Nap transitions: moving to 2 naps a day
Nap transitions can be tricky things. First you need to figure out when it’s actually time to transition your baby onto a different nap schedule, and then you actually need to do it – hopefully without baby becoming overtired in the process.
So here are a few tips and the best way forward. Tips to help you know when your baby is ready to move away from three naps a day, and make the leap to two naps.
Take note of age
Typically most children between the ages of three months and six months require three solid naps a day. At this age they best tolerate around 1.5 – 2 hours awake time before needing another sleep. And there’s enough time in the day to have these. Ideally these naps are long enough that you can get three of them in plus a reasonably timed early bedtime.
And then things change (again). It’s normally somewhere around the six to seven month mark that your child will be able to tolerate a longer wake time. And when that starts happening (often without you noticing), it’s the third nap that can start going awry first.
What can happen..
Often the morning nap continues well, and the second one can be OK too, but all of a sudden your once good napper just stops sleeping during the last part of the day. Sure, they might go down OK, but then they start chatting or babbling away for 40 minutes instead of sleeping. They might then have a 20 minute cat-nap. Or they just start crying for no apparent reason. But what you’re then left with is a long stretch of time between the last nap and bedtime. Eeeek.
Sometimes your baby will just stop sleeping for that last nap full stop. And that can be a really good sign that it’s time to transition to two naps a day.
Often it requires a push
Keep in mind that most nap transitions require a little bit of a push. Rarely will a child be totally ready to drop a nap without a little blip in the equation.
Most human body clocks need a little encouragement to change and it’s likely your baby will still seem sleepy at that 1.5 to 2 hour mark – just like normal. So you’ll likely have to push him or her past that, at least initially.
If you’ve read my blogs before, you’ll know that I believe overtiredness to be the arch enemy of sleep. And I’ll normally tell you to watch for that and work to avoid it. And I still want you to watch for overtiredness, but when it comes to nap transitions you need to push through a bit.
Increase the wake time
It’s not nap length that needs to increase to work towards 2 naps a day (although nap length is certainly a consideration); it’s the need for a longer wake time.
So this is where you start – pushing out time awake. If you’re still seeing tired signs, and you’re not sure about things, pushing out the wake time by 20 minutes is a great place to start.
Twenty minutes isn’t long enough to suddenly throw your child into overtiredness, but it will help push the naps out.
So starting with the first nap – push it later by 20 to 30 minutes. Then you’ll do the same with the second nap – increase the wake time to also push the second nap out by 20 to 30 minutes.
Hold it there for three to four days, and then push it another 15 minutes later for a few days. Do this until you’re at a 2.5 – 3 hours of wake time between sleeps.
But what about that big afternoon stretch?
Likely the trickiest spot will still be where that third nap use to be. Even though we’re pushing the day out slightly, you still might have too much time between when your baby last slept, and bedtime.
That’s when you have two choices (and sometimes you can do them both).
Choice A: the cat nap
If the late afternoon stretch is still too long, plan for a cat nap. This is when you can take a walk in the pram or use the car.
If the weather suits, the pram is normally my first preference but the car is another option. Basically, you’re using motion to help encourage your child to just take a little 20 or 30 minute cat nap. This last power nap is simply to take the edge off, and to help bedtime remain reasonably consistent.
Choice B: bring bedtime forward
If the cat nap doesn’t work, or you’re still pushing it to reach your normal bedtime, you may need to move bedtime earlier.
Normally I suggest bedtimes vary by only 30 minutes, but when you’re in a transition phase, you can move it forward more if you can (or need to).
Move bedtime forward by up to an hour if need be. I would much rather you move bedtime earlier to prevent overtiredness than try to hang on to a 7pm or 8pm bedtime and risk night sleep. You still need to limit overtiredness, so your nights aren’t impacted. And bringing bedtime forward is one way to do this.
It doesn’t mean that that’s where bedtime will have to stay. You won’t need to put your child in bed at 6pm indefinitely (unless you want to). But for the short term, say 2 to 3 weeks, its fine.
Good things take time
Please remember that resetting a body clock takes at least four weeks to settle down and become consistent. When you don’t know that, it’s easy to try something for a few days, and then think it’s not working, and give up on it.
If your child is the right age, and you’ve been seeing frequent signs of skipping the last nap (especially if sleeping well at night), he or she probably is ready to transition. But your child’s body clock still needs a little time to adjust to the changes.
Please, be patient. Naps may even get a little bit shorter until your baby’s body clock gets in line with the change. And that’s OK. Take heed that with consistency you’ll soon be getting beautiful naps again.
And if you need some help with sleep, please make contact. You may like to check out my new nap transition package – personalised support to help you make the right changes for your little one! If this sounds like you – OR you’d like a step-by-step plan to help your child sleep well day AND night, book in a free 15 minute call to learn more. You can find available call times HERE.