Toddler transitions: 2 naps to 1

Yawning toddlerJust when you thought you had this whole child sleep thing figured out, your toddler goes and changes things on you. So frustrating! By about 9 months, most children are taking two naps but as they move closer to sometimes a year and most often 15-18 months, they will begin to only need one nap. Here are some helpful things to know about this transition from 2 naps to 1.

How to know its time for one nap:

  • Your child is between the ages of 15 and 18 months. Sure, some 12 month olds will try to go to one nap. This is often associated with new-found developmental skills like walking. Walking is a big new step in your toddler’s life that requires a lot of brain work. This, in turn, can often seem much more interesting then sleeping during the day. If your newly turned one year old is on the cusp of walking and is also fighting naps, I would give it some time before you give up on two naps entirely. Below are some tips for helping to hold onto two naps for a little longer. Yes, I have seen some children who are younger 15 months who are able to handle one nap. It’s not ideal, but some children are really not good nappers until they consolidate their day sleep into one time per day. However, if you are using sleep crutches to get your child to sleep (holding, rocking, feeding, bouncing, etc), it is likely that it will look like your child is ready to go to one nap long before they are really ready. This is because in order to successfully use crutches to get your child to sleep, they have to be very tired. As children get older, and especially in the afternoon, they are less tired. Therefore, it will take more work to “induce” your child to sleep using crutches. If this is the case, teaching your child how to put himself to sleep using sleep coaching can solve this problem. I have seen children who haven’t taken two naps in months go back to easily taking two naps a day once they are sleeping independently.
  • Your child spends their whole morning nap talking, playing, singing and never falls asleep.
  • Your child spends the whole morning nap talking, playing, singing and then falls asleep right as you are about to get him up at 11am.
  • If your child no longer seems tired for their morning nap for a period of about two weeks, rather consistently.
  • Your child decides he loves his morning nap, couldn’t imagine not taking it but then won’t fall asleep in the afternoon. This is more problematic and a less desirable way to drop a nap because when you move to one nap, it needs to happen in the afternoon and not the morning otherwise you will end up with a very long window between the morning nap and bedtime. This often leads to late afternoon meltdowns (by parent and child), bedtime struggles, and early rising.

How to make the move to one nap:

When children are showing the indications (see above) that they are ready for one nap, it is important that this nap happen after noon. On average, when children start taking one nap, it may be that you can hardly make it to twelve o’clock before your child looks like they will pass out. As his brain adjusts to being awake through the morning, this will get easier. There can often be a real rough patch between about 10 and 11am where your child is showing all the signs of being tired. You know that if you put him down for a nap, he will sleep but that will likely mean that is the only nap you get for the day. It’s too early. This is the time to work on rejuvenating your toddler with some fresh air, snacks and distraction. I typically suggest then giving your child an early lunch and then nap after lunch. This will help your child start to organize how they think about their new routine: “I eat lunch and now I take my nap.” Remember, you have a toddler now and they love routines and predictability. Some parents will start by moving the nap to 11am but be very careful that you don’t get stuck there. If your child naps from 11-1pm, you will end up with a long window to bedtime. As your child approaches two years old, the nap often moves closer to 1pm and sometimes even later as you move further into toddlerhood.

Things to keep in mind:

  • Your child may not be able to handle one nap every day quite yet.
  • It is okay to do a day or two of one nap and then a day or two of two naps to keep your child from getting too overtired.
  • When children go to one nap, it may be only the length of one of their naps from before. For example, if your child was taking two hour and a half naps, when he goes to one nap, he will probably initially take one hour and a half nap. It will take his brain some time to figure out that he is only going to get in one opportunity to sleep for the day, and he has to consolidate all his daytime sleep into that one nap.
  • If every day you are doing one nap still feels like a struggle, and it’s not getting better, its okay to go back to two naps until you just really cannot make it work anymore. Incidentally, I did this with both of my kids when they were transitioning to 1 nap.

What to do if you know your child still needs two naps but you can’t make it happen

This commonly happens somewhere between 12 and 15 months when your child will start fighting one of the naps (most often the PM nap) but you know that he’s not ready to make it through the whole day on one nap.

  • Make sure that your child’s naps are already no earlier then 9 (for the AM nap) and 2 (for the PM nap). If they aren’t there yet, move them so that they are happening at those times.
  • If your little one wants to take a nice long morning nap and then no nap at all in the afternoon, one option can be to shorten the morning nap. I have had families shorten it to even 30-45 minutes in order to create enough sleep pressure to be tired enough in the afternoon for the nap. This, of course, can backfire because if your child’s brain will only allow him to fall asleep one time during the day and you have shortened that one time, then it’s going to be a long, rough day.
  • You can lengthen the awake time between first and second nap. Start with 2:30 if you aren’t already there and then you can push that PM nap as late as 3 or 3:30. It may not be long but you just need to get it in. Incidentally, because of this late PM nap, I find that children in this age group have some of the latest bedtimes because they wake at 4 or even a bit later from their nap and can easily be awake 4 hours before bedtime. ****This bedtime will need to move earlier again when your child goes to one nap in order to shrink that window between nap and bedtime.
  • As a last ditch effort, in cases where a child just cannot make it to a nap at noon but trying to make two naps really happen is no longer working, I will have parents do a 15 minute car nap in the AM around 9am. This is just enough to take the edge off and help everyone make it to noon for the nap. Again, if your child will only fall asleep once during the day, this can backfire. See Honest Toddler for the “science” behind this. Please remember that if your child tends to fall asleep in the car anyway, if you are in motion around nap time (noonish), it is very likely that he will fall asleep there and this may be all you get for the day.

Good luck!


One Response to Toddler transitions: 2 naps to 1

  1. I have read the entire internet on sleep and nap transitions. Or I thought I had h til I stumbled upon this site. And gosh – am I ever glad I did. This is the most clear explanation of how to get down to one nap. Thank you. One question, how the heck long do you give it before you bail? Our kid is on day 4 of 1 nap a day (14 months), and her mood is excellent all day, but she has started night waking like a boss. She does have a cold and is getting her 2 year old molars though…. So hard to say what’s what. Anyway, regardless if I hear from you, great article. Thank you.

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