Most children will make the transition from two naps a day to one afternoon nap between 15 – 18 months. But how will you know that YOUR little one is ready for the change? This article, which ran in the August 2013 edition of Parents magazine, offers some excellent tips. I’ve summarized the key points for you at the end.
Look for the Signs
There are lots of ways your child may let you know his napping schedule needs tweaking. Some toddlers may take longer to nod off or become cranky when you try to put them down during the day. Others might sleep well in the morning and then resist the afternoon nap. Or your child might wake up earlier from both naps. You might also notice that when your kid misses his afternoon rest one day, he makes it to bedtime without melting down. “If you see consistent changes in your toddler’s sleep pattern for about two weeks, it may be time to transition to one nap,” says Kim West, a children’s sleep therapist and coauthor of The Sleep Lady’s Good Night, Sleep Tight.
Consider Your Options
Making the switch before your child is ready can lead to miserable days and a return to nighttime wake-ups, since overtired kids tend to sleep worse than well-rested ones. Before you decide to consolidate naps, see whether fiddling with your toddler’s schedule solves the problem, suggests West. If she takes a very long morning nap and then melts down in the afternoon, see if ending her A.M. snooze early makes her more cooperative for the second. If waking her up after 75 minutes doesn’t help, keep shortening it. However, don’t cut any nap to under 45 minutes; your child needs that much time to complete a sleep cycle.
“Right after Devlin turned 1, she spent her afternoon naptime crying, standing up, or tossing and turning,” says Dryden Watner, from Westfield, New Jersey. But without the second snooze, Devlin turned into a cranky mess and often had fitful nights. After a bit of experimenting, Watner moved her daughter’s afternoon nap later by an hour. Devlin stopped fighting it and was able to get the rest she needed to make it till bedtime.
Make Changes Gradually
Most toddlers go through a “one nap is too little, two is too many” phase, which can last from a few weeks to two months. Once you conclude that your kid is ready to make the switch, start steering him toward a single midday siesta. Begin by pushing the morning nap later by 15 minutes every day or two. Your ultimate goal is to start it shortly after lunch. By that time, your exhausted toddler should sack out for two to two-and-a-half hours. If your child is used to waking up after an hour, see if you can soothe him back to sleep. You can also use a white-noise machine, which may help him sleep longer. “If all else fails, this is the time to use one of your standby techniques, such as putting your toddler in the stroller or taking a drive, to ensure he gets the refresher he needs,” says West.
Smooth Rough Patches
During this transitional time, your toddler may be a bit sleep-deprived. So as you switch to one nap, try to ease her morning crankiness by establishing “quiet time,” during which you read or listen to soft music, says George J. Cohen, M.D., a pediatrician and author of American Academy of Pediatrics Guide to Your Child’s Sleep: Birth Through Adolescence. Consider moving her dinner and bedtime earlier to make up for the reduced daytime sleep. You should also be open to an occasional two-nap day when your child seems to need it.
If her sleep schedule at day care doesn’t align with the routine that works for your child at home, talk with the staff about coming up with a plan that works better for her, suggests West. You might even ask whether it’s possible to move your child to a different room at the center during rest time. But don’t stress out too much if the director is unable to accommodate you: Lots of children do perfectly fine following one sleep pattern during the week and a contrasting one on weekends. Gradually, the two will be in sync and you won’t need to worry about her napping routine again … at least until age 3 or 4, when she’s most likely to give up daytime sleep for good.
- Watch for consistent signals that your child is ready to make the switch:
- she sleeps through the night for 10 – 11 hours without waking
- she goes to sleep later and later for her morning nap
- she sleeps in the morning but resists her afternoon nap
- she takes a shorter morning AND afternoon nap
- Set aside the time to work on shifting your child’s nap schedule – you don’t want to tackle this on vacation or when going through extra family stresses such as a move or illness.
- Make small changes each day over a 7 – 10 day period. Shift the morning nap later and later until it starts between 12:30 – 1:00 p.m. You may need a short, late afternoon catnap to help her make it to her bedtime. It’s O.K. to use motion sleep to sneak in that last little nap.
- If she wakes up tired from her one afternoon nap, try to re-settle her back to sleep.
- Plan for an earlier bedtime while you are working on the transition.
- She will have occasional days where she still needs two naps. Watch for her sleep signs.
- Your goal: one afternoon nap that is 2.25 – 2.5 hours long.
It’s not unusual for this shift to take 2 – 3 weeks to settle into a routine. Do your best to be patient and consistent – and if you need some help along the way, give me a call!
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