It’s no secret that babies of different ages and stages have different sleep needs. A newborn simply doesn’t have the awake time stamina for only two naps in a day. A 12-month old doesn’t need 3 naps. Sleep needs change drastically over the first few months and years of life, so today I’m here to help you sort through it all.
How do you know when it’s time for a nap transition? Signs to watch for.
For starters, it’s helpful to know roughly how many naps your baby should be taking for their age. See the different ranges here – you might want to save this graphic! If they aren’t in that range and sleep is a struggle, this might be your first sign that something is off.
We also want to rule out anything developmental:
-Is your child teething?
-Have they had a recent growth spurt?
-Are they working through milestone (rolling, sitting, crawling, pulling-to-stand, walking, etc.) mastery?
-Are they having a language burst?
-Have you recently introduced solids or increased or decreased milk or formula intake (this is obviously very age-dependent)?
-Are they possibly going through the four-month sleep regression?
-Have you recently traveled?
-Has your child started school or daycare?
-Have you brought a new baby home and your first is now an older sibling?
Big life changes can also affect sleep.
And finally, what used to be predictable isn’t anymore:
-Are early mornings suddenly a thing? (If they’ve always been a thing, we need to chat!)
-Is your baby taking longer than normal to fall asleep for naps or bedtime?
-Is your baby sometimes deciding to skip a nap?
-Is a nap shortening or lengthening when it used to be a mostly set amount of time?
I know, I know, it’s A LOT to think about.
Wait as long as possible to avoid overtiredness.
If you’ve been able to rule out that it isn’t developmental, and isn’t due to a big life change or recent travel, then it might be time to consider the transition! But, to totally be certain, we want to do a little experiment. We don’t want your child to be overtired, because that makes falling and staying asleep harder. Removing a nap too soon can backfire because you’ll be dealing with a crabby, overtired baby, and nobody wants that!
So, to make sure your child is 110% ready for the transition, we are going to conduct this little test. For two weeks, you are going to monitor your child’s sleep. If that unpredictability with the early mornings, nap refusals, or whatever it may be is occurring 10 out of those 14 days, that’s a good indicator that it is in fact time to drop one of the naps.
The 4-3 Nap Transition
While your baby is in the newborn stage (0-16 weeks) you should definitely be following the concept of “wake windows” or the time between one sleep and the next – nap to nap and nap to bedtime. Following age-appropriate awake windows will help with preventing overtiredness. A newborn can take upwards of 6-7 naps in a day. As they approach 2.5-4 months, you might start to see a little consolidation happening and your baby will be taking 4 naps per day. Along with that, you might see a bit more awake time stamina. It’s time to stretch the wake window! As you stretch the window, you’ll find that the fourth nap gets pushed later and later until it pushes bedtime too late. It’s now time to drop that last nap and move bedtime a bit earlier, following the new wake window.
The 3-2 Nap Transition
Your baby is now an infant! Their wake windows are a bit longer and they’re taking a solid three naps per day…likely two 1.5 hour naps and one 45-minute nap. You’ll kind of notice the same pattern you did when they dropped their fourth nap a month or two ago. Wake windows stretch as your child can handle more awake time, and the last nap continues to get pushed back, affecting an appropriate bedtime. If the third nap is a bit of a battle, a carrier nap is a great option for this time of day. You are again going to stretch those windows when you’re seeing signs that are no longer predictable, and bring bedtime earlier for a bit as you drop the third nap. Most babies transition to two naps between six and eight months old.
The 2-1 Nap Transition
It’s very common to see this transition occur between 12- and 16-months. You might possibly be caught off guard around 10 months when your baby starts having early mornings or bedtime is getting pushed later because of two solid naps during the day. I’d recommend capping naps to attain 2.5-3 hours TOTAL DAYTIME SLEEP to preserve that restorative nighttime sleep and fix the early morning and/or bedtime battle. Continue capping naps until you think your baby is ready for the full transition to one nap.
Many people think this is the hardest transition. Rightly so, it can take upwards of 4-6 weeks for some children to fully adjust to the new schedule. I’d recommend pushing everything back by 15-30 minutes every few days, following your child’s lead. Again, as bedtime is getting pushed later, you eliminate the second nap and implement an early bedtime, continuing to push the now one nap later in the morning, until it is happening right in the middle of your child’s day. As this nap consolidates into one long 2-3 hour nap, early bedtime may need to happen and be pushed back gradually until your child’s body is fully adjusted to the one-nap schedule.
The 1-0 Nap Transition
Just because your child is ready to totally and completely drop their nap (the day we as mothers dread!) doesn’t mean their body doesn’t need some downtime. Then this, my friend, is where you implement quiet time. That’s another topic for another day!
One laaaast tip…
When your baby has a solid sleep foundation, it’s a lot easier to identify when a nap transition is on the horizon, because what used to be predictable, simply isn’t anymore. Predictability around sleep helps you identify when something is “off” – whether it’s an illness, teething, or time for a schedule change! And if you’re like, “Paulina, nothing about my child’s sleep has ever been predictable,” then, lady, we need to chat!
I have clients who have no idea what is causing their early morning wakings or wonder why their baby only takes 20-minute naps. That’s what I’m here for. When we work together, I can identify the causes and support you in working through them. It’s also a lot easier to make these transitions with solidified sleep skills – then you have nothing to fear when the time for a transition occurs! Ready to overcome the uncertainty around your little one’s sleep? I’d love to chat! A simple 15-30 minute free sleep evaluation call can help me identify sleep issues and come up with a personalized plan to help your little one get those solid sleep skills they need to grow and thrive. What’s the next step? Visit my website, book a call, shoot me a text/email, and we can work on a more personalized program for your little one.
Sleep is a beautiful thing – I hear from so many clients that their only regret is not contacting me sooner. Trust me, no one has ever said, “Hmmmm…I really wish I would have waited just one more month before reaching out to you.” Come join the club!