When to transition from 2 naps to 1

By: Linda Szmulewitz, founder of Sleep Tight Consultants

Don't Fear the Nap Transition!

Nap transitions often are known for striking fear in the hearts of parents everywhere and never is this more true when your young toddler is transitioning from 2 naps to 1.  Never fear though, this information will guide you through the different scenarios to watch out for and talk you through how to navigate to your toddler’s new sleep schedule.

At what age should you transition?

What is often happening for children around a year old is that they are learning to walk.  This is great!  This is an important developmental milestone and your introduction to becoming the parent of a toddler.  There is a lot of brain activity that happens when children are learning and mastering large gross motor milestones such as walking.  This can make napping a struggle.  So if you put your 13 month old down for a morning nap at the normal nap time, but he just plays for the whole time and he is also just on the cusp of walking, this could be a result of the impending milestone and not an indication that he doesn’t need that morning nap anymore.

Ensure that your child has plenty of opportunity to practice his new skills during non-sleeping times. It can also be helpful to push naps a little later in order to increase the sleep pressure and ensure that your child, who has a lot running through his brain, is really ready to fall asleep when he goes into the crib.

If your toddler (under 15 months) is refusing naps, here is how to handle the situation:

Make sure naps are not starting before 9am and 2pm.  If they are happening earlier then this, start by moving them to these target times to see if this encourages napping again. 

If you are hitting 9am and 2pm, but your toddler still won’t nap, try to push them even a bit later.  They can even go as late as 10am and 3pm.  You may even find that you have to push the afternoon nap to as late as 3:30pm to ensure that it happens.

What if your babe just won't nap?

If, with later nap times, your toddler still won’t take both naps (especially if the afternoon nap is becoming very difficult to make happen), look at how long those naps are lasting.  Many toddlers LOVE their morning nap and will sleep for 2 hours in the morning.  At that point, he has had nearly all of the sleep he needs for the day so there is no sleep pressure left for the afternoon nap.  I would start by limiting the morning nap to not longer then 1 hour.  Yes, it is okay to wake a sleeping toddler.  This is one of the instances where this can be very important.  Sometimes this nap might even be as short as 45 minutes or even 15 minutes (more on that super short nap next).

If even with the morning nap shortened to 45-60 minutes, the afternoon nap is still a struggle, then I find that a 15 minute morning cat nap can be very helpful.  The afternoon nap is actually the more important of the two naps as this is the one that helps your toddler make it to bedtime without being overtired.  This is why it is essential to make the PM nap happen.  Many children are still tired for a morning nap though so the cat nap that starts no later then 10am can be helpful to “take the edge” off that morning exhaustion and enable your toddler to make it to a long nap starting around 1 or 1:30pm without being overtired.  Be careful not to let this cat nap go beyond 15 minutes as you want to avoid going through sleep cycles at this time.

Does your babe take early morning naps?

If the above shortening tricks don’t encourage an afternoon nap, then as a last resort, you can start to push the morning nap later and later, knowing that the afternoon nap will not happen.  Often this looks like a nap that happens from 11am to 1pm.  While a 2 hour nap is great, ending at 1pm leaves a very long stretch to bedtime.  You will want to start inching this nap later so that it eventually starts no earlier then noon. 

Some things to keep in mind about the 2 naps to 1 transition:

Afternoon Nap is a Must!

When your toddler moves to 1 nap, it needs to be an afternoon nap.  When only the morning nap happens, it produces a lot of overtiredness which can lead to an early morning wake up the next day.  Ideally, the nap isn’t starting before noon.  As your toddler moves closer to 18 months, that nap often starts around 1pm. 

Naps are Naps! Even if they're short naps.

When your toddler starts taking 1 nap, it isn’t always going to be a good nap.  It can take some time for your toddler’s brain to consolidate two shorter naps into one longer nap.  The bare minimum for one nap is an hour and a half.  If your toddler is waking after a shorter period of time, it can be worthwhile to give him some time to go back to sleep.  You may be wondering “How long should my toddler nap when down to 1 nap?”  Ideally, this nap is now around 2-2.5 hours.  Some toddlers will even take a 3 hour nap but this isn’t usually the norm.

Take it slow, no rush.

When you go to 1 nap, there may still be some 2 nap days in between 1 nap days depending on how your toddler seems in the morning.  This is okay, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing.  

Good luck adjusting to the new normal for your toddler’s sleep!