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The ABC’s of Moving Your Baby to One Nap (Without Losing Your Mind)


Sometime between 15 and 18 months, your child will go through a major napping adjustment.

It’s a weird time.  Some days he’s a happy bubbly little guy that just doesn’t seem tired for his  morning nap – but MY GOODNESS what a monster he becomes around dinner time!

Or there are days where it seems he’ll fall asleep anywhere.

 

It feels like you’re gambling with your family’s happiness…and losing.

It’s around this time that the idea of “one nap” starts to pop up in your head.  Perhaps that’s the solution to the napmare you’re all living in?

Today I’m putting my Certified Sleep Coach bowler hat on (blame Downton Abbey) to offer you some pointers and tips on the process of transitioning a child from two naps down to a single, long, afternoon nap.

Obviously, though, we have to start with a very important basic question…

How Do You Know It’s “Time”
to Switch to One Nap?

As with most sleep coaching, timing is everything.  If you try to do this transition and your baby isn’t ready, it will backfire and you’ll be left with an extremely grumpy baby, nighttime wakeups, ulcers, and broken toes (from kicking things in frustration).

Here are the four tests I encourage my clients to use in determining whether or not “it’s time”.

Test #1:  Ageism.  It Happens.

If your toddler is younger than 15 months, he is not going to be ready for one nap a day.

I’m sure there’s an exception to this rule out there somewhere, but for most of you reading this, heed this warning:  Don’t try to make this transition unless he’s passed the other three tests below!  

Pushing any sleep coaching when a child isn’t ready is like diving into a pool 10-inches deep.  Disaster.  You see, when a baby is overtired, his brain stops making the “sleepy happy” hormone melatonin, and starts secreting the “Red Bull for Babies” hormone cortisol instead.

This gives him a second-wind.  (Sound familiar?  Adults do this too!)  This means he’s going to act wired and energized, but his body and brain is really exhausted.  The result is more wakeups at night and early wakening (pre-6am).

Pushing a child to a single nap before he’s ready will mean he’s producing more and more cortisol, leading to a lot of crying and wakeups down the road.

If you’re struggling with naps and your baby isn’t ready for this one-nap transition, be encouraged.  We can go over all kinds of napping strategies and tips, and hand-pick the ones that will work best with your baby’s temperament and your parenting style in a private Nap Session.

Test #2: Sleeping All Night Consistently

If your child is not consistently getting 10-11 hours of uninterrupted sleep at night, then it’s not time to transition to one nap. You can try, yes, but it’s going to be a disaster.  (The cortisol thing, remember?)

Instead of trying to move to a single nap, I would concentrate on helping him get those 10-11 hours of solid sleep at night instead.

This isn’t as daunting as it sounds.  If you’d like to do the DIY route, sit down with us for an hour and we can help you create a gentle nap plan.  Or, if you’d rather have some assurances, sign up for a full coaching package and we will work with you for 4-5 weeks to get everyone sleeping.

Test #3:  Wonky Morning Naps

Use a sleep log for 4-5 days and see if you notice a greater gap between the time you put him down for his morning nap and when he actually sleeps.

If it’s taking longer and longer for him to fall asleep for that first nap, that’s a good sign that he may be ready to stay awake longer in the morning.

…or you may notice that the morning nap is shorter.

…or you may notice the morning nap is longer, and then he’s refusing to take an afternoon nap.

My point here is that you’re going to need to keep a sleeping log for several days in order to spot these morning patterns.  Without seeing these things over a period of several days it will be hard to determine whether or not it’s time to transition.

Test #4: It Feels Like Groundhog Day

(If you haven’t seen Groundhog Day, you’re totally missing out on A) classic Bill Murray awesomeness and B) my joke. 😥  Get caught up to speed here.)

If your baby is older than 15 months, is sleeping through the night, and seems to be repeating the same wonky napmares every day for 10-14 days, I have a message for you.

*deep breath*

IT’S TIME.

“A” is for Adapt Slowly

Think of this process like Celebrity Rehab.  You’ll need to move slowly, to avoid a ton of *snapsnapsnap* Diva moments.

First, gradually start to push his morning nap back.

  • Day 1 -2:  11:00am nap
  • Day 3 -4:  11:30am nap
  • Day 5-6:  Noon nap
  • Day 6-8:  12:30am nap

The goal here is for the afternoon nap to start between 12:30 and 1pm and last around 2 – 2.5 hours.  He can sleep longer than 2.5 hours, but don’t let him sleep past 4 or 4:30pm, or it will mess up bedtime.

“B” is for Be Flexible

You will want to have a casual approach to the daily schedule, using your Little One’s cues and signals to help you.  Try to move bedtime up earlier (maybe closer to 7pm?) while you’re making this transition, to prevent making him overtired.

You also should be open to having an occasional “two-nap” day.  If it’s clear that he’s not going to make it until 12:30 one day, go ahead and put him down for a Quiet Time or nap at around 11.  Just limit any morning nap to 45 minutes, max.

“C” is for Call for Help
(If You Need It)

If your toddler goes down for a nap just fine at 12:30, but wakes after only an hour, you’re going to need to go back in and try to soothe him back to sleep.  (He won’t be able to make it to bedtime without hitting the overtired-cortisol wall.)

If you’re not sure how to do this, I would recommend signing up for a private Napping Session.  We will go over a variety of sleep strategies for you to choose from, and then help you write up a very specific plan on how to gently coach him back down for a longer nap.

If he’s only going to nap once during the day, it’s important for that nap to be a good one! Otherwise you may find yourself with multiple wake-ups at night, and perhaps a pre-6am wakeup call.

Is Your Baby in Daycare?

There are two common questions that pop up usually around this point from parents with children in daycare.

What if daycare insists he takes one nap and he’s not ready?

This is a common issue.  The first thing I would suggest is to talk to your provider about possibly moving your baby to a younger age group until he’s ready to move to a single daytime nap.

If that’s not an option, than I would perhaps try to slip in another nap for him at the end of the day, perhaps around 3:30 or 4pm for about 45 minutes.  Then put him to bed for good around 8pm.  This may totally backfire!  You’ll have to test it and see what happens.

Worst case, you can always concentrate on giving him two naps on the weekends, to try to catch up from the week.

What if my child is only in daycare part of the week?

I would try to synchronize the afternoon nap at home with the time they usually put him down at daycare.  (Assuming it’s between 12 and 1pm.) This way his internal clock will stay in sync.

How is Your Switch to One Nap Going?

Have you tried these ABC’s?

How are they working for you?

Or, if your child has already gone through the two-to-one nap transition, what suggestions would you give parents who are stuck in the midst of it?

 

Have You Read These Yet?

 

 

 

 

76 thoughts on “The ABC’s of Moving Your Baby to One Nap (Without Losing Your Mind)

  1. Hello,

    I’m so grateful for this article! My daughter is 15 months old. She’s been showing signs of readiness for about a month (refusing more and more of her afternoon naps, and now fighting her morning nap as well) She sleeps through the night consistently as well.  I’m now giving in and starting the transition to one nap. She was previously napping at 9:30 am and at 2:30 pm, so I’ve started by putting her down around 11:30 for the past few days. She seems exhausted by then and goes to sleep quite easily, but has been awake by 1:15 each day. That is clearly not enough sleep (right??) and she has been super cranky in the afternoons and evenings.

    I’ve tried just letting her stay in her crib in hopes she will go back to sleep but it hasn’t worked. If I go in there she is so excited to see me that there is no way she will go back down. I’m not sure what to do and I’m starting to doubt myself in terms of making this transition, despite all the signs of readiness being there.

    Any tips on how to make her nap longer?

    1. Marissa, looks like your baby is caught in the middle of this tough transition period. I would consider adding a shorter nap (45 min – 1 hour) late in the afternoon, perhaps around 3:30. This should help her avoid becoming overtired before bedtime. If that doesn’t work, or if you still have questions, consider setting up a personal Sleep Session and letting us talk with you on the phone to come up with a workable plan. We’ve got plenty of tools in our toolbox to discuss with you. Hope this can help!

  2. My little guy just turned one. He is an awesome sleeper! Two naps have seem to be our sweet spot. Waking up at 7am, first nap at 10 and second nap around 230/3, and bedtime by 8pm. He seems to be refusing his second nap like crazy. He will just lay in his crib but will still be awake by 4 and then I feel like that’s too late for him to fall asleep. So we go get him but then he be going to bed around 6 or 630 and wakes up early.

    I am slowly trying to get him to push his morning nap later. For the last couple days it’s been 11-1230 But his then starts to act tired by 3:15 and have tried to offer second nap but again lays on crib and fights it and will be going to bed by 630.

    Are we on track for transitioning to 1 nap? Is it ok to push morning nap? It seems if he goes to be early he wakes up early and then we are back to trying for 2. I am lost with this one!

    1. Hmmm… This is a tough one, Amanda. Are you making the nursery as dark and boring as possible? It’s hard to give really good napping advice in a comment because there are just so many variables I don’t see. I’d want to know what you’re doing to help him fall asleep, how long that’s taking, what happens when he wakes up, what you do when he’s not going to sleep, what HE’S doing when he doesn’t want to sleep, etc. etc. All questions best answered as we talk back and forth – letting me really get to know his unique personality and your parenting style.

      Amy and I would love to help you extend that 2nd nap for him a little while longer – I really do think he’s a tad too young to switch to only one nap a day every day. That can really make him too tired at bedtime – causing earlier waking, etc. etc. – exactly everything you mentioned. Not sure if you could swing it, but my Certified Gentle Sleep Coach partner Amy would love to talk with you on the phone for an hour or so and help you create a napping plan that everyone can do well with. She would discuss with you different techniques to extend naps, and you could pick the one that you think would fit with his personality best. They are called Sleep Sessions. We’d love to get to the bottom of things with you! xox

  3. My 17 month old is ready to transition to one nap. She took two naps perfectly until about 3 weeks ago. She has started fighting her afternoon nap and bedtime almost daily. So I’ve tried transitioning to one (slowly adjusting) however she then treats bedtime like a nap. She will go down early (like 6pm even!) and she’s super tired, and she will sleep for 1.5 hours and then wake up and stay up for another 4-5 hours!!! And not go back to bed until after midnight and then wake up at 5am!!! Normally she wakes up at 6am but she’s been waking up earlier too. So on these days I give her 2 naps. She fights the afternoon one but ends up taking it because she’s up so early. But what should I do about the – treating the early bedtime like a nap – issue while transitioning her to one nap?? Thanks!!!

    1. Amanda,

      This is a really difficult transition period for most babies. My advice is to do exactly what you’re doing – go to an every-other-day format until she gets a little older. You could also slip in a very short catnap some days, at perhaps 4:00. Just for 45 minutes to an hour. This can help her avoid going to bed to exhausted (and then perhaps waking up too early as a result). If you’d like more help with these napping issues, try having a Sleep Session with Amy. It’s a one-hour brainstorming planning session with Certified Gentle Sleep Coach Amy Potts. You talk through everything, create a plan together, and then you can implement the plan later in the week. Click here to learn about these Sessions.

  4. Hi there,

    My son has just turned 15 months and has always been a great sleeper. 7pm-7am and two naps a day.

    He’s started waking at 4am or 5am and just laying in his cot rolling around and chattering, not crying. He takes a while to fall asleep at night and for his nap. And he’s getting quite tired in the day and most days he’s not going for his second nap.

    There’s a lot of changes in his life at the moment and we’re not sure what is the main issue:

    1) He’s just started at nursery (3 days a week) and cried at drop off for the first 2 weeks, but doesn’t anymore.
    2) He’s of the age where moving to one nap could be a possibility, however he’s often pretty tired by 11 because of the early wake ups.
    3) He’s also got his canine teeth coming through. The top two are through and the bottom two are nearly through.
    4) He’s just started walking.

    Is he waking early because he’s overtired? If so, we need to get this one nap working despite the early waking?
    Or is it separation anxiety, it seems weird if it is because he’s not crying when he wakes, but the timing with going to nursery is quite a coincidence.

    Any ideas or help would be great as we’re getting pretty tired now and have no clue what to do.

    – Richard

  5. Hi Heather!

    My almost 17 month old twins are ready for one nap as they don’t seem very tired for the 10 morning nap anymore. The problem is when I have tried to push it back and they go down say around 12/1230 they nap only for 45 min- 1.5 hours. How can I get this one nap to be longer? Consistency with the schedule? Thanks so much!

  6. Thank you for this website. I can’t tell you how often I’ve visited throughout my baby’s first year! She is now 15 months. She has never been a great sleeper, but I can’t seem to figure out her nap situation right now. I’ve been keeping a log continuously since she’s been born, especially now due to food allergies.

    So right before she turned 15 months, she took a 3 hour nap for a couple of days, so those days she only took one nap and would go to bed 6:30/7 and wake 6am.

    She has flipped back and forth since then, most days being 1 nap. Problem is, she wants this nap to start at 10am, waking anywhere between 12:15-1pm, resulting in one nap and bedtime by 6:30/7pm, or if waking at 11:30am, resulting in 2 naps, bedtime 7:30/8pm. I never let second nap go past 5pm.

    I’ve tried to make consistent bedtimes, but it changes depending on naps, and her wakeup times varies from 5:30-6:30 am, most days 6am. She sleeps 10/11 hours at night.

    I’ve tried to push her nap start time later, thinking she’s ready for one nap, but she’s often yawning at 9am, after waking at 6:30am. But I don’t put her to nap until 10am, and let her wake time determine if it is a 1 or 2 nap day. She falls asleep on her own since 8/9 months.

    Just looking for some guidance in terms of naps and bedtimes. With her nap at 10, I often feel like her lunch and dinner is squeezed in a shorter time frame so I can get her to bath and bed not too late from her wake time.

    1. Hi Ella!
           GREAT question. Your daughter is right at the most common age of going down to one nap a day permanently. She is trying to tell you that she’s ready for that by sometimes being able to skip her morning nap and make it happily through the day with just one afternoon nap.  During this transition from two to one nap a day, babies will OFTEN go back and forth for awhile. This is very normal so don’t let it confuse you. You are doing a GREAT job and it sounds like her bedtime is still close to consistent. This will even out as her transition to one nap a day completes. In the mean time, to help your meal schedule and aid in keeping a consistent bedtime, make sure that you wake her from morning naps that are too long, then watch for her sleep cues after lunch time to see when she is ready to go back down.
      Hope this is really helpful! Take good care and good job!! Amy

  7. I have a 17 month old who used to go down quickly for naps, and nap about 30 minutes in the morning (an hour if I’m lucky), an hour+ in the afternoon. The past week he has started fighting the morning nap – this morning he took an hour and fifteen minutes to fall asleep, and then only took a 25 minute nap! He wakes up grumpy after most of his naps. He goes down right away for the afternoon nap though. He wakes up around 5:30-7 and goes to bed at 7:30-8, waking up once in the night to breastfeed. I did start weaning him  – it’s day 6 of no breastmilk at naptime. He seems tired, rubbing his eyes (after only 2-3 hours of being up in the morning) so I’ve been putting him down for a morning nap but the way he’s been fighting it, I’m wondering if he’s ready to go down to one nap. Also, sometimes he wakes up at 4:30-5:30 and only goes back to bed if I breastfeed him… how do I get him to sleep the extra hour or so? Thanks!

  8. So my 12 month old goes to daycare.  They only give him one nap and it is usually only one hour.  I have tried to give him another nap around 3:30 but it has not been working lately.  He fights it and it’s just too difficult to get him to nap.  Plus he wakes up cranky each time.  These past few days he has been waking up at 5:30.  His bedtime is 7.  Do you suggest I start the bedtime sooner?

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