Moving to one nap a day

I don’t usually use this blog as a forum to give advice on naps and specific schedule items, but I see this one come up so often, I thought I would address it here. When our children drop the morning nap, it marks a shift in the child’s development. Dropping the morning nap is a big milestone in the lives of many parents of toddlers. Yet it’s almost one of the most frustrating. Many Babywise parents don’t know how to drop the nap without affecting baby’s sleep too terribly.

Here’s how the situation typically plays out. Baby is napping well and is able to overcome teething and various disruptions without too much trouble. For the most part, things have been going well for quite some time. Then suddenly, baby stops falling asleep for his afternoon nap. He’ll play in his crib for the whole nap, or he’ll go down fine but wake up after just 45 minutes. Mom gives it a day or two before deciding that something is going wrong. She knows that baby needs his afternoon nap and he seems to nap so well in the morning that she’s a little dumbfounded.

It’s true, these babies would nap a couple hours every morning if left to their own devices. But mom knows that there’s no way baby can go from late morning until bedtime without turning into a monster. The afternoon nap must be saved!

Before I give you my advice on dropping a nap, let me explain how I would not do it.

Don’t #1: Get out in the morning

Some say that the best way to preserve the afternoon nap is to cut out the morning nap entirely, cold turkey. To avoid a cranky baby in the morning, you should go out. Run errands. Take baby to story time at the library. Whatever. Just get out. It’s true, that getting out will help keep baby alert enough that he won’t get as cranky as he would at home. But still, it deprives the child of sleep.

Don’t #2: Every other day

Another approach is to allow baby to have a morning nap every other day. It’s true that this could help baby drop the morning nap, but the problem is it still deprives the child of sleep. By allowing him the nap every other day, you are depriving him of sleep and then letting him catch up on sleep on the days you allow it. His sleep is not on an even keel. The other problem with this approach is that it’s still likely that baby will not nap well in the afternoon on the days he takes a morning nap.

Don’t #3: Early bedtime

One idea to drop the nap is to let baby nap in the mornings and then do an earlier bedtime to compensate for the lack of sleep in the afternoon. Mom gradually moves the morning nap later and later while doing an early bedtime. Eventually, the morning nap becomes an afternoon nap. There are two problems with this approach. First, mom is messing with both naps and bedtime. There’s no need to mess with bedtime (if you’ll finish reading this post). Second, baby is still cranky and overtired until the transition process is complete.

My advice: Shorten the morning nap

When you’re sure that baby is ready to drop the morning nap and that the afternoon nap disruptions aren’t due to anything else (noise, teething, etc.), start shortening the morning nap. For this approach to work, it’s important to know your baby’s optimal wake time. When I did this with Lucas, his wake time was 2 hours. I realize that not all babies can go to sleep after just 2 hours, which is fine. The key is knowing what your baby’s optimal wake time is. It’s different for every child.

Before his afternoon nap disruptions, Lucas would usually nap for 1.5 hours in the morning and 2 hours in the afternoon. When I knew that nothing else was causing the problem, I started waking him up after one hour of sleep in the morning. I would allow him his usual wake time of 2 hours and then put him down for his afternoon nap. This meant that his afternoon nap started 30 minutes earlier, but it worked because he was still getting used to a shorter morning nap.

I continued allowing him a one-hour morning nap until his afternoon nap was again being disrupted in some way. I let him tell me when he was ready to shorten the nap even more. So then I started waking him up after 45 minutes. Again, I would put him down after 2 hours of wake time. Throughout the transition, I would let him sleep as long as he wanted to in the afternoon and I never messed with his bedtime.

After a few months of a 45-minute morning nap, we reduced it to 30 minutes. After a few months of that, we ended up going on vacation and it was the perfect time to drop the morning nap altogether. If we were home, I might have allowed a 20-minute catnap, but it also became apparent to me that he would have done fine without the morning nap entirely.

Bear in mind, this is not the fastest way to drop the morning nap. We started shortening the morning nap when Lucas was about 14 months old. He didn’t drop it entirely until he was almost 23 months old. Did I mind? Not in the least. Would I have minded a cranky baby all morning or afternoon? For sure. Would I have minded difficult bedtimes due to an overtired baby? Of course.

This gradual approach ensures that baby still gets the sleep he needs while allowing for an easy transition to drop the nap.

Schedule examples

To spell it out more clearly, here’s how our schedule looked during the transition.

Transition months 1-3

Morning nap: 10:00-11:00

Afternoon nap: 1:00-3:00-ish

Night sleep: 7:00pm-8:00am

Transition months 4-6

Morning nap: 10:00-10:45

Afternoon nap: 12:45-2:45-ish

Night sleep: 7:00pm-8:00am

Transition months 7-9

Morning nap: 10:00-10:30

Afternoon nap: 12:30-2:30-ish

Night sleep: 7:00pm-8:00am

You’ll recognize that the time between Lucas’ afternoon nap and bedtime got longer and longer. He handled this well. I realize, however, that some might not. The alternative is to keep the afternoon nap at the same time regardless of the child’s optimal wake time. There is something to be said for babies who are used to falling asleep at the same time every afternoon no matter how the long the morning nap was.

Finally, be sure baby is waking up at the same time every morning. No matter the method, the nap transition will not go well at all if you allow baby to sleep in every morning to compensate for a lack of sleep. The afternoon nap is where you will allow him to sleep as long as he needs.

Questions?

Comments

  1. Jennifer says:

    What are your thoughts if neither nap appears disrupted (morning nap about 2 hours and afternoon nap about 1.5)? The problem I am having is that the afternoon nap happens so late in the afternoon that bedtime becomes very late. Our schedule looks something like this:
    Wake 7-7:30
    Nap 10:30-12:30
    Nap:4-4:30- 5:30 (I usually wake him up and he is cranky for a few minutes then pleasant)
    Bed: 8:45

    I feel that a bedtime of 8:45 is too late, especially since he is getting up at 7-7:30. However, he is not interested in taking his nap any earlier or going to bed any earlier. He is pleasant for his waketimes, so I just don’t know what to do. Do I stick w/ the two naps b/c he is sleeping or try to transition to one nap so he can get more nightime sleep? He is only 9.5 months old.

  2. Maureen says:

    As I started reading, I was going to tell you to shorten the morning nap, but 9.5 months is way too early! Are there any real problems with your schedule or do you just feel like it’s too late? If it works for the family and if he’s sleeping and is generally pleasant, I wouldn’t change it. It is a late bedtime for many, but at 9.5 months, you’re still sort of in that transition where babies nap almost as much as they sleep at night. If I were to change anything, I might shorten the morning nap with the hope that his afternoon nap will be longer. It’s more typical for the afternoon nap to be longer than the morning. I also see that you have a 3-hour wake time in the morning, but 4 hours in the afternoon. You could try to move the afternoon nap earlier which would allow you to have an earlier bedtime. But if I were you, I probably wouldn’t change anything for now. Let him show you that he needs a change when he starts having a hard time going down or doesn’t sleep as well.

  3. Hi, we’re struggling with the one nap transition! My son didn’t have his pm nap disrupted (well it did get shorter, but not dramatically) as much as he just started literally refusing the morning nap all together. He shortened himself to 45 minutes for a month, then wouldn’t fall asleep for it. I tried moving it later but he still wouldn’t fall asleep for it – not until it’s at least 11 am or 11:30 am. But then he’ll only sleep for 1.5 hours, so he’ll never make it to bedtime. Do you think I should try waking him after just 45 minutes or one hour at 11 am and putting him down again for a pm nap? He’s on a 7am-7pm schedule and previously took naps at 9:30 and 1:30, he had 3 hours waketime after his morning nap..

    Thanks!!!!

  4. Hi Jennie,

    How old is he? If he’s any younger than 16 months or so, I would try to keep the two naps. It’s like you say that he can’t make it to bedtime. If he can do 3 hours of waketime, I would put him down for the morning nap at 10am. Then wake him up after 45 minutes. Then you can put him down for his afternoon nap at 1:45 (3-hour wake time). Assume he sleeps for 2 hours, he’s up at 3:45. That leaves 3.25 hours of waketime until bedtime. Do that consistently for 5 days or so. If it’s still not working well, limit his morning nap to 30 minutes (and move the afternoon nap earlier by 15 minutes to preserve the 3 hours of waketime).

    Oh, and before you start adjusting things, make sure you’re not dealing with the 45-minute intruder. You can read more about this in your book or on Chronicles of a Babywise Mom (babywisemom.com).

    Good luck!

  5. Hi there! I’ve been shortening my son’s morning nap (he is over 15.5 months) to ensure a good afternoon nap, but have not able to follow your suggestions to not mess with bedtime (which I wish I could adhere to!), as he will not do a 2nd nap unless his 2nd wake time is drastically increased, so that nap #2 is now too close to his bedtime. He is taking a super long time to fall asleep at night these days. I’ve shortened his morning nap to only 30 mins now, with a 2nd wake time of 3.75-4 hours to ensure a 1.5 hr nap in the afternoon, so does it sound like I should finally do the cold turkey method and just try for the 1 nap only? What would you recommend to be a good starting time for the 1 nap? He currently has a wake time of 3.5 hrs in the morning, with his AM nap occurring at 10:30-11:00 am, then his PM nap at 3:00-4:30 pm. Bedtime is supposed to be 7:30 pm, but he is not tired at all. Thanks for any suggestions!

  6. He is a little young, but yes, I think I’d drop it. If he’s not super cranky with just 30 minutes in the morning, it’s likely he can go without. Whenever there are sleep disruptions, whether it’s with the afternoon nap or bedtime, it’s your cue to cut back on or cut out the morning nap. My only caution is to say make sure this is a pattern, not just a 1-2 day thing. If this has been going on for a week or more, that’s fine.

    3:00-4:30 is a really late nap, so it’s no wonder bedtime is difficult. I would back that up quite a bit. A logical one-nap time is 12:30 or 1:00 right after lunch. If you don’t think he can make it that long, try earlier and tweak it until you find the right time. You may also want to have an earlier bedtime as you go through this transition. See how he does and be on the lookout for any poor behavior. Basically, attribute any bad behavior, whining, etc. to lack of sleep until you’ve made your way through the transition.

    Good luck!

  7. Hi Maureen, I took your advice and checked to make sure that it’s not a 1-2 day thing. With 2 naps, he continues to have an extremely hard time falling asleep at night, taking anywhere from 40-60 mins to sleep, and when he falls asleep. He also sleeps very little at night nowadays, only 9.5-10 hours! I’m not sure if this is due to him being undertired when going to bed.

    Because he sleeps so little at night, he still acts like he needs that morning nap very much, and I have not gotten any sustained amount of sleep from 11:30, 11:45, 12:00 or 12:15. He has quite a bit of trouble staying up any later than that, but all those previous times only give me about 45-55 mins of sleep. Do you have any thoughts on what I should do further? Just pick a time and go with it consistently no matter what?

    Thank you for your opinion!
    Clarissa

  8. Maureen says:

    Clarissa, you’re definitely in transition, aren’t you?! Sorry for the late reply. Are you saying that when you do a nap around noon (those times you list), he only sleeps for 45-55 minutes? If so, not good, especially if he’s only getting 10 hours at night. It sounds like you have the opposite of “sleep begets sleep” going on. He sounds overtired.

    My original hunch was that he’s a little young to have just one nap, so I think that could be the problem. If it’s a matter of having a short nap or taking a while to fall asleep, I’d go for taking a while to fall asleep. But here’s what you can do. Do the morning nap, but keep it to 20 minutes. Wake him up at all costs. Then I would work to make the PM nap earlier. That’s the best way to avoid bedtime issues. Even if he’s not super tired by say, 2:00 or 2:30, you can still start your nap transition at that time. Then ideally, he’ll be up by 3:30 or 4:00.

    Make sure he’s getting plenty of physical activity. I’ve found going for a late-afternoon walk (after naps but before dinner) helps. They get to be active and get fresh air. You might also do this before the PM nap.

    There is definitely something to be said for picking a time and sticking with it. So you might just do this consistently for a month or two and then reevaluate. Try not to obsess about it.

    Does that help?

  9. Test

  10. Hi! I’m wondering what you think I should do? I have a 10 month old boy, he wakes at 7 his first nap is at 10:30 and he sleeps 11/2 sometimes 2 hours and his next nap is at 4:30 and i have to struggle with him to go down he finally gets to sleep at like 4:45 and it last for 24 min to and hour if im lucky. It use to be at 3:30 but he doesn’t seem tired and will not take his second nap any earlier. His bed time is now at 8:45 it was at 8:30. Does it seem like he’s trying to go to one nap a day already?! He has always seem to do everything a little earlier he was 10 pounds 7oz I don’t know if that really matters or not? :) I would love your advice!!

    Thank you, Roxanne

  11. Hi Roxanne,

    10 months is super early to drop the morning nap. One thing I notice is that his awake time is much longer in the afternoon than it is in the morning. That is often the case, but I wonder if it could be a contributing factor in your nap struggle. If I were you, I would pose this question on the Babywise Community ProBoards. It’s been a little while since I’ve dealt with specific nap issues, so you might have more luck with the ladies there. There are a few who are expert schedule readers! :)

    Here’s the link: http://www.babywisecommunity.proboards.com/index.cgi

    Maureen

  12. Hi! my LO is almost a year. Will be a year in a week. She does a great first nap usually 10:30ish-12ish. But lately her second nap is all over the place. sometimes 3-4:30, or 3:30-5, or up and not napping at all. or putting her down at 3/3:30 and she plays and is up, then finally going down at 4:30? then naps late. She may be teething though. but her first nap is always good. so I cant figure out if it is teething or if she is needing just one nap? so looking for some advice. :)

  13. Jessica says:

    My 3rd son did this SAME exact thing around a year old. His bedtime was about 730 and wake time 730. He would take a great morning nap and then wake up happy but would need an afternoon nap as well. I would lay him down after lunch but he would fool around in his bed for 3 hours sometimes. He would poop, take off his clothes and throw everything out of his bed sometimes. He never cried or threw a fit about being in his bed, but just wouldn’t sleep most days. Sometimes he would fall asleep much too late for an afternoon nap (3 or 4pm) and then bedtime would be harder. We struggled through this time for several months and I actually read this same post and tried to shorten the morning nap in order to get a good afternoon nap. I think it would’ve worked if we had tried it sooner, but by the time I did I think he was truly ready for just one nap. We did get through it by doing a few of the things she suggested NOT to do, but I didn’t find this post until later! :) We went out in the morning 2x a week and he would get through the morning, and be ready for an afternoon nap immediately after lunch. Days that he took a great morning nap and simply fooled around in his bed during afternoon naps, I would move his bedtime up a half hour and he would be fine.
    Looking back, I would love to have avoided all the trouble and time it took by cutting his morning nap shorter and seeing if that worked! I would see how she does with one afternoon nap! I could get my little one through the morning easier by offering a snack at nap time and doing something calm with him that involved my interaction. I would see if you can get her through the morning by giving a snack and/or bottle and varying your activities to keep her entertained. If she still needs the nap and will fall asleep quickly, I’d lay her down a bit late and then wake her up early…let her get 45min (since that’s a sleep cycle) instead of the 1.5hours and then be ready to lay her down again shortly after lunch. If she STILL doesn’t fall asleep quickly for the afternoon nap, after a week or so of trying to cut the morning one shorter, then I’d try to just cut the morning one! My little guy is now 16mo and has been on just one afternoon nap consistently for a few months now, but will still fall asleep in the car if we are out in the morning. If he sleeps for more than 15min in the car, then his afternoon nap is compromised and he takes MUCH longer to fall asleep. That’s how sensitive he is to already having a bit of sleep! But he needs those afternoon hours! Now his schedule is WT:730am, Lunch:12pm, Nap:130-4:00 (sometimes 4:30!) Supper:5pm, Bed:7:30 or 8pm and he does great!
    Wishing you luck and a quick transition!!!

  14. My daughter is 14months old and “was” on a solid 2hr morning and 1-2hr afternoon nap routine until recently where she does as described, stay awake talking to herself or throw all the crib toys out until we come in and get her an hr later. Since it’s summer time and we live at the beach, we find ourselves ditching the afternoon nap to stay out and play which leaves us with a cranky evening baby or an earlier bed time.

    I have two questions. First, she typically goes to bed around 7-7:30 and usually wakes 6 or 6:30… At first we thought she was waking with the sun rise, but even after black out curtains were installed, 6am she is still up and adam. No matter what time she goes to bed she’s still up at 6… so when we pushed back bedtime thinking she’d sleep in.. nope. How can we push back wake time to 7? at least?

    Second, Our morning nap used to be a “for sure thing” now it’s taking her longer to fall asleep, and the afternoon naps are rare. Naps typically ran 2hrs after morning wake time, then 3hrs after the first nap, then 3-4hrs till bed time… For instance Wake: 6:30 Nap: 8:30-11 Lunch 12pm Nap 2pm-4pm Dinner 6pm Bed: 7pm… I’m thinking she’s over tired with missing that afternoon nap for days which has resulted in really poor naps in general. Any suggestions would be helpful. I’m going to try cutting her morning nap, as suggested, but that scares me if she still doesn’t take an afternoon nap…

  15. Hi, I have a 25+ month old who we adopted at 13 months and sleep trained at about 15 months. He has never hit the high end of sleep in a 24 hour period, at most we were able to eek out 10.75 hours at night and 2 hours of naps consistently, but up until a couple weeks ago, it was 10.5 hours at night and 2.25 hours across 2 naps (1.25 in the morning and 1 hour in the afternoon). He is also a very early riser, waking between 5:30 and 6 am, usually depending on when we put him to bed (at either 7 or 7:30 pm).

    About 2 weeks ago he started skipping his afternoon nap. I moved his morning nap earlier (to 8:30am) and he resumed afternoon naps until he stopped falling asleep in the morning – though sometimes he’d fall asleep after 45 minutes in his crib, but then he’d struggle with the afternoon nap again (usually put him down about 1:45 pm, asleep by 2, awake at 3). Since he was over 2 years and consistently blew off his morning nap for a week, I just put him on a one nap schedule, but earlier than typical because of his early waking (11am, giver or take a 1/2 hour). Unfortunately, he would only sleep 1-1.25 hours and then he was awake until we put him to bed at 6/6:30pm. Way too long, but he managed to sleep 11.5 hours straight through to morning, waking up at 6am.

    The second week of this schedule, he started alternating nap length between 1.75 hours one day and 1 hour the next. Then he got sick and started yawning at the breakfast table – 2 nap day. But since then he’s back to one nap (I’ve tried adding a morning nap several dys since he has a cold, but no go) and he’s still alternating lengths of naps, but is now refusing to go to sleep before 7:30/7:45 and waking multiple times at night or won’t go back to sleep after waking around 5:30 am. I have been trying to push his one nap time out every day by 15 minutes (we hit 12:15 pm today) so that if he does only sleep an hour it cuts down on the gap before bedtime and hoping it gets him to sleep longer, but we haven’t found the sweet spot yet.

    We may just have to get through this head cold, but I’m feeling at the end of my rope. I don’t know how to get him more sleep (and I have read a lot of sleep books and have tried to implement all the strategies I can, but I’m at a loss for how to get him more sleep if he won’t go to sleep earlier, won’t sleep in, won’t extend naps – I even tried rocking him back to sleep today but no go).

    This transition came on us so rapidly (there have been subtle signs for a couple of months like not falling asleep in the car until he’d been awake for 5.5 hours – that was a rude awakening – random dropped naps, etc), that I feel totally unprepared and there is nothing, NOTHING that stresses me out more than when the toddler refuses to sleep.

    Any suggestions/help is appreciated!

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