Sunday, June 14, 2015

Is My Toddler Ready to Drop to One Nap?

Knowing when it’s time for your baby to make a change in his or her sleep cycle is
no easy task. As much as you want to feel confident, skimming down on their daytime sleep before they are ready can have a backlash effect on the quality of rest for both of you. 

Most all children will go through a yucky phase where one nap is not enough, but two naps too many.  This is completely normal and it can take 2-4 weeks to completely make the transition to the one nap schedule.
I do not recommend dropping a nap until your child is sleeping a solid 11-12 hours at night without interruption.  Work on correcting the night sleep first if that is the case.

So how’s a mom to know when is the best time to drop from 2 naps, down to 1?

Here are some general guidelines I recommend you follow to know if your toddler is ready:
  • If your little one is between 15-18 months, you’re at the ideal age range. Trying to drop a nap from a younger child or before your toddler is ready may cause night waking and an overtired, unhappy baby (and Mommy) during the day. 
  • If your child consistently, refuses their morning nap or takes so long to fall asleep in the morning that it interferes with the afternoon nap and/or bedtime.
  • If your toddler will sleep for their morning nap but refuses the afternoon nap.

Most of my clients contact me when their toddler, who was taking 2 great naps each day, starts to refuse one or both of their naps as described above.  Their child was taking 2 nice naps - 1 1/2 hrs each and the naps were spaced between 3-4 hrs apart.  

Note: See my awake windows blog for more tips on ensuring your child's schedule is age appropriate.  

The nap refusals are one of the first signs that a child is ready for a schedule change.  If the napping struggles are occurring for 7-10 days straight, you should start the transition to the one nap.

The goal is to drop the morning nap and keep the afternoon nap.  If your child is not sleeping for the morning nap, move on to step 2.  

Step One

Step one in the process of dropping the morning nap is to begin shortening the first nap by waking up your child.  If your child is sleeping for more than 1 ½ hours in the morning, start shaving away at the morning nap by waking them up at the 1 1/2 hour mark.  Wait for a couple days to see if they will now start sleeping for the afternoon nap.  

No luck?  Next try waking them up after 1 ¼ hrs, repeat the waiting as above.  If no luck, keep shaving away at the morning nap in 15min increments until you get to a 30 min morning nap and the afternoon nap comes back.

If your child is still refusing the afternoon nap it is time to shift to the one nap. 

Note: During this process, bring the time for the start of the afternoon nap up earlier so the awake window between naps remain 3-4hrs.

Step Two

To move to a one nap schedule, start to gradually push the one nap later.  Ideally start the one nap at 11:00 am and get to this time as fast as possible.   Hold at this time for a few days.  Then push the nap later to 11:30 am for a few days, then noon, then 12:30 pm.  Some children will adjust quickly and others you may need to move gradually. 

The goal is that your toddlers nap starts between 12:30 and 1:00 pm and your child sleeps for 2 to 2 ½ hours.

Other tips

  • If your child sleeps for less than 2 hours and wakes tired, try to help them resettle and go back to sleep for a longer nap.  During this transition, you may need to use your back up tricks and get in more day sleep with a nap extension eg: going back to sleep or a short 30-45 min. catnap later in the day with a car or stroller ride.  But this should be a temporary plan and only until your child starts to sleep longer for their one nap.
  • Don't let your child sleep later than 4:00 - 4:30 pm in order to preserve bedtime, which at this age should be between 7:00 and 8:00 pm.
  • During this transition period, you may have to move bedtime up earlier to 6:30 or 7:00 pm  to prevent your little one from being overtired.
  • It is also okay if some days your toddler needs the 2 naps but others just the one.   If this does happen be sure to limit the morning nap to 45 min.
  • If your little one is in preschool try to offer the afternoon nap at home at the same time it is offered at school, as long as the school schedule starts nap between 12:00 and 1:00 pm.

Sleep is as much an art as it is a science, so it’s nothing to be tackled with force or timelines. The best way at handling your child’s growth is by making it as customized to their level of progress and comfort, no matter what the obstacle.  

It’s amazing how much our children can teach us without even saying a word.

Sweet Dreams!

Written By: Michelle Donaghy