In those early newborn weeks and months, your baby likely didn’t have much of a nap schedule. Babies often spend their earliest days catnapping between feedings. However, by the time your baby closed in on 4 to 6 months of age, you might have seen some patterns emerging. Many babies of that age take three distinct naps per day, one in the morning, one in the early afternoon, and one in the late afternoon or early evening. By six months, your baby has likely dropped that evening nap by without much fuss, resulting in a morning and afternoon nap pattern. Between 12 and 18 months, your toddler will drop his morning nap, and by the time he is 3 to 4 years of age, he’ll drop naps entirely.
What are the signs that your 12 to 18 month old is ready to drop his nap? You might notice that he has a hard time settling down for his morning nap. He may even nap for a shorter period of time, or he may skip that nap entirely some days. Interestingly, you might also notice that he sleeps well for his morning nap, but begins to have trouble falling asleep for his afternoon nap, or sleeps for only a brief period in the afternoon. When this begins to happen consistently, or when you notice that your child isn’t exhibiting signs of sleepiness before naptime, he may be ready to drop his morning nap. One of the best indicators that he’s ready for only one nap is when you notice that when he skips a nap, he does just fine! Ask your daycare provider whether they’ve noticed these behaviors during the week.
Some parents go cold turkey at this point, taking away the morning nap entirely and putting their child down for his afternoon nap at his usual time. Some children, however, may need a little help acclimating to the change. Try moving your child’s afternoon nap up to 11am, if you usually put him down at 1pm. Gradually, over the course of a month or two, shift his nap a little later, in half hour increments. When you notice your child making it from sunrise to naptime without any trouble, you’ll know that it’s OK to shift the nap later. Eventually, your child will most likely be able to make it all the way through lunch, to his early afternoon nap.
At this point, you’ve got a toddler on your hands who is napping once per day, and that’s probably a schedule she’ll stick to for quite some time. Some children begin to show signs that they are ready to drop this nap as early as 3 years of age, though some kids hang onto that afternoon nap all the way until 5 years! The signs that your child is ready to drop her nap are similar to those mentioned above. Your child may even have trouble falling asleep at night if she is getting too much daytime sleep.
Some children drop this nap altogether, going cold turkey, but if your child is having trouble getting through the afternoon without some sort of rest, consider weaning her off of her nap gradually by shortening its length in half hour increments. You might also consider giving your child “quiet time” instead of naptime. Allow your child to stay in her bed with a few books and toys, and if she wants to play quietly rather than sleep, she will get the benefits of a bit of quiet and relaxation, which will leave her feeling refreshed even without an actual nap. We know a few parents whose children have continued the “quiet time” tradition for a few years, as it gives the child and the whole family a nice break from noise and stimulation.
Some of you have already gone through one or two of these nap transitions. Do you have any advice for the parents in the naptime trenches? What worked for your child? Let us know in the comments.