When your child suddenly won't go down without a fight, it may be time to switch their daily sleep routine. Here’s everything parents need to know about the “two to one” nap transition.
Nap transitioning is a process all babies and toddlers have to go through. Babies change from having multiple naps a day as newborns to one nap a day as toddlers (and everything in between). But when is your toddler really ready to transition to one nap a day? It is most likely that your toddler is not ready to transition to one nap until around 15 - 18 months of age and we will cover the reasons why.
At around 12 months of age there is a typical sleep regression and it is a common age for babies to start protesting one or both of their naps. As a result of these behaviours it is easy for us to think that they must only need one nap now. Often though, it’s the regression talking and it’s the opposite of what your little one needs. As with any other sleep regression remind yourself that it’s likely and a phase and the best thing to do is to work through the phase, continue to encourage two naps a day and not proceed to a nap transition unless your child is really ready for this.
The best time to implement a nap transition is when your child is developmentally ready for this change, it is about the biological need for two naps a day compared to only one nap a day. Remember each time your child sleeps their body is being restored. Naps at different times of the day also have different benefits, in support of growth and brain development it is beneficial to continue to encourage two naps a day for children who developmentally still need this rest time.
For children who are younger than 15-18 months of age, the amount of time they are capable of being awake for (awake lengths) is less. For example a 12 month old has an age appropriate awake length of approximately 3-4 hours. If your 12 month old is only sleeping one nap a day they are being kept awake either before or after their nap for longer than they are capable of being awake for. Excessive awake lengths can cause additional challenges, for example night awakening, early rising, behavioural difficulties, difficulty going to sleep and staying asleep.
Now when we say the approximate age for children to nap once a day is around 15 - 18 months of age, it is also important to remember that all children are unique and have differing sleep needs. Some might be ready for this change at a younger age and some might not be ready for this change even at 18 months old. Mood, behaviour and performance is a good indicator on whether your child is having the adequate amount of sleep. For example if your toddler is only having one nap a day and they are cranky from the moment they wake until bedtime then this might be an indication that they really still need to be having two naps a day.
Signs that your child is ready to transition from two naps to one:
- Your child is getting at least 11 hours of uninterrupted sleep at night.
- Your child is taking longer and longer to fall asleep for the morning or the afternoon nap.
- Your child’s morning or afternoon nap is getting shorter and shorter.
- Your child takes one good nap but refuses the other nap.
- Your child is able to skip a nap and remain alert and happy until the next nap, or until bedtime.
How to make the transition?
- Do it gradually. Most toddlers go through a "one nap is too little, two is too many" phase, which can last from a few weeks to two months. Once you conclude that your kid is ready to make the switch, start steering them toward a single midday sleep. Begin by pushing the morning nap later by 15 minutes every day or two. Your ultimate goal is to start it shortly after lunch. By that time, your exhausted toddler should sack out for two to two-and-a-half hours. If your child is used to waking up after an hour, see if you can soothe them back to sleep. You can also use a white-noise machine, which may help them sleep longer.
- Smooth rough patches with quiet time. During this transitional time, your toddler may be a bit sleep-deprived. So as you switch to one nap, try to ease their morning crankiness by establishing "quiet time," during which you read or listen to soft music.
- Remember that this will be the only nap of the day, so if it’s on the short side, encourage your child to go back to sleep. Toddlers typically need approximately 2 hours of daytime sleep in addition to their 11.5 hours of uninterrupted sleep at night to be considered well rested.
- Keep in mind that an earlier bedtime may be necessary while your child makes the adjustment. Watch your child carefully for sleepy cues and don’t be afraid to push bedtime back by 30 or even 60 minutes to compensate for the new nap schedule.