
There’s a huge range when it comes to what age babies are ready for the 2 to 1 nap transition. The average age is around 15 months with a range between 13 months and 2 years. Unfortunately your baby will not magically wake up one day and say “Hey Mama! From here on out I only need 1 nap!” There is a long period of transition where your baby may seem to need only 1 nap one day and then 2 naps again the next day. It’s important to really pay attention to what is happening during naptime, your child’s mood during the day, and how bedtime is going later that day. Between 12 to 18 months most babies require an average of 11 to 12 hours of sleep at night, 2 hours of daytime sleep (spread over 1-2 naps) and a bedtime between 6pm and 7:30pm. Those are averages so don’t fret if your baby is getting less or more sleep as long they seem happy and well rested. During the transition you may find that bedtime has to be as early as 5pm in order to keep your little one happy and well rested…. But remember that this is temporary!
Here’s how to get through the 2 to 1 nap transition and live to tell about it:
IF YOUR BABY IS SKIPPING THE MORNING NAP: Your child’s 2 naps a day were previously happening at 9am and 1pm but recently he/she is just flat out playing throughout the entire morning nap. Sometimes he/she falls asleep after playing for an hour and when this happens the afternoon nap gets skipped entirely. Simply drop the morning nap and keep the afternoon nap. You may find that sliding the afternoon nap temporarily earlier to 11:30am or 12pm will help with the transition. But remember that you really do want to get that 1 nap to 1pm as quickly as possible. The earlier the nap, the earlier your child will wake, and therefore require an earlier bedtime. You want a time period of about 4 hours between the end of the nap and bedtime. So if your child takes a two-hour nap at 11:30 that would mean bedtime should ideally be around 5:30. If your child takes a two-hour nap at 1pm now bedtime can be at 7pm. In addition, melatonin (sleepy hormone) is rising between 12pm and 1pm meaning that napping will be the most restorative at that time as opposed to other times.
IF YOUR BABY IS SKIPPING THE AFTERNOON NAP: This is trickier than when baby skips the morning nap since ultimately you want to be left with just the afternoon nap, but you can do it! First, we want to try to preserve the 2 naps for as long as you can. Make sure your littles naps are occurring at the best times on the clock for restorative sleep. This means the morning nap should start between 8:30 and 9am and the afternoon nap between 12 and 1pm. If you have to adjust your schedule because your naps were on the late side then that afternoon nap could come back to you. If it does then ride it out as long as you can! If it doesn’t come back or when your child starts to skip that afternoon nap once again, consider capping the length of the morning nap. End that morning nap no later than 10 or 10:30am and you may see that afternoon nap return once again…. Rejoice and again ride it out as long as possible. Now you’ve adjusted your schedule, capped the morning nap, and that afternoon nap still won’t come back and/or it goes away again so now it’s time to drop that afternoon nap! Just let it go…. Let it go…. Let it goooooo! You’re going to be okay… don’t worry. Next you need to slide that morning nap as late as you think your little one can tolerate. You can start as early as 10:30am but remember the faster you get to 1pm the better. If you start at 10:30am then try putting him/her down to nap 15-30 minutes later every other day or so until you get to 1pm. Use a flexible bedtime to keep your child well rested during the process. So if your child naps 10:30 to 12:30 then put him/her down for bedtime no later than 5pm. This sounds terribly early and impossible for some families but it’s temporary and the better rested you keep your child during the transition the easier it will be. Once you get that morning nap shifted completely to the afternoon and it’s happening around 1pm, bedtime can shift much later once again.
OTHER TIPS AND TRICKS:
1. Make sure your child has a dark cave-like room with a temperature between 68 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit. When our bodies are preparing us for sleep our melatonin (sleepy hormone) is rising and our body temperature is dropping. I have found that cooler temperatures work especially well for daytime sleep.
2. Ensure that if you utilize white noise that it plays throughout the duration of the nap.
3. Remember that the most restorative naps on a 1-nap-a-day schedule start between 12:30 and 1pm.
4. Keep bedtime flexible: most children ready for 1 nap can tolerate going to bed about 4 hours after the end of their second nap. This flexibility is especially important during times of transition. Gauge how conservative you need to be by how your child is acting around 5pm when engaged with you. If they are happy, able to focus, and able to participate in activities then they are most likely not overtired. If, however, your little one seems fussier, cranky, hyperactive, whiney, and unable to participate in an activity with you, then he/she may be (becoming) overtired and a more conservative bedtime is necessary.
5. During transition you may find that you have to limit car or stroller rides immediately prior to nap time to help your child avoid those little catnaps that often thwart real naps. Once your schedule is solidified again your little one will be able to tolerate those car and stroller trips!
6. If your baby is in a daycare environment and you do not have control over when and how the 2 to 1 nap transition happens you’ll want to be especially flexible about bedtime, especially if your baby seems more tired and/or is showing signs of being overtired discussed in Tip #4. Some parents find that temporarily having daycare provide dinner for their child and then changing them in to their pajamas before pick up helps to speed along the bedtime process once at home. Remember that this is temporary and that you can reinstate family meals again once your little one is able to stay up a little later.
7. If you have multiples and one is showing signs of readiness and the other(s) isn’t then try to preserve those two naps as long as possible. If the one who is ready is skipping the morning nap is quietly playing through it while the other sleeps and then both are able to take an afternoon nap, ride that out as long as you can. But if one’s playing and not napping is keeping the other from sleeping then try to transition them both to that 1pm one nap per day as quickly as possible. You may find that the sibling who was less ready sleeps a little longer during that one nap which is most likely okay since there isn’t another nap coming down the pipeline that day. Again, be flexible and conservative with bedtime until everyone is fully transitioned.
No matter which nap your child starts to skip, change can be scary when it comes to naps! It’s always easier when they start skipping the morning nap but regardless, the transition to 1 nap doesn’t have to be daunting if you know what steps to take. And as for my daily three hours of time to shower, reenergize, clean up, cook, and do whatever else I needed to in order to be my best mama self? Those three hours came back in the form of one long nap! Order had been restored and there was so much more freedom because we didn’t have to be home for two separate naps every single day. Of course well-rested babies are happy babies and happy babies have happy parents!
If you feel like you need a little support during this process my Happy Littles Questions Answered (one thirty-minute phone call) and Happy Littles Connecting (three days of email) packages are the perfect fix! If your little one’s sleep really goes off the rails during a time of transition then my Happy Littles Talking + 2 Weeks Support package offers a full blown, customized sleep plan followed by two weeks of daily email/phone call support. Message me to set up your FREE 15-minute Get to Know Each Other Call today!