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

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