The majority of children make the shift from two naps to one nap between 15-21 months. This transition, however, can be one of the most difficult. You may encounter a few rough months where one nap is not enough yet two naps are impossible.
I find this transition for parents is the most difficult because they get caught up in the change of times for sleep: adjusting naps typically means earlier bedtime. Life will change during this transition, but remember it is a phase. Focus on the end goal of maintaining healthy sleep for your child, and family, while keeping healthy sleep habits that will last a lifetime. A few months of a less-busy life and late-night nights are only for a few months; and a few months out of the life of your child is nothing. You can do it.
Move Bedtime Earlier, Dropping Morning Nap
Sleep begets sleep. Moving bedtime slightly earlier allows the child to sleep longer and deeper at night which then eventually erases the fatigue and tiredness in the morning. Naturally, the midmorning nap is the first to disappear. Moving up bedtime allows for more rest at night and a more alert child in the morning which leads to briefer morning naps or even a quiet playtime without sleep. After a consistent 5-10 days of no sleep for the mid-morning nap you can instead exchange that old nap time for outdoor time. Let the sun, fresh-air and exercise assist your child in their nap transition.
Too Long of a Morning Nap
Some children sleep longer and longer for their first nap of the day, which causes resistance or inability to sleep for the midday nap. If you continue to keep a long morning nap, skipping the afternoon nap, you’ll end up with an overtired child by night, causing more havoc on bedtime and night sleep. To combat this, you’ll want to wake your child after an hour or hour and half of sleep for their morning nap. Doing so will allow them to become more tired for their afternoon nap. In conjunction with waking them from their morning nap, include outdoor time and stimulation between their nap periods and adjust bedtime to be earlier.
Move the Morning Nap and Eliminate the Afternoon Nap
At the original timing of the midmorning nap, begin delaying it’s start by 15-30 minutes every few days/week. Know you’ll need an extra long soothing and relaxing period prior to nap as the child will be slightly overtired. Prepare for rocky late-afternoons during this transition. Most importantly, exchange your child’s bedtime to be ultra-early. You’re wanting to make up for missed sleep during the day. This may mean working parents do not see their child at night during this phase. To make up for that missed time, enjoy the early morning hours with your well-rested, happy child.
Over the course of weeks and months, slowly continue to move the midmorning nap until it reaches a similar time of the old midday nap. As you make this transition you can also adjust bedtime to be a little later. Note, bedtime will naturally fall into a time that was slightly earlier than when your child took two naps a day. This too will change with age, development and ability to stay awake longer without getting overtired.
It’s not uncommon to have a two-nap day followed by a one-nap day and so forth. Flow with your child’s needs and your life. Base the naps that day on their wake time, their mood and behavior in the early hours of the day, daily activities and your desired bedtime. Respect and be sensitive to their need of an earlier bedtime knowing this is a short phase in their life. Know you may not have a consistent schedule for a few months, but if worked with delicacy this transition will be easy for everyone.
Children may begin to attempt one nap early in age, before 15 months of age. Engage and practice these suggestions to preserve two naps. The longer you’re able to maintain two naps, the easier the transition to one nap will be for everyone.