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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. Genevieve,

    I think you are right on track! It’s probably time to try for the one-nap transition. He’s a bit on the young side but it sounds like he’s making the choice for you!

  2. Marisa,

    I would give it a try and see what happens! 🙂 If a more consistent schedule will help your sanity, then it’s worth a try.
    My little one transitioned into one nap and she goes down at 10 or 10:30! I think it has everything to do with their sleep patterns. I have wondered if she is not a morning person and just can’t deal with mornings. 🙂 Maybe your little guy will surprise you and be able to handle the day with a nap at 10:00 too.

  3. Our son is 12.5 months, and for a good while he was sleeping and napping really well – falling asleep quickly, and sleeping well at night. But for the past 3 weeks he’s been fighting his afternoon nap like crazy and refusing it altogether every few days. When he does fall asleep in the afternoon, he ends up sleeping only 35-40 mins and waking up grumpy. The days he skips the nap he’s cheerful pretty much all the way through, though I can tell it’s too long before bed (because he ends up with only a morning nap). The past couple days I’ve managed to get him to take an afternoon nap by waking him from his morning nap after 45 mins, but he clearly hasn’t slept enough then, and ends up with less than 1.5 hrs of total nap sleep for the day. He’s also started having some night wakings (crying for 15-60 mins every night for the past week, when usually he either sleeps through or nurses once and puts himself right back to sleep.) Oh, and he’s been walking for a couple of months, so it’s not from that – though he is starting to talk more, which could be disturbing his sleep a bit. Even though he’s young, I’m thinking it might be time to attempt the transition. Do you think I’m reading the signs right?

  4. Jenna,

    Firstly, you did the right thing putting him down again by 9:30. The amount of sleep during the day is more important than the number of naps. So doing whatever you can do to get him closer to the total number of 2.5 hours (the average for his age) of daytime sleep is perfect. If that means more frequent naps, that’s okay. I wouldn’t wake him unless he’s pushing past 3 hours. His early waking is probably linked to the fact he’s too tired when he goes to bed at night because his naps are wonky. So just focus on getting to that magic 2.5 hour number during the day and see if that helps. There could be a lot more going on here, but I can’t tell because comments aren’t conversations. 🙂

    We do have a new program starting in May called “Super Sleeper” that will be giving parents sleeping tips for different ages, and also open the door to one-on-one coaching with certified Gentle Sleep Coach Amy Potts, if you feel you’d like someone to walk through the process with you. If that interests you, just go here to get on the notification list. Then I’ll email you when the program is launched. Hopefully this can help!

  5. My 17 month old has been in this transition for about 2 months now, way too long. He doesn’t fight the morning nap, but the afternoon. He wakes anytime from 5:30 am to 6:30. If he wakes up on the earlier side, he is exhausted by 9am, and we have no hope of pushing his morning nap (he falls asleep in his high chair). If he wakes up between 6/ 6:30, some days he is going down at noon, others around 11. Typically his bedtime is 7:30, but we adjust earlier on days he didn’t have an afternoon nap. I feel like we are all over the place and there is no consistency. Should I force one nap despite when he wakes up?? Thanks!!

  6. Jamie,

    Have to tried moving his bedtime up? I would start with putting him down at 6:45 instead of 7. Even just 15 minutes could help!

  7. hi. I have a 13 months old son who is going to daycare. He went for the first time when he became 12 months. They switch to 1 nap from 2 naps. He wasn’t ready for it. I tried to keep two naps (930/10 (1.5-2 hours) and 230/3 (1 hour)) at home so he can catch up his sleeps. It was successful and it wasn’t successful because 2nd nap it takes 15 minutes or longer for him to fall asleep.  So I changed his nap to 12pm. he sleeps 2-3 hours. He goes to bed at 7pm but he is tired before that. He wakes up one time over night (he tends to sleep all night with no wake up). I read your online that if hes overtired that it will cause him to wake up over night or/and wake up before 6. I don’t know what to do. Should I let him go bed at earlier but will that cause him confuse and will that cause him to wake up earlier before 6am? HELP!

  8. Hello Danielle,

    Things went well at first, and are now getting worse, but not horrible. He is almost 14 mo now and we have had days where he sleeps 2+ hours, but recently most naps have only been 1.5.  I feel stuck, and frustrated that I really don’t know what to do.  His mornings have also been getting earlier. So early morning, combined with short nap means we are barely making it to a 6pm bedtime, which then keeps the early morning cycle going. Two days recently he has had morning catnaps in the car (which is new!) and then a “later” (12:30/1pm) nap that I hoped would get him more on a 7p-7a schedule. But he just seems so tired, like he is behind on sleep, but I don’t know how to get him caught up.

    Today he woke up before 6am, I got him out at 6:30 and by 9:30 he was exhausted. So I did put him down and he fell asleep. Would I wake him up at 45 minutes to prep for a second nap? Or do I just let him sleep because he needs it? But then if its long and he fights taking a second one, then what?

    (I know this won’t be answered today, but just wanted to give an example of what my struggles are)  Thank you!!

  9. If she’s doing better with two naps, then just stick with that for several weeks. She just may not be ready, and that’s okay. Just make sure you’re catching her sleepy signs so she doesn’t get overtired.

  10. Lia,

    Sleep begets sleep, so it’s probably true that his nighttime sleep is being thrown off by the daytime sleep (and vice versa). I usually recommend starting with the nighttime sleep first and then moving towards naps – mostly because it’s the easiest. Start by working through the shuffle (my favorite of the methods) – here’s a walk through. Concentrate on that first, and then when that has improved you can work on nap coaching.

    For the nighttime weaning, decide how many times you want him to be up at night to eat (and your doctor has approved) and then cut down on the other feedings by 2 minutes (if he’s breastfed) or 2 oz if he’s bottle fed, then once you’re at 2 minutes/2 oz, drop it entirely and use the shuffle to help him get used to going to sleep.

    Do that for a week, and then if you’re still having napping trouble, I would recommend registering for my Napping Know-How webinar, it goes through EVERYthing. Hope these things can help, Lia!

  11. Jenna,

    I hope this was a case of getting the right information at just the right time. 🙂
    My 3rd and 4th born children have both been early “1 nappers”. It varies so much from child to child and, as you have already discovered, you can’t fight it! It’s better to work with their natural rhythms, right?!

  12. Andrea,

    I think you are right to suggest moving her to one nap. It sounds like she’s ready!

  13. Hello, very happy I found this article! My 12.5 mo son has never been a good napper always needing help to fall asleep, and since 10 months everyone has been telling me to try one nap. I knew he needed two though, once asleep he would stay down for 1.5-2 hours! Well, daylight savings happened, and that day he fought hard for his first nap, and completely refused the second. He then had an early (6:30pm) bedtime and slept until 7am (usually 6:15-6:30am). Then next day he completely refused his first nap, and slept 1.5 hours for the second. So today we are trying to go to one, cold turkey which I guess may not be right. He woke around 7am, and I put him down at 11:30. He was a little more fussy/clingy, but not miserable, and fell asleep quickly on his own, like he does at night. I plan on trying to soothe him if he wakes up early, as well as an early bedtime if needed. I didn’t plan or want to transition until closer to 15 months, but based on the article he seems to be meeting all the criteria. Thanks!

  14. So glad I found this and nice to hear other people’s experiences. My little one is 17 months next week – a lot of the time shes taking a long to time to go to sleep for her 2 naps (down at 9.30 am and 2pm), the naps can be very short – around half an hour a lot of the time. I wake her by 10.30 am if she isn’t awake to try and get the 2pm in but it’s hit and miss and then on occasion she hasn’t napped at all in the morning we have gone for a 12pm nap where she will do around an hour. She’s usually wakes between 6-6.30am and is down for the night between 6-6.30pm depending on the day. So everyday is different and even though I provide her with a very consistent routine she just seems to do what she wants. Shall I give her a go on one nap? She is prone to what are either overtired wakeups/night terrors in the night where she screams out half asleep but only for a few mins and settles herself back down and occasionally we’ll get pre 6am morning wakes but really I don’t think she can get much more tired on one nap when she’s only having two 1/2 hours. Any tips would be amazing! !

  15. I know this article is older but I stumbled across it in my search for help 🙂  I have a 14.5 month old who has been fighting his afternoon nap for the last month or so, with the exception of a sick week in the middle of that where he napped great.  His morning nap has stretched to 2 hours (used to be 1 hour 15 min) but he refuses to nap in the afternoon.  He’ll just play in his crib for 1 to 1.5 hours or he’ll fall asleep for little bits of time and then play again.  I’ve been trying to put him down earlier for bed but his nighttime sleep has gotten much worse.  I think he’s getting overtired from refusing his afternoon nap.  He used to wake once a night for a 20 min nurse between 2am and 5am but now he’s waking around 10pm to 11pm and sometimes 2am.  AND he’s waking 30 min to an hour earlier in the morning.

    I’ve tried to hang on to two naps because he’s on the young side and he’s not sleeping through the night yet.  I don’t know if he’s taking a long morning nap because he’s so tired from not sleeping much overnight or if he’s ready for only 1 nap.  Days that I’ve put him down for only 1 nap in the afternoon (busy mornings with older sister or church), he will only nap for 1 to 1.5 hours in the afternoon and cry when he wakes, telling me he’s still tired.  When I try to get him back to sleep he will have none of it.

    Is it time to transition to 1 nap, even if his overnight sleep is a wreck right now?

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