Updated: Jun 4
As a parent, you look forward to the day when you can only put your baby down for one long afternoon snooze instead of trying to schedule your day around two naps. But how do you know when they are ready?
This article will explore the ways to tell when your baby is ready to drop from two naps down to just one, so you can all make the most of your day.
In this article:
The importance of sleep for children
1. Nighttime sleep
After the first couple of months—when they sleep round-the-clock!—babies will begin to get the majority of their sleep at night.
Nighttime sleep plays an important role in your child's development and is a vital part of keeping them healthy, both physically and mentally. Here are some of the many ways that sleep affects your child’s health.
Physical health and growth
Getting enough sleep is necessary to ensure that your child has enough energy throughout the day to be physically active, which is essential to their physical health.
Children who aren’t physically active enough due to lack of proper rest are at increased risk of obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
Sleep is also necessary for your child’s physical growth and development. It's when most of their human growth hormone (HGH) level is released into their bloodstream. HGH is vital to your child's growth, but it also helps their body heal and repair itself and regulates their metabolism.
Immune system health
Your child needs plenty of sleep for their immune system to function properly. Lack of sleep can cause your child to get sick more frequently because their body will be less able to fight off the viruses to which they will inevitably be exposed at school, daycare, playgroups, and other activities with other children.
Mental and emotional health
Good sleep is necessary for emotional regulation in children of all ages.
When toddlers and preschoolers don’t get enough restful sleep at night, they may be unable to process overwhelming emotions. This can contribute to outbursts or tantrums during the day.
Babies will also usually be more fussy and irritable when they get insufficient nighttime sleep.
Quality sleep helps your child’s brain develop memory recall functions, which are critical for learning new things and remembering facts.
Sleep is also the time when your child’s brain sorts through and stores information, replaces chemicals, and even solves problems.
To learn more about why sleep is so critical, check out 6 Things to Do to Help Your Baby Stop Fighting Sleep.
2. Daytime sleep
Although babies older than a couple of months will get more of their sleep at night, naps are still critical to their health and development.
Naps provide many of the same benefits as nighttime sleep, but also have other important functions, including:
Growth and development
Naps give your child an opportunity to have restorative sleep during the day. The sustained energy that naps provide will help your child be more alert and energetic so they can interact with and learn from their environment.
These interactions assist in your baby's physical, cognitive, social, and language development.
To read more about how your child learns and develops, see Holistic Approach to Child Development: The PROE Framework.
Restorative daytime sleep also helps to regulate your baby's mood and prevents them from becoming as fussy.
A well-rested and more alert child will be better able to avoid accidents and injury—for example, injuries caused by falling or bumping into objects.
How much sleep your baby needs
Typical baby sleep and nap guidelines
The following table lays out the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommendations for how much sleep, on average, children need during their first 2 years.
Your baby may sleep more or less than this amount and be perfectly healthy and developing at the expected rate.
As the above table shows, your child's total sleep should include a number of naps, depending on their age.
During their first 2 years, they will periodically drop a nap until they are taking only 1 afternoon nap per day.
If you have any concerns about the amount of sleep your child is getting, consult with your healthcare provider.
A "wake window" is the amount of time that a baby is awake in between periods of sleep, either naps or bedtime.
When your child is a newborn, their wake time will generally be quite short. As they get older, they will need a longer wake window to be tired for their next sleep time.
By the time your child is ready to transition to one nap, they will be able to stay awake for five to six hours before needing to recharge their little battery.
Why do babies drop naps?
As your little one grows, their sleep patterns will naturally change.
Naps that were once a vital part of their routine may become shorter and less frequent as they need less total sleep over the course of the day and become more active and interested in the world around them.
This is completely normal and often a sign that your baby is thriving!
First to go is usually the morning nap, around 12-18 months.
The afternoon nap tends to stick around a while longer and provides valuable rest and rejuvenation for your increasingly busy toddler.
By 3 to 4 years old, your child may be ready to give up napping entirely.
Just keep in mind that every baby is different and will go through their own unique nap journey, so there isn't a hard-and-fast timetable for when naps should be dropped.
Instead, look to your baby's sleep cues and behavior for guidance about their optimal napping schedule.
Signs that your baby is ready to drop a nap
Indications that your baby may be ready to drop a nap include:
Your baby consistently experiences shorter naps or early waking from naps.
Your baby takes longer to fall asleep at naptime or resists taking a nap.
Your baby can stay awake for longer periods (wake windows) without growing fussy.
Just remember that every baby is unique and these signs are just a general guideline. Some little ones may give up naps earlier or later or need more or less sleep. Be attuned to your baby's sleep behavior and adapt their nap routine as appropriate for them.
Transitioning to one nap
At some point in their second year, it will likely be time for your baby to drop their second nap.
When do babies drop to one nap?
The exact age varies by child, but babies typically transition to one nap when they are between 12 and 18 months old.
Most babies make this transition by dropping their first nap (usually a morning nap).
Keep in mind that factors such as sickness, variations in routine, and achieving developmental milestones like learning to walk or talk can all impact the frequency and duration of naps and affect when a child drops a nap.
Transitioning to one nap is often a gradual process that lasts for a few weeks or even a couple of months before your baby settles into a new sleep schedule.
While your baby is in the midst of the nap transition, they may take shorter naps, take longer to fall asleep or resist naps, and even occasionally skip naps. They might also take a longer nap in the afternoon. These are all normal results of their changing sleep needs and should resolve once they settle into taking one longer nap per day.
Just remember to be flexible during this period—making any changes to a baby's schedule can be a delicate process! If your baby seems to still need two naps, don't rush them into dropping one. Equally, don't push them to take two naps if they are ready to switch to one.
Tips for making the one nap transition
Nap transitions can be challenging for both baby and parents! The following tips can help the process go more smoothly for everyone:
1. Transition gradually
Although it is certainly possible to drop a nap cold turkey, most babies will sleep better and be more cheerful if you make a more gradual transition.
You can do this by pushing back the start time of your baby's morning nap by 15 to 30 minutes every week or two.
So if your baby was taking their morning nap at 9:00, try moving it back to 9:15. The next week, move it back to 9:30.
You may need to temporarily push back the time and/or shorten the duration of your baby's second nap to compensate for the later morning nap.
Eventually, they will stop taking an afternoon nap altogether once the morning nap is moved late enough.
2. Lengthen your baby's midday nap
Once your baby has switched to one nap in the middle of the day or early afternoon, make sure that they are napping for enough time.
Most toddlers need a nap of approximately 1.5 to 2 hours. Some may even sleep for 3 hours!
3. Have a naptime routine
A simple and consistent naptime routine can get your child used to napping at a slightly different time and help them fall asleep more easily.
This routine does not need to (and shouldn't!) be as long or complicated as their bedtime routine, but it will likely share certain activities, such as reading a book and singing a short but calming song.
4. Adjust bedtime if needed
When your baby is taking only one nap, they will have a longer wake window between that nap and bedtime.
At least for the first few weeks of the new routine, many children will be very tired by evening.
You should watch for your child's sleep cues and consider adjusting their bedtime if they seem to need it.
Also keep in mind that taking only one nap will probably mean less total daytime sleep. You may also need an earlier bedtime to ensure that your child is still getting enough sleep for their growth and development.
5. Be patient and flexible
Any changes to a baby's schedule can take time! Be patient and don't expect your child to adjust overnight.
You might need to tweak your baby's schedule a few times to find the timing that works best.
Also keep in mind that the same schedule might not work for every day. On particularly busy days or if they are sick, your child still might need a second nap, nap for a longer time, or need an earlier bedtime.
Sample one nap schedule
Every baby is different and will flourish with their own particular schedule. However, the following one nap schedule may give you some indication of what your child's day might look like:
You'll see that this example has wake windows of approximately five to five and a half hours—this gives you and your baby lots of time to play, do activities, or go places.
Again, this schedule may differ by 30 minutes to an hour or more based on when your baby wakes in the morning and their own individual needs and preferences.
FAQs about baby naps
Q: How can I tell the difference between nap transition readiness and the 18 month sleep regression?
This can be tricky! Both the 18-month sleep regression and readiness to drop to one nap can cause disruptions to your baby's sleep patterns.
Sleep regressions are common for babies and young children, even those who normally sleep well. These generally occur during a time of significant growth and development. During a sleep regression, your child might take longer to fall asleep, wake more frequently during the night, skip naps, or take shorter naps.
The timing of sleep regressions may vary by child, but in general, many children go through a sleep regression around 18 months old.
Some ways to distinguish between the 18-month sleep regression and nap transitions include:
1. Child's age: If your child is around 18 months old, their sleep disruptions might be caused by the 18-month sleep regression. If they are more than a month or so younger, they are more likely showing readiness for a nap transition.
2. Mood and behavior: Sleep regressions can make your child more irritable and clingy. A child who is ready for a nap transition is less likely to be unusually fussy when they are awake.
3. Nighttime sleep: A child may wake up more frequently at night when they are going through a sleep regression. Nap transition readiness is less likely to have an effect on your baby's nighttime sleep.
4. Bedtime: The 18-month sleep regression might cause your baby to fight bedtime or take longer to fall asleep. Nap transition readiness is more likely to cause your baby to fall asleep earlier or sleep for a longer period.
If you are still uncertain if you should transition your baby to one nap, try tracking their sleep patterns for one or two weeks. This will show you if there are any consistent changes in their sleep, which will help you decide if they are experiencing a temporary sleep regression or are ready to drop a nap.
Q: Is nine months too young to transition to one nap?
Yes, except in rare circumstances nine months is too young to transition to one nap. Most babies are not developmentally ready to transition to one nap until around 12-18 months of age. At nine months, babies typically still require two naps to meet their sleep needs.
If you try to transition your baby to one nap when they are too young, they will generally become overtired and have trouble sleeping later in the day. Having sufficient daytime sleep, on the other hand, will help them sleep better at night.
Every baby is different, so don't be discouraged if your little one takes longer to adjust to a new nap schedule than you anticipated. Above all, have patience and be flexible. Adjusting schedules can take some time, but rest assured that eventually you'll get into a routine that works for the whole family—at least until it's time to drop that final nap!
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