How do I Transition my Child to a New Nap Time?
Read time: 4 minutes
What should I know about changing my child’s nap time?
Sleep schedules change often throughout infancy and childhood
Understand when your child may be ready for a new nap schedule
A child often needs to a few days to adjust to fewer naps during the day
Just when you think you’ve mastered your baby’s nap schedule, it will change. In fact, your child’s daytime sleep needs and patterns will change multiple times from the newborn phase through infancy and then again into toddlerhood.1
Nap changes typically occur at predictable ages and stages, but of course each baby is unique, so watching your baby for signs that they’re ready for a new nap schedule will help you both make a smooth transition.2
Why are naps beneficial?
No matter what the current schedule, naps are hugely important for children.3 Naps support optimal growth and development because they positively impact your little one both mentally and physically.24 Naps also help to improve your child’s coping skills and help to avoid that all-too-familiar “overtired” state, which may lead to crankiness and sleep disruptions at night.5
Examples of nap needs for infants and toddlers
Newborns 0-4 months: unpredictable nap pattern
Newborns have a low tolerance for long periods of wakefulness and nap at irregular times and durations.6 At this age, naps anywhere from 30 minutes to 4 hours in length are typical.67
Read More: What are Typical Sleep Patterns for Newborns (0 - 12 week olds)?
Infants 4-6 months: 3 to 4 predictable naps per day
The first time you’ll likely see an obvious change in your baby’s daytime sleep is between 4-6 months of age.89
During this stage, a regular morning nap will likely occur 1.5-2 hours after a predictable morning wake time, after which 2 or 3 more naps will likely occur throughout the day as necessary.9
Total daytime sleep at this age averages 4 hours.6
Learn about: How do I Teach my Baby to Sleep in a Crib?
Infants 6-9 months: 3 predictable naps per day
At about the 6-month mark, you will likely begin to see your baby’s naps lengthen in duration and a more predictable 3-nap-per-day pattern typically emerges.
This often includes a morning nap starting about 2 hours from wake-up and averaging 90 minutes in length, a second nap about 3 hours from the wake of baby’s first nap and averaging 90 minutes in length, and a third catnap in the late afternoon or early evening averaging 15-45 minutes.8
Total daytime sleep at this age averages 3 - 4 hours.10
Learn More: What are Typical Sleep Patterns for 4 to 12-month-old Babies?
Infants 9-15 months: 2 predictable naps per day
At around 9 months, your baby should be able to stay awake for longer periods of time and will likely shift to a 2-nap-per-day schedule.11 To accommodate this change, eliminate the late afternoon catnap and shift your baby’s bedtime 15-30 minutes earlier.
Total daytime sleep at this age averages 2.5 - 4 hours a day.
Toddlers 15-18 months: 1 predictable mid-day nap
At around 15-18 months of age, your child will likely be ready for just one nap a day.24 This one nap should be at about the midway point of the day and will average 1-3 hours in length.6
Many families report that the transition from 2 naps to 1 nap a day is the most challenging, as your child may have trouble staying awake in the morning all the way until their single midday nap. To help their body adjust to the new nap pattern, you can start the nap a little earlier and then slowly push your child’s naptime later and later over several days until the nap begins at midday.
You can also try a rotating schedule of offering 2 naps and then 1 nap every other day, until your child becomes comfortable with 1 nap every day.
Total daytime sleep at this age averages 1-3 hours a day.6
Read More: What Are Typical Sleep Patterns for Toddlers?
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How should I transition my baby to a new nap time?
Watch for signs that your child is ready for a new nap pattern
If your child has trouble falling asleep, either at bedtime or during one of their regular daytime naps, for a week or more (and it’s not due to them being sick), it could be time for a new nap pattern.2
Long periods of unexplained wakefulness in the middle of the night can also indicate a need for a change in the schedule.2
Move sleep times later as you transition to less naps
Once you decide it’s time to transition to a new nap schedule, adjust each remaining nap time a bit later.
For example, when going from 3 to 2 naps, try moving each of the 2 remaining naps later by 30 minutes for the first several days. Continue to slowly move the nap times until they are where you’d like the new nap schedule to be.
If you are going from 2 naps to 1, you can try moving the first nap later by 30 minutes, then offer a shorter (15-20 minute) second nap. After several days, move the first nap back by 30 minutes again and continue to offer the shorter second nap. Slowly continue to move the first nap later until it’s about midday, all the while slowly weaning off of the second nap.
Be ready for an adjustment period
Know that it may take several days for your little one to adjust fully.
When dropping a nap, some children become more tired and fussy at night, and it’s absolutely acceptable to move their bedtime earlier to ensure they are still getting an adequate amount of sleep. If after a bit your child is having a tough time falling asleep at that earlier bedtime, you can slowly push it back each night by about 5 to 10 minutes until you are at a time when your child falls asleep well.
Keep your child’s regular napping routine
Transitions can be tough and keeping a routine can help make the change easier. Having a gentle wind-down time before a nap can signal to your child that sleep is coming soon and help them begin to relax.
Not only will a nap and bedtime routine help improve your child’s sleep, but it can also help with language development, literacy, bonding, and emotional regulation.16
Read more: How do I Create a Bedtime Routine for my Infant and Toddler?
Continue to create an optimal sleep environment for naps
Children of all ages sleep best when provided with a comfortable environment. This can be helpful as your little one is transitioning to a new nap pattern.
A restful room for napping is:
Cool, with a temperature around 68F12
A dark space13
Quiet, other than a consistent sound machine if your little one uses it (kept at least 6 feet away from their sensitive ears)14
Read more: Why is my Baby Waking Up so Early?
Try to keep regular naps until at least the age of 3 years
While your child may start resisting naps as they grow through the toddler years, know that most children continue to nap through their third year.15
If your little one is resisting, make nap time a ‘rest time’. Even if they are not sleeping, they may still benefit from having some down time during the day – as may you!
Learn about: When should my Child Stop taking Naps?
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For more on this topic, check out the following articles:
Sleep Patterns: What’s Typical for a Newborn?
What Are Typical Sleep Patterns for 4 to 12 Month Old Babies?
What are Typical Sleep Patterns for Toddlers?