Survive Nap Transitions With These 15 Expert Tricks.

Author Image By Paula McLaren - Norland Nurse NNEB RSH •  Updated: 11/17/23 •  Sleep / Naps

As your baby grows and develops, their sleep needs change. Therefore, it’s important to adjust their nap schedule accordingly to ensure baby’s body and brain develop properly. Nap transitions are a part of this change and they can be a challenging time for both you and your little one if not managed properly.

So how do we navigate this transition with as little disruption to your little one’s sleep schedule as possible whilst ensuring both you and baby are happy, well-rested, and content?

Keep reading to find out…

Nap Transitions - soft illustration image of a baby's nursery with a crib in the centre

Key Takeaways

  1. Nap transitions are developmental milestones when children move from one daytime sleep schedule to another, usually around 3-4 months, 6-9 months, and 12-18 months.
  2. Signs of nap transitions include resisting naps, shorter naps, early waking, longer awake times, and night wakings. But each child’s timing is unique.
  3. To manage nap transitions: watch for sleep cues, adjust nap schedule gradually, have consistent sleep routines, move bedtime earlier, allow flexibility day-to-day, use short catnaps on busy days, and implement quiet time.

What Are Nap Transitions?

Nap transitions are developmental milestones when your baby or toddler’s sleep needs change and they move from one nap schedule to another. 

These transitions usually occur around the 8-month mark, when your baby drops from three naps to two, and around the 15-month mark, when they drop from two naps to one. 

However, all babies are different and it is important to follow the signs and cues your little one gives you that they are ready to drop a nap and not be guided solely by their age.

When Do Nap Transitions Happen?

As your child grows, their nap schedule will change. Here’s what you can expect as they transition from 4 naps to 1 nap per day.

Nap Transitions - Infographic table

When your baby is around 3-4 months old, they will typically start to transition from 4 naps to 3 naps per day. This is a gradual process that can take a few weeks to a couple of months as they start to consolidate their daytime sleep.

You will likely notice that your baby starts to stay awake for longer periods during the day and that their naps become naturally longer.

👉 To learn more about the 4 to 3 nap transition, check out my post: 4 To 3 Nap Transition: Don’t Let It Ruin Your Progress

Around 6-9 months, your baby will start to transition from 3 naps to 2 naps per day. Again, this is a gradual process that can take your baby a few weeks to a couple of months to progress through. 

During this period you will probably notice that your baby is more awake and alert during the day and that their naps become longer and more predictable.

👉 To learn more about the 3 to 2 nap transition, read this post: How To Handle The 3 To 2 Nap Transition Like A Professional

By the time your baby is around 12-18 months old, they will drop down to 1 nap per day. This is a big transition and can be a bit challenging for both you and your child. 

In my experience, many children of this age will take one big nap per day with shorter naps supplementing this on busy days or while traveling in the car.

A toddler’s single nap can last anywhere from 1-3 hours, depending on their age, what has been going on in their day, and individual sleep needs.

Remember to always watch for your little one sleep cues and let them sleep when they are tired. It is very easy to let a child of this age get overtired and when this happens they will fight sleep and become difficult to settle.

👉 To master the 2 to 1 nap transition, go and give this post a read: 2 To 1 Nap Transition: How To Make The Switch Successfully

Identifying The 6 Signs Of Nap Transitions

As your little one grows and develops, their sleep needs will change. 

One of the biggest changes you will notice is the transition from multiple naps to fewer naps throughout the day. 

This transition can be tricky to navigate, but there are signs you can look out for to help you identify when it’s time to adjust your little one’s nap schedule.

The most common signs your baby needs to drop a nap include:

Signs Baby Is Ready For A Nap Transition
  1. Resisting naps and or bedtime
  2. Shorter naps
  3. Early morning waking,
  4. Longer wake times between naps,
  5. More night wakings.
  6. Inconsistent energy levels and feeling overtired and cranky

It’s important to note that not all children will experience nap transitions at the same time. 

During a nap transition, your child may become overtired, restless, and resistant to naps. This is because their sleep schedule does not fit their needs and they need a bit of help to get their sleep back on track.

It’s important to be patient and consistent with your approach during this time and to remember that it can take several weeks for your little one to adjust to the new schedule.

Looking to get your little one to sleep quickly and effortlessly? Check out my Bedtime and Nap Cheat Sheet and master the art of making daytime naps and bedtimes as seamless as possible.

Managing Nap Transitions

Even though transitions in nap schedules can be challenging for both you and your little one, naps are incredibly important to your baby’s health and well-being. With a little planning and patience, you can help your child adjust to the sleep changes smoothly.

Here’s how to manage the 4 biggest nap transitions.

From Four to Three Naps

Around 3-4 months, babies start to consolidate their daytime sleep, and the fourth nap becomes unnecessary. 

If your baby begins resisting the fourth nap or skipping it altogether, it is time to drop it and move to a three-nap schedule.

From Three to Two Naps

Between 6-9 months, babies drop their third nap and move to a two-nap schedule. 

Again it is important to watch for the signs that your baby is ready for this transition. They will resist the third nap, take shorter naps, be awake for longer between naps, and wake up earlier in the morning.

To make this transition go more smoothly, do the following:

From Two to One Nap

Around 15-18 months, toddlers may be ready to drop their second nap and move to a one-nap schedule. 

Signs that your toddler is ready for this transition include being able to stay awake for 4-5 hours, early morning wakings, missing the odd nap yet staying cheerful, and resisting naps daily.

Most toddlers will drop their morning nap and take one longer afternoon nap. However, every baby is different and you must watch for sleep cues to determine when your little one most needs their sleep.

When dropping to one nap per day there are things you can do to help the transition:

Dropping The Final Nap

Eventually, your little one will outgrow their daytime sleep needs altogether. 

The age at which this happens varies, but most children stop napping between 3-5 years old. 

Signs that your child is ready to drop their final nap include waking early in the morning, resisting naps, and taking longer to fall asleep at night.

Bear in mind that as your little one transitions to not needing to nap, they may need to nap on some days and not on others.

I would always suggest that any child under 5 needs daily quiet time if they are not napping too.

When managing nap transitions, it’s important to be consistent with your approach and patient with your little one. Here are some strategies to help:

10 Most Common Challenges In Nap Transitions

Nap transitions can be a real struggle if not managed correctly. And after years as a Norland Nanny, I’ve been through them all… 

Here are the most common challenges you will face with nap transitions and some strategies I have developed to help you through them:

Top 10 Challenges Of A Nap Transition
  1. Resisting naps: When babies go through a sleep change, your child may struggle to fall asleep or stay asleep during nap time. Solution: Try adjusting their nap schedule by 10 to 15 minutes a day until you reach the desired schedule. Creating a soothing nap time routine will also give your little one the right cues that sleep is coming up.
  2. Skipping naps: Your child may skip naps altogether, leading to an overtired and fussy baby. Solution: Ensure your child is getting enough sleep overall. Take a look at their age-appropriate sleep needs in a 24-hour period and ensure they are getting enough daytime sleep for their age. Encourage your little one to stay quietly in their crib or bed for a quiet time. Quiet times are my go-to solution for children who are skipping naps.
  3. Split nights: I did this a lot as a child. My poor mother! Split nights mean your baby will be wide awake in the middle of the night and there’s nothing you can do will get them to go back to sleep until they’re ready. Usually, 1-2 hours later. Solution: Increased nighttime waking may be a sign that your little one is sleeping too much during the day. Adjusting your little one’s nap schedule by cutting down on daytime sleep can help your baby sleep through the night.
  4. Waking early: During a nap transition, your child may wake up earlier than usual, leading to a cranky and fussy baby. Solution: Adjust your little ones day time nap schedule by 10-15 minutes and implement quiet time. Use blackout blinds to create a cozy sleep space. For toddlers, use a colored alarm clock to help them understand when it’s acceptable to leave their room. 
  5. Sleep training: Whilst not ideal, you may need to sleep train your baby or your toddler during nap transitions if their sleep schedule is completely out of whack. Solution: Consider using a gentle sleep training method such as gradual retreat or promised return. And encourage your little one to be happy to spend time alone and awake in their sleep space.
  6. Overtiredness: If not managed correctly, it’s very easy for your child to become overtired during nap transitions, leading to a cranky and fussy baby. Solution: Ensure your child is getting enough overall sleep in 24 hours, always respond to sleep cues, and consider bringing bedtime forward. Implement a 30-minute cat nap on days when your little one is struggling to get to bedtime.
  7. Toddler stubbornness: Nap transitions can be particularly challenging for toddlers who want to show their newfound independence. Solution: Be patient and consistent with your approach and consequences. Toddlers like routine and they like to know what is coming up so stick to a recognisable sleep routine for naps to help them wind down.
  8. Sleep regression: Sleep regression and nap transitions often coincide which can be extra tricky to manage. Solution: Handling a sleep regression alongside a nap transition requires a consistent approach based on a stable sleep routine with naps being taken at the same time every day and bedtime being consistent. To learn more about handling sleep regressions, read this post: Sleep Regression: What, Why & Sanity Saving Solutions
  9. Wake windows thrown out of schedule: Your child’s wake windows will change during nap transitions and this is usually one of the sure signs they are ready to drop a nap. Solution: Adjust their nap schedule to accommodate their changing wake windows i.e. if they can stay awake for longer periods without getting over tired build their new nap schedule around this accordingly.
  10. Short naps: Your child may struggle to take longer naps during nap transitions. Solution: If your little one is waking early from naps, it is a sure sign that they need to drop a nap. Experiment with wake windows and aim to consolidate their daytime sleep into fewer naps.

Frequently Asked Questions About Nap Transitions

Looking for more information about nap transitions? Here are the most commonly asked questions, answered just for you.

Q: What is the hardest nap transition?

A: The 3 to 2 nap transition is the most challenging for babies. It usually happens between 7 and 9 months of age. During this transition, your baby may become more irritable, have difficulty sleeping, and wake up more frequently during the night.

This video from the wonderful Dr Sarah M from Helping Babies Sleep will ensure you get through this nap transition with ease.

Q: Is there a 5 to 4 nap transition?

A: No, there is no 5 to 4 nap transition. Babies typically go from 4 naps to 3 naps around 5-6 months of age.

Q: What is the 2 3 4 nap rule?

A: The 2 3 4 nap rule is a sleep schedule that works well for babies around 6-8 months old. It involves a 2-hour wake window in the morning, a 3-hour wake window in the afternoon, and a 4-hour wake window before bedtime.

Q: How long does a nap transition last?

A: A nap transition can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. It depends on your baby’s age, sleep habits, and how quickly they adjust to the new schedule.

Q: At what age should a child transition to one nap?

A: Most babies transition to one nap around 12-18 months of age. However, some babies may be ready as early as 11 months, while others may not be ready until closer to 2 years old. It’s important to watch for signs of readiness, such as longer wake windows and consistent sleep patterns.

Q: What should my baby’s nap schedule look like?

A: Your baby’s nap schedule will depend on their age and individual sleep needs. A typical schedule for a 6 to 8-month-old will include 2-3 naps during the day and 11-12 hours of sleep at night. Take a look at these posts to discover what the ideal sleep and nap schedule is for your baby:

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Author Image Bio
Paula McLaren is the founder of Teething to Tantrums and a highly qualified childcare expert with over 40 years of experience as a Norland Nanny. She holds a BA (Hons) in Early Years Development & Learning (0-6 Years) and the prestigious Norland Diploma. Paula has worked as a night nanny, run a successful daycare center in London, and helped raise countless children using her tried and tested developmental and guidance methods.

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