One Nap Or Two? How Often Should my Toddler or Baby Nap

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  • April 01, 2009

napConsolidating from two naps to one is a major physical and psychological transition, with almost all children passing through the “one nap is too little, two naps is too much” phase. All we can do is try to make the transition as smooth as possible, although even in the best case scenario, your child may suffer from crankiness and disruption for two or three weeks. You may need an earlier bedtime for a few weeks while you make this transition.

An extremely common error for parents is to try to consolidate naps prematurely. Many parents will let their twelve-month old take a two or three hour nap in the morning. The child will then refuse to sleep in the afternoon (due to the long morning nap), and never make it until bedtime without a melt down.

Toddlers usually are ready to drop the afternoon nap by fifteen -eighteen months. A little earlier or a little later is normal, but be sure to watch your child, not the calendar. Especially watch for changes in your child’s morning nap patterns. It may take her longer to fall asleep, or she may wake up from the nap earlier. She may also sleep so long in the morning that she won’t nap in the afternoon, meaning you’ll have a very overtired toddler by bedtime. Don’t mistake one abbreviated morning nap for the sign that your child’s ready for change. When the pattern becomes consistent, the time is right to begin the transition.

Signs your child is ready to transition from two naps to one

  1. the child is getting 11 hours of uninterrupted sleep at night
  2. the child takes longer to fall asleep for the morning nap
  3. the child takes an increasingly shorter morning nap or too long of a morning nap and refuses an afternoon nap. In the end, you feel stuck in the “one nap is not enough and two is too many” phase

When you are ready to begin the transition, push your child’s morning nap a little later. Try delaying it until around eleven o’clock for two or three days. Then push it until eleven thirty for a few days, then to noon, and so on. Your ultimate goal should be to have her asleep by twelve thirty or one o’clock.

Things to remember

  • Slowly push the morning nap later in 20 to 30 minute increments, until you reach 12:30 pm or 1:00 pm. Do this gradually (i.e. in small increments over 2-3 days) to avoid overtiredness or difficulty getting to sleep. This will be her only nap for the day, so try to resettle her back to sleep if the nap is too short.
  • Bedtime will often need to be earlier during this transition – around 7:00 – 7:30 pm.
  • The transition period from two naps to one may take up to three weeks.
  • It is best NOT to transition to one nap until your child is sleeping through the night fairly consistently.
  • Be open to an occasional two-nap day!

Remember, there is an art to sleeping! We must teach our children the proper way to sleep in order for them to recognize their own need for it later in life. It’s tempting to cut out a nap in a baby’s schedule for convenience, but remember, you both will pay the price later at bedtime! Take time to enjoy this small window of opportunity when you are offered two breaks in your busy day. It can be a great time to concentrate on yourself or have some special time with an older child!

Sleep well!

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photo credit: GenkiGenki via photopin cc

Kim West
Kim is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has been a practicing child and family therapist for more than 24 years, and the creator of the original gentle, proven method to get a good night’s sleep for you and your child. She is the author of The Sleep Lady's Good Night Sleep Tight, its companion Workbook and 52 Sleep Secrets for Babies. Click here to read more about her.

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One Comment

  • Julielynn says:

    So, my baby, who is now 9 mo., sleep two solid naps–usually 1.5 hours in the morning and 45 minutes-1.5 hour in the pm. She then sleeps 11 hours at night. So, we’re good! But, she will be starting up in daycare just after she turns 1 y.o., and they only give one nap time (even though she’ll be in a classroom with only 1-2 year olds). I’ve looked around and this is by far the best daycare (besides, they all seem to follow this one nap schedule). I’m so concerned to force this transition on her, prematurely. She’s always been such a good sleeper, I’m afraid this will be a huge shock to her system, and will not be enough sleep. I know you say that 15-18 mos is usually the best transition age, so 12 mos. seems so early to me. Any thoughts, or suggestions?