There are 3 nap transitions that occur before the age of 2.
In chronological order they are:
1. The 4 – 3 nap transition that occurs around 5 months
2. The 3 – 2 nap transition that occurs between 7 and 10 months
3. The 2 – 1 nap transition that occurs around 15 months.
These are listed in order from easiest to hardest.
What makes a nap transition hard?
The challenge is balancing the reduction in daytime sleep while keeping baby rested enough that he does not become overtired.
You want to avoid an overtired baby because being overtired leads to:
- an increased risk of increased night waking
- early morning wake ups
- short naps and difficulty falling asleep
The 3 – 2 nap transition
This article talks about the 3 – 2 nap transition as this is the transition that I find most parents need a little nudge to achieve.
It can also be a tough transition plagued by early wake-ups while little bodies are adjusting to new schedules.
How do you know when a baby is ready to move down to two naps?
In a perfect world, this would happen naturally as the baby’s awake time would gradually increase, thus pushing the two naps farther apart and squeezing out room in the day for a third nap, but sometimes it needs a little help.
Sample schedule of a 3 nap day for a 7 month old:
7 am WU
9:00 – 10:00 am nap 1
12:15 – 2:00 pm nap2
4:30 – 5:00 pm Cat nap3
7:30 Bedtime asleep
A baby at 7 months might have this schedule. They can generally stay awake about 2 – 2.5 – 2.75 hours between naps.
As baby moves into the 8 -10 months, or at 7 months starts taking two naps longer than 1.5 hour, the awake time between naps will start to lengthen.
Baby will be able to push to about 2 hrs 45 min to 3 hours of being awake before getting tired. The result is no room at the end of the day for a cat nap.
Sample schedule of 2 nap day for a baby of 8-9 months of age
MAX awake time is 3.5 hours at 10 months.
7 am WU
(2.5 hrs of awake time)
9:30 – 11:00 am nap
(3 hours of awake time)
2:00 pm – 3:30 pm nap
(3 hr 15 of awake time)
6:45 Bedtime, asleep
How do you know if your baby is ready to drop a nap?
At this stage the nap transition may happen naturally as there is no room for a 3rd nap in the day.
If you’re starting a 3rd nap past 5:30 pm, that is bedtime rather than a nap.
Your baby is getting older and her capacity to stay awake is lengthening. This is often where Mom needs a little nudge to test out the longer awake times.
When a baby is on 3 naps, the parents often complain that the last nap is the hardest to put down for and can mistakenly interpret this as a sign that the baby is ready to drop the nap.
This is NOT the case.
The 3rd nap is almost always the hardest to put down for in the day from about 6 months on. This is because your child is more tired by the end of the day and the timing of this nap can be tricky. Often parents need to shorten the awake time before this last nap and put baby down a little earlier for this nap, giving him/her more time to fall asleep.
Recap: it is no room in the day for a 3rd nap rather than 3rd nap resistance that is the most likely sign that your child is ready to drop to 2 naps.
What can I do to help my baby move from these 3 short naps into 2 longer naps?
While we always advise not to keep your baby up too long, during the nap transition you may have to “test” your baby’s awake time by pushing her in 15-minute increments of staying up longer before her usual nap time.
This is especially true for the first morning put down.
This morning put down can set for the tone for the entire day.
If you put down too early, your baby will cry for a while and then wake up 30 minutes later. (This can also be a sign that your put down was too late! Confusing I know but timing is everything).
This will shift all the naps in the day earlier and probably force you to have a 3rd nap, but you’ll be stuck with 3 x 30 min naps. If she woke up before or around 2pm it would be a stretch for her to make it until 6 pm bedtime at 7- 9 months of age.
Dr. Weissbluth, “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child”, suggests keeping baby up until 9:00 am for the first nap.
If your baby is waking up in the 6:00 range, he might not make it up past 8:30 am, which is fine too. If you can test your baby by a few minutes each day to find the “sweet spot” where she’s tired but not overtired, you can achieve a morning nap that is in the 1 hr to 1.5 hour range. She’ll wake up happy and then be able to push well into the afternoon before the next nap, thus squeezing out the 3rd nap.
Your morning awake time is also influenced by nighttime sleep. If your child has dropped all night feeds, then he/she may have a slightly longer awake time before first nap.
The other important way to help your baby stay rested during any nap transition is to put them to bed earlier than they were previously.
This is a temporary measure to ensure baby stays well rested. Babies need to make up a little bit of that those lost sleep hours by an earlier bedtime.
You don’t want to have a very long stretch of greater than 3 – 3.5 hours before bed at this age of 10 months.
This will leave your baby overtired before bedtime and at an increased risk of having difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep and frequent night wakings.
These two factors, testing the awake times and an earlier bedtime, will help your baby make the leap to 2 naps.
This nap transition isn’t a black and white phenomenon.
The transition won’t happen overnight but rather over the course of a couple of weeks where you may find yourself switching between 3 and 2 nap days and some days suffering early wake ups. Most nap transitions take a few weeks to achieve.
The key is to be in tune with your baby’s signs, and have the courage to test the envelope a little and be prepared for a little trial and error.
Once your child is consistently on 2 naps, she’ll stay on 2 naps for many months until approximately 15 months of age when she will drop from 2-1 naps.
Being on two naps makes life as a parent so much easier. The time between naps gets longer and you’re more able to get out of the house between naps to get things done.
The next obstacle that you may face will be early wake-ups, likely related to teething. Around 9-11 months your child’s mouth is going to erupt with teeth! One of the major signs of teething is early wake ups before 5:30 am.
As a sleep consultant, I’ve empowered hundreds of tired parents to teach their babies and toddlers to sleep by educating parents on age-appropriate sleep needs and sleep training options.