transition to 1 nap baby and toddler sleep

The Transition to 1 Nap: When and How to Do It

The phrase ‘sleep transition’ can make us parents shudder with fear and often for good reason. But, one of the best transitions has got to be moving to one nap. Consolidating your baby’s two short daytime naps into one great big nap in the middle of the day can be pretty awesome!

Now I have to warn you, this is often the most challenging nap transition you and your little one will have to navigate. However, the results can be amazing — about 2 to 2.5 hours, every 3 hours for some little ones, right in the middle of the day! 

Because your little one is going to have to adjust from what was their awake time midday to that now being nap time, it can be a challenging transition and you want to make sure your baby is ready. So let’s get down to it — when is your little one ready to transition to one nap. 

Signs your child is ready to transition to 1 nap

Age

Little ones are, on average, ready to make the transition to one nap somewhere between 14 and 16 months old. However, the range is a bit wider. It can be appropriate for your little one to transition to one nap anywhere between 12 and 18 months old. 

Nap Resistance or Refusal

Another telltale sign that your little one is ready to make this transition to 1 nap is that they are resisting or refusing their afternoon nap about 4 to 5 times a week for at least two weeks straight. 

Developmental milestones can cause some disruptions which might make you think that baby’s ready when they’re actually not. So make sure this is the pattern for a minimum of two weeks before pulling the plug on the morning nap.

Difficulty falling asleep at bedtime

Maybe your little one isn’t resisting naps yet, but it is taking them a long time to fall asleep at bedtime. This is usually a sign that your baby needs more awake time before being able to fall asleep. I first recommend capping their nap(s) to adjust their schedule to have more awake time before bed (about 4 hours). If that isn’t helping after making the shift for 2 weeks as well as baby being within the 14-18 month range, then it is likely time to think about the transition to 1 nap.

Early morning wake ups

If your 14-18 month old baby is all of a sudden waking up much earlier than normal for a period of 2+ weeks and you’ve ruled out the other common causes of early wake ups, then it may be time to look at transitioning to 1 nap. 

A change in sleep needs

This transition to 1 nap is related to a change in sleep needs. Both in the nap sleep and total sleep needed as well as the timing of sleep, or changes in wake windows. During the 12-18 month time frame as your baby becomes a toddler, they have a slight decrease in total sleep needs as well as needing more awake time in order to be tired enough to fall asleep and stay asleep. 

Once you make the transition, your baby will need about 4 to 6 hours of awake time between sleep periods as opposed to 3 to 4.5 hours when they are still taking 2 naps. 

Total sleep needs decrease from about 12-15 hours as a baby, to 11-14 hours when toddlers are 18 months to 3 years old. 

total sleep needs - baby and toddler sleep

Making the transition to 1 nap

The gradual way

This approach is to nudge the morning nap time a half hour later every three days. Do this until nap time is around 11:30 to 12:30.

As I’m sure you’re expecting, your baby is going to get a little sleepy at their usual nap time. Avoid going for a car ride, or taking them out in the stroller around that time. This is a recipe for little cat naps that could sabotage their actual naps and make this nap transition more challenging. Offering a snack or getting outside for some fresh air and sunlight at their old nap time can help provide a buffer to get them over the hump to the new nap time. 

While your baby’s nap is still pretty early (11:00 AM or earlier) or they have a short nap at their nap time (less than 1 hour), I recommend bridging the gap between nap and bedtime slightly in the afternoon. A little ride in the stroller or a quick snooze in the car seat is a good way to get a quick catnap in without putting your baby down for a full-blown nap. Temporarily moving bedtime up a little earlier might be necessary as well, until they get the hang of the new schedule.

The ‘just do it’ way

As you would expect, with this method you will just move nap straight to somewhere between 11:30 and 12:30 right away. This method can be used with any child, but is often used when daycares ‘force’ the nap transition when they move your baby into the toddler room. 

You will want to avoid being in the car or stroller at all between the times of 1 hour before their previous nap until new nap time, as this can create unnoticed microsleeps or cat naps that can make the transition a little more challenging. Offering a snack or getting outside for some fresh air and sunlight at their old nap time can help get your baby over the hump to their new nap time. 

How long does the transition to 1 nap take

Unfortunately, because it’s a tough transition for your little one’s brain you can expect that this transition can take 4 to 6 weeks before you feel like everything is really smooth. During this 4 to 6 week period it is likely that you will experience some inconsistency in your baby’s nap length. Don’t worry, this is normal. Their body is learning to consolidate the amount of daytime sleep they require into one delightful afternoon nap.

Struggling with the transition to 1 nap?

If you are struggling with the transition to 1 nap, no need to struggle through on your own, hoping things will get better. You can schedule a 30-minute sleep support call here so we can create an action plan to make sure you get this one nap thing solid for you and your baby. 

Of course, if the transition to 1 nap is the least of your worries and you’ve got other sleep challenges going on, you can schedule your free evaluation call to chat through details of what is going on, your sleep goals and how I can help you reach those goals. If you are struggling, I’d love to help.

To healthy and happy sleep,

Bonnie

25 thoughts on “The Transition to 1 Nap: When and How to Do It”

  1. So all this is good info. And you can find it mostly anywhere. But what I can’t find is what do you do if that earlier bed time leads to an even earlier wake up time?! Our usual schedule is 6:30/7 am wake up, nap 1 is 9:30-11ish, nap 2 is 2-3:30ish and bedtime is 8pm. We did a one nap day and he took a good 2 hour nap then did a bedtime at 7:30 and he woke up at 6am. What do you do with that?! We went back to a two nap that day but ugh. No one has any advice on what to do if the early bedtime causes an earlier wake up time!

    1. Hi Hannah! Yes this transition can cause earlier wake ups temporarily for 2 reasons. First as you stated, the earlier bedtime leads to an earlier wake up because baby maxes out on sleep earlier. Second, the transition can make baby a bit overtired in the process. My advice is once you start the transition, keep at it so your little one can start to consistently rely on that nap time and has a chance to start lengthening his nap to the 3 hours he was getting before. It can be a little painful in the process with the earlier wake ups and the push to get to nap time and bedtime with the longer wake windows but as long as your baby is really ready to make the transition (refusing second nap on a regular basis is the biggest sign) he should adjust fairly quickly, although there may be some bumps in the road for 4-6 weeks before nap is really consistent again. With the early wake ups I recommend keeping him in his crib until his normal wake up time so he is in the dark, calm environment and his body clock doesn’t get set to the earlier time. Then still push to normal nap time and allow his body to adjust for a few weeks. Its hard but it will pass and things will be back on track soon! If you have any questions or want to chat more, feel free to reach out!

  2. How are you supposed to make a start when your little one is waking at 4.30/5am? They are ready for a nap at 8/8.30am Let alone stretching out there wake time. Should I wait until my little one is waking early for 2 weeks before trying to transition to 1 sleep?

    1. Hi Kayla! Yikes that is earlyyy! I know that is so frustrating in its self. If he is still taking his two naps well but waking early, you can try shortening one or both of his current naps to see if it helps before making the switch to one nap. This also helps extend the wake time before bed which may also help resolve the early wake ups. If it doesn’t and you feel your little one is ready for the transition, you would do it the same way, just starting earlier – so push to 9 for a few days and so on. If things don’t start to improve, please feel free to reach out and we can chat more about what is going on and how I may be able to help!

    2. If my little one wakes before 6 I resettle and she usually goes back to sleep quite quickly. I’ve also read if they wake at this time (before 6) either they are cold or something has woken them. It is normal when a baby wakes anywhere from 6am. That’s usually an appropriate wake time for them.

  3. Hi Bonnie,

    Great post, thank you! My biggest struggle when thinking about this transition is trying to wrap my head around the second nap. Currently, with awake windows and 2 naps etc, we have to follow a pretty tight schedule to get my daughter down to bed by 7:30pm. If i then push her first nap by only 15 – 30 mins and she goes to bed at 10:45 until say 1:15pm, am I just supposed to have her awake then until bedtime?? Seems like a big jump when you’ve only pushed the morning wake window by a little bit, but the afternoon wake window is suddenly massive!

    Thanks

    Emma

    1. Hi Emma! You can do a catnap in the afternoon in the interim while you are shifting naps. 15-30 minute nap, up by 4:00 PM if you can squeeze it in. Once nap is late enough that there isn’t time for a cat nap, yes she is just awake for a longer period of time, but you want to move bedtime earlier (up to one hour earlier) to help avoid too much overtiredness. It is definitely an adjustment period getting used to be awake for much longer times, which is why this transition can take awhile to get back to a place where you feel things are really solid. Feel free to reach out if you want to chat more about what is going on and how I may be able to help you navigate the transition. Hang in there! It’s tough but once you get on one nap it is really worth it!

  4. Hi Bonnie, thanks so much for the tips and help! We are going through the 2:1 transition now…… what to do if he does wake early from the 1 nap – say 50 minutes – how long to leave him before abandoning and moving bedtime earlier? Prior to this transition, I would always make sure he got the crib hour. Thanks!

    1. Hi Ashleigh! If he is upset, you can get him up at the hour mark. If he isn’t and it seems like he is calm and may go back to sleep, you can give him a little bit longer but if it becomes clear he isn’t going back to sleep I recommend getting him up and going with an earlier bedtime. Feel free to reach out if you need more help! Hope the transition goes smoothly for you!

  5. My daughter is only 10 months but I am having to wake her up from her first nap daily. She would easily sleep almost 3 hours if I let her. Is 10 months too early to transition to 1 nap? I am trying to understand the science.

    1. Hi Emily! 10 months is definitely on the very early end to transition to one nap but it isn’t unheard of. Your daughter would need to be able to handle between 4-6 hours of awake time between her sleep periods, which is typically where the issue is transitioning to 1 nap too early. If she is not ready to handle that wake time, she will likely get overtired which can cause night wake ups, early wake ups and short naps. If she is not ready to handle that wake time, I recommend continuing to wake her up, she will be ready to transition soon! If you have any more questions or want to chat more, please reach out!

  6. Hi Bonnie!
    Great Info on the transition. Our 14 month old has been transitioning to one nap for five days now. He started waking pretty early too, at around 5 30. He has been sleeping poorly at night for about a month and then started resisting his naps, which we took on the transition a bit earlier than we thought. From your experience does transitioning to one nap help to get him to sleep through the night? And how can you tell that the transition is too early? Thanks!

    1. Hi Laina! Transitioning to 1 nap does not usually result in sleeping through the night unless nap timing was the cause of the wake ups. Based on the information you provided, it is hard to tell if that was the cause or something else. The biggest thing with sleeping through the night is looking at how he falls asleep at bedtime. As far as if it is too early, if you find in the next week that he really can’t handle being awake for longer periods before nap 1(some longer periods happen in the second half of the day with a more gradual transition), he isn’t extending his naps past one sleep cycle, or it is further interrupting night time sleep. However, since you have started the transition and your little one is within the average age for transitioning, I typically don’t go back to 2 naps unless he is really getting severely overtired and not able to handle wake times. Hope that helps! If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out and we can chat more about what is going on!

  7. Hi Bonnie! Thanks for the info! My little girl is ready for this transition. We have been struggling with several middle of the night wakings. She will wake and start crying immediately, cry for about 1-2 minutes and go back to bed. This usually happens 1-4 times a night. And she was sleeping perfectly 7-7, but now it’s more like 7-5:45/6:30… Is this because we are trying to do two naps still? Do you think switching to one 2 hour nap might help or is there something else causing this?

    Thanks so much!

    1. Hi Mina! Without know a bit more about what is going on (age, nap schedule, other changes that may be going on in her life) it is hard to say for sure. But if she is 14-16 months, there is a good chance that getting her more awake time before bed (transition to one nap) can help get her night sleep back on track. If she just started showing signs that she is ready, I would give her a week or 2 to make sure she is ready and it isn’t something developmental that is causing the slight regression in sleep. Feel free to reach out if you want to chat more about the transition and the current issues you are seeing!

      1. Hello Bonnie! And thanks for the response! Yes, she is almost 14 months. We had a very consistent food and nap schedule (10-11:30, 2-3) and she was sleeping perfectly 7-7. About three weeks ago she started resisting her naps and was only sleeping randomly 45mins-1hour and 30. She also started waking up through the night and early in the am. No issues with going to bed. Because of all this, her schedule kind of fell apart and has been all over the place while I’ve tried to adjust things to work with her natural rhythm, but I think I may have gone down a rabbit hole because now I have no idea how to adjust for her to sleep well again. 🙁 and also because she wasn’t sleeping well/consistently during the day I just tried only laying her down at 12:30/1, which she is sleeping 1 hour for that. And keeping the 7-7 overnight. But she is struggling during the day and waking early (5:30/6)… she does have what looks like a molar coming through. So sorry for the long message. I’m a bit overwhelmed.

        1. Hi Mina! I’m so sorry to hear you are overwhelmed with how things are going. Sounds like she was ready for the transition to one nap. It is a challenging transition. I recommend moving nap back to 11:30 or so to see if you can get her sleeping a little bit longer. If she isn’t sleeping better within 2 weeks or so at the 11:30 nap, please reach out and we can chat more in depth about what is going on and how to get her back on track!

  8. Hi Bonnie
    This is a really helpful post. My guy is 14months and i think we transitioned a bit too early! We had 1 or 2 signs but perhaps not consistently for long enough. Had 1 or 2 days of good long naps and a 7pm bedtime, but more often than not its early nap 1 start and early finish (though generally sleeps 2hr) and so early bed pre 6:30pm. This morning he woke at 6am. Tried to push him to 11 for the nap but he was really tired and so was asleep by 10:40. Quite upset going for his nap. He slept until 12:40, Tried a cat nap but he would not sleep so did bed at 6:10. He was NOT happy at all where generally he loves bedtime but was asleep within minutes. Should i go back to 2naps? Thankyou

    1. Hi Tess! If you just started the transition within the last week or two, you can probably go back to two naps. If it has been longer, I generally recommend sticking with it because it can be a hard adjustment for his body clock. So I would focus on trying to get a cat nap in while he adjusts to the longer wake time in the morning. You can do a motion nap for the cat nap too if he isn’t going down in his crib. This helps push bedtime to normal time, allowing wake time to be normal wake up time, to help get to nap time easier. It can take 4-6 weeks to feel like you’ve got this transition down. Feel free to reach out if you want to chat more about what’s going on and if there are other strategies to use to get your little guy transitioning easier! Hang in there!

  9. Thanks for the quick response Bonnie. He woke at 5am this morning! We have gone back to 2 naps today and will see how this goes for another couple of weeks. My biggest problem is getting him to do the cat nap. He really resists it even if in the buggy or car. So we always end up with a 6 or 6:30pm bedtime resulting in the 5/5:30am start. If you cant get the catnap in, and end up with early bed/early rise, do you just try and push on through 11/11:30 and do 1 nap and hope that over the course of a few weeks it will settle?

    1. Hi Tess! I recommend giving it a few weeks at 2 naps again and then if the cat nap/2nd nap still isn’t going well push to 1 nap and stick with it for 4 weeks to get him on track. It can be tough but he will get there!

  10. My little one is 14 months next week. I am doing the 2:1 transition she is waking up really early 5amish usually awake 6-6:30/7:30. I am moving her first nap back by 15 mins every 3 days and bedtime is 7:30pm. She is refusing her second nap and keeps waking up really early. Can you please advise what to do until what time shall i keep moving the first nap before trying one nap and how long should her 1 nap be.

    1. Hi Sumiya! Those early wake ups are likely a result of overtiredness from the transition and refusing her second nap. I would try to get her first nap moved to about 11:30/12:00 as soon as you can to allow her to start extending her nap. Ideally, about 2-3 hours at this age. It can take a few weeks to get things back to normal with wake time and get her solidly on one nap. Hope that helps! Feel free to reach out to chat more if you are still struggling in a week or so!

  11. Hi there! This is super helpful. We’ve been at it with our 15 month old for about 3 weeks now. He is now getting to 12:15 and will not sleep more than an hour. Is this something that will correct itself with time or should I push the nap a little later in a few days to help this? He is SO cranky all afternoon, goes to bed around 6:30, and is waking early. I’ve come to terms with all of that but just needed a little extra support lol!

    1. Hi Lakita! This transition can take 4-6 weeks to feel like you’ve finally got things back on track. Typically at this age I keep nap somewhere between 11:30 and 12:15 so I would stay at 12:15 and give him a few weeks to start extending his nap. If you don’t see things progressing in the next few weeks and want some more support, please feel free to reach out and we can schedule a call to chat through things and make sure you have everything you need to get his nap on track!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *