Updated: Feb 10, 2022
Did you know that every month for the first year of life that your little one’s sleep patterns are constantly changing? As sleep evolves, so does the need for more wake time during the day resulting in nap transitions, which often leaves many parents perplexed with how to go about adjusting their child’s schedule.
Babies and children require a great amount of sleep during the day and night, as sleep plays a vital role in growth, development, and cognitive functions. Children are undergoing developments at a more intense rate than adults, therefore, they require more sleep. This is largely why newborns, infants, and toddlers require naps during the day, as naps are foundational to forming complete and healthy sleep patterns and habits.
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As your little one ages, they are going to require less daytime sleep with improved, more consolidated overnight sleep.These changes often occur just when you’re beginning to find a good footing with your schedule than BAM, time to drop a nap. Let’s discuss the signs to look for that show your baby is ready to make a nap transition, as well as the best way to go about making the switch in the smoothest manner possible.
What Signs Should You Look For?
There’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ for nap transitions. Usually by 6-9 months most children will be ready for the 3-2 nap transition. Around 7-8 months your baby's awake time will naturally increase making it a good time to transition to two naps if you are seeing the signs. On average the awake time should be around 2.5 to 3 hours. The range can vary at this age, so it is vital to document your child's sleepy cues, so you can find the nap sweet spot for your child. As their body naturally increases the awake time and the naps lengthen out, this results in there often not being enough time in the day for that third nap.
One major indicator a baby is ready for the move, is when they are able to have two longer naps in the day along with the longer wake windows. This progression shows that your baby’s natural circadian rhythm is ready for the big change.
6:30am Wake Up
9:00-10:30am Nap 1
1:15-3:15p Nap 2
As you can see, there is no room in the schedule for a 3rd nap to happen without making bedtime later into the evening, which we know can result in early morning wakings if we try to put our little one down too late.
Before you make any changes though, you want to look for key items over the course of 7-10 days, as dropping a nap too soon can also cause major sleep disturbances resulting in an overtired baby and some early morning awakenings. The transition is not always obvious and easy for every baby. I highly recommend, writing down and documenting daily your child's sleep patterns, so you have the details for at least 7-10 days before you make the big move! Baby Connect is my go to app to document all information in real time.
Key items you need to look out for (over the course of 7-10 days) are:
Issues settling to sleep for a nap
Waking early from a nap
One nap baby settles well, but unable to sleep well for other naps
Issues falling asleep at bedtime
Unable to fit the 3rd nap in for the day
Playing or rolling around for long periods of time before dozing off to sleep
Early morning rising issues
Struggling to fall back asleep in the early morning hours
Ultimately, if you’re finding that you’re having to use all your tricks to get your baby, who was once napping and sleeping during the night well, to sleep, then it’s time to start looking at making the nap transition.
How To Handle The Changes:
The transition is much smoother when you have a baby that is able to have two solid, age-appropriate naps and no longer needs the 3rd nap to bridge the gap until bedtime.
If your baby is only able to have one longer nap, followed by a shorter nap then they may not be quite ready, as the wake window until bedtime might be too much of a stretch, resulting in bedtime battles and overnight issues.
If your baby is a habitual catnapper, they will also struggle to make the transition to 2 naps, as it often begins to affect their bedtime and nighttime sleep.
Babies who have been given the proper and age appropriate sleep foundations tend to handle sleep changes easier than babies that are missing those solid fundamentals.
When you’re ready to tackle the transition, do it slowly. There will be days when your baby requires that 3rd cat nap, early bedtimes, short naps, etc. so be prepared for this transition to take 1-2 weeks to be completed.
Shorten the Cat Nap: If your little one is still using the 3rd nap, shorten it from 30 minutes to 15 minutes for a few days as you make the transition to 2 naps.
Lengthen the Wake Windows: You want to do this slowly, 5-10 minutes each wake window so the 2nd nap ends 3-4 hours, pending the age of your child, prior to bedtime.
Prepare for Early Bedtime: You don’t want an overtired baby at bedtime so watching sleepy cues during this nap transition is very important. If naps were rough or maybe shorter than usual, bump up bedtime until you can work out through the transition smoothly.
Consistency is Key: Nothing helps a baby sleep better than consistency, especially when it comes to bedtime routines. Consistent sleep cues, for example a sound machine, dark environments, sleep sacks, etc. will help your little one settle to sleep for the night easier.
May the sleep stars be aligned properly, as you capture the right moment to move your baby from 3 to 2 naps! I also offer a nap transition package for when you are feeling a little overwhelmed about your child's sleep habits and just need some input and simple advice on what to do.