It feels only like yesterday that your little one has dropped down to 2 naps, morning and afternoon, but you are starting to think about when they go through the next nap transition and drop to a one nap schedule.
Babies tend to drop to one nap anytime between 12 and 18 months, though we typically see this happen more often around 14 or 15 months.
How do you know your baby is ready to drop to a one nap schedule?
There are a few signs that your baby is ready for a nap transition:
Having a morning nap means they aren’t ready for their second nap and they want to push that afternoon nap later and later. This means the nap finishes later into the afternoon, and they aren’t tired enough at their usual bedtime.
Their morning nap covers their sleep needs for the day and they drop their afternoon nap altogether as they just aren’t tired at lunchtime. But it’s too long a wake window until bedtime, leading to overtiredness.
They fight the first nap, or they aren’t ready for sleep at the normal nap time, pushing it later which then has a knock on impact on the second nap.
For most babies, the sign of the transition will be that they fight the first nap as they can comfortably stay awake longer than the 2.5-3 hours they would normally be awake from morning until their first nap.
Which nap disappears when babies drop to one nap?
Technically it’s the morning nap that disappears, but as we discuss in the next section, it isn’t always that you will drop a nap cold turkey.
There will be days when you continue with that morning nap, even if it’s a short one (a “bridging nap”) to get your toddler through to the main nap in the afternoon.
How to transition from two naps to one?
When babies drop a nap, there is always a transition period which usually lasts at least a few weeks. They no longer need the higher amount of naps, but they aren’t quite ready for the longer periods of being awake. There will be days which are two nap days, and others which are one nap days.
However, in the early stages of a nap transition, it’s really important to keep that morning nap as long as possible, even if you reduce down to as little as 10 minutes.
Even with such a short nap, it takes away that sleep pressure from the baby and allows them to go a bit longer into the day for the afternoon nap.
Otherwise, most babies will end up having their one nap before it even gets to lunchtime. Is that a problem? Let us explain further into the blog…
What is the ideal one nap schedule?
Ideally, when toddlers drop fully to one nap, this nap will be post lunch and the nap will last around 2 hours, give or take. Some babies will do 2.5 hours; others might only do 1.5 hours.
Optimally, this nap would finish around 4 to 4.5 hours before bedtime which is the length of time that a toddler up to about 2.5 year old can stay awake comfortably, without becoming overtired.
For example, on a standard 7-7 routine, your child would go for their nap around 12.30/1pm and sleep until 3pm. See example schedule below.
What if my child cannot go until after lunch for their nap?
Aside from trying to continue with a bridging nap as long as possible, when you are finally on one nap but your little one will struggle to stay awake until after nap, it’s a case of trying to get them down as late as possible without making them exhausted.
If you have the single nap too early, then all that happens is that you leave a big gap from the nap finishing until bedtime.
This happens for many families where they get used to having a nap around 11am for a couple of hours, but for most children, a 6 hour gap until bedtime is excessively long meaning overtiredness leading into bedtime.
For many babies and toddlers, overtiredness doesn’t have a huge impact on sleep; they are just a bit grumpy or hyper before bed.
However, for many children, overtiredness – because of the increased cortisol levels as a direct result – can lead to multiple night wakings and/or early wakings.
As such, many families often see a disruption in their child’s sleep during nap transitions.
To try and avoid this, pushing the nap as late as possible is better than having it too early. Use fresh air, exciting morning activities to distract your child to help get them used to the later nap.
Use fresh air, exciting morning activities to distract your child to help get them used to the later nap.
Additionally, bringing bedtime earlier may be required when your child is clearly exhausted come the evening.
Usually parents are concerned that an earlier bedtime will equal an earlier wake-up.
However, this is not often the case and an earlier bedtime can reduce some of that overtiredness leading to better nighttime sleep and avoid that potential early waking.
Is there a sleep regression because of the nap transition?
Often there is a toddler sleep regression because of nap transitions, whether that be from three naps to two, two naps to one or dropping the nap altogether.
When babies drop to one nap, any sleep regression will be due to the impact of overtiredness. Because they are often having to do awake periods of longer than they are actually capable of, overtiredness will arise and that can then lead to more night wakings and early wakings.
We often work with children around this age, or just after, when a sleep regression has happened which has then led to some unwanted sleep patterns for parents!
How long will they remain on one nap?
Toddlers should continue with one nap up until around 2.5 or 3 years of age.
This varies for every child, but 2.5 would be the earliest that I would expect a toddler to drop their nap in most cases.
So enjoy that nap in the middle of the day as much as you can, as trust us from experience, it can go very quickly!
You may also be interested in reading: Split Nights – Why Are They Waking For Hours At Night?
As leading UK & Ireland sleep consultants, our main aim is to get babies sleeping better and longer. We have a series of age-specific online sleep training courses with step-by-step sleep training programmes, day and bedtime routines, troubleshooting and much more. Please do get in touch if you have any further questions.