The term “nap transition” refers to a time when your child is ready to drop a nap. For some parents, this can be really freeing, as more time is available to do other things and the parent doesn’t feel obligated to be home at nap times. For other parents, this time is dreaded (those nap hours are precious!) Either way, the day will inevitably come when your child decreases their daytime sleep.
I encourage parents to hold onto as many naps as possible for as long as possible. But, at some point, too much daytime sleep and sleep at the wrong times can disrupt overnight sleep and morning wake time as well. Knowing the signs that your child is ready to transition to fewer naps can help the process go as smoothly as possible.
Generally, we are looking at four nap transition phases:
4 naps to 3 naps: around 4 to 5 months
3 naps to 2 naps: around 8 to 9 months
2 naps to 1 nap: around 15 to 18 months
1 nap to 0 naps: 3+ years
It is important to consider that these are just generalized averages, and not set in stone. If you aren’t seeing signs that your baby needs to drop a nap- don’t do it! Reaching an age milestone does not necessary mean it is time to transition to fewer naps. In fact, removing a nap too early can cause baby to become overtired, which equals poorer quality sleep for the remaining naps and overnight.
Here are signs to look for at each phase, that may indicate that your child is ready to drop a nap:
Keep in mind that the frequency of naps can fluctuate from day to day for a few weeks as your child enters a nap transition phase. In other words, the child may take three naps one day, and two the next, with some variation (and that’s ok!)
Let’s talk more about each nap transition phase…
4 naps to 3 naps
This transition often occurs when baby is between 4-5 months old. This is the age when infant sleep starts to become more organized, and you may start to see defined sleep patterns. How will you know baby is ready to drop a nap? Most babies will begin to skip one of the naps, or take an increasingly long time to fall asleep for one of the naps. When you see baby fighting a nap over a period of time, it may be time to transition to fewer naps. Also, if you were using “wake windows” to determine nap times, by 5 months is a good time to shift away from that and use biological sleep waves (aka circadian rhythm) instead.
3 naps to 2 naps
This transition usually begins between 8-9 months of age. Often, it’s that third afternoon nap that baby will start fighting, may skip, or it may be short/disrupted. When this transition happens, it is likely that morning and midday naps will need to shift slightly later, and bedtime will need to shift slightly earlier.
2 naps to 1 nap
Around 15 months old, your child may show signs that s/he is ready to transition to one nap. The variability around this one is huge though- you might see signs at 15 months, yet some almost 2-year-olds are still sleeping great with two naps. So much variability! This is often one of the more frustrating transitions for toddlers and parents alike. Your toddler may start playing through the morning nap, or taking an increasingly long time to fall asleep. This can create a domino effect with the rest of the day, pushing afternoon nap later, and then bedtime later. While some parents aren’t bothered by a later bedtime, falling asleep too late and missing the body’s natural sleep wave (I’m talking circadian rhythms again) causes the child to get less restorative sleep. This could cause more night waking and an early morning wake time. When dropping down to one nap, we want to try to get that nap as close to noon as possible to start (ideally between 12:00pm-1:00pm). This can be too long of a stretch for some toddlers initially, so try shifting the nap slightly later in 15-minute increments until child is comfortable.
1 nap to 0 naps
This nap transition is often predetermined by school schedules and routines. Ideally, a child will keep napping until at least age 3 (preferably longer), but keep that nap around as long as it isn’t disrupting bedtime or nighttime sleep. If your preschool aged child starts taking a long time to fall asleep at night on days s/he naps, it may be a sign that the daytime nap should be dropped. While naps may be out, children this age (and their parents) still benefit from “quiet time” on their own. 45-minutes to an hour in their room to read, play quietly, or just relax (no screens) may be just what everyone needs to recharge for the afternoon ahead. When naps are removed entirely, parents should consider moving bedtime slightly earlier as well.