Category Archives: Naps

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!


Avoiding the perils of an overtired baby

sleepy babyWhen you are a new parent, there are so many things that are new and different then your life was before becoming a parent.  One thing that is very shocking to new parents is how much sleep your child actually needs.  It is also surprising how frequently they need to go to sleep.  When babies become overtired, their brains begin to produce cortisol, which acts as a stimulant in their bodies and actually inhibits sleep.  If you have a newborn, you are probably have already experienced the dreaded “witching hour.” This is often a product of being extra hungry as the day wears on (hopefully storing up on feedings for a longer stretch of sleep at night) and overtiredness creating the perfect storm of crying and hysterics (among both parents and children alike).

Children typically become overtired when they are awake for too long.  Sometimes it can be hard to know what too long really is.  Here is a chart that can be helpful at determining how long your child can be awake before becoming overtired:

0-5 mos 6-8 mos 9-12 mos 12-28 mos 2-4 yrs
Wakefulness window 1-2hrs 1.5-3hrs 2-4hrs 4-6 hrs 5/6-12hrs
Number of naps 4-5/day 3/day 2/day 1-2/day 1 nap/QT
Total daytime sleep Varies 3-3.5hrs 2.5-3hrs 2.25-2.5 hrs 0-2hrs

The other way to know when your child is becoming overtired is by watching their sleepy cues.  Sometimes these are things that are very obvious like eye rubbing, yawning or even ear rubbing (commonly mistaken as a sign of teething or an ear infection).  Other times, sleepy cues can be more subtle like slowing down of play, vocalizing less or when your child is making less eye contact.  Fussiness, crabbiness, irritability or your ability to do anything to make your child happy (as is the case with toddlers) is often a sign that you have missed that window and your child is now overtired.

So you may be wondering why that wakeful window is important or “won’t my child eventually go to sleep even if she is overtired?”  Yes, children will eventually fall asleep, even when overtired, but it often takes longer for them to settle and there is much more crying involved.  In general, it is much harder for children to fall asleep when overtired and they will actually “fight” sleep at this point.  Being overtired for naps leads to shorter naps because when your child is overtired at the beginning of the nap, it makes it harder for her to get through the sleep cycles and stay asleep for her naps.

Trying to figure out when to put your child down for naps and bedtime can often feel like a moving target in the beginning.  As your baby moves towards 4-6 months of age, it can become easier to decipher what he or she is telling you about when it is time to go to sleep.   In the meantime, take heart.  Figuring this out isn’t as easy as it may have once sounded!

Why does my baby only nap for 30 minutes?

30 minute disaster napOne of the most common questions I hear from parents is regarding their children’s short naps.  More specifically, naps lasting 30 minutes, sometimes (if you’re lucky), 45 minutes.  Parents will say, “my baby can only sleep for 30 minutes and then he’s up, and he won’t go back to sleep.”  This is a painful experience for everyone.  Your baby is likely to still be tired and you are likely to be frustrated because you know he still needs more sleep but you can’t get him to sleep any longer.  I know how you feel!  I have been there.  My son was also a 30 minute napper until he was about 7 months old.  I would watch him on the video monitor and at exactly 30 minutes, I would see his fingers moving, then a leg and then he was up!  I remember thinking, “Are you wearing a watch in there?”  How did he know that it had been exactly 30 minutes on the dot?  I now know that 30 minutes was the end of his first sleep cycle, and he had to learn how to get himself back to sleep when he went through that sleep cycle.

The good news is that it is possible to teach your child how to take longer naps and help him not be overtired.  Before thinking about working on the naps though, you have to take into account what is happening at night.  Children learn to consolidate their night sleep before day sleep.  If your baby does not have the skill to put himself to sleep at night (when it is the easiest time to fall asleep), then it will be very hard to do it for naps when it is much, much harder.  If the nights are going well, then you may be in a good spot to do some nap coaching.  The key to your child learning how to take longer naps is that he has to put himself to sleep at the beginning of the nap so that when he goes through a sleep cycle, he has the skill to get himself back to sleep.

Another important component to taking good naps is for your baby to not be overtired when going down for a nap.  When babies become overtired, their brain begins to produce cortisol which is the stress hormone that not only inhibits sleep but also give your baby a “rush,” leading him to be energized rather then sleepy.   How long your child can be awake before becoming overtired largely depends on how old they are and how well they are sleeping in general.  For instance, if your child is sleeping through the night, he is going to have a much easier time making it an hour and a half or two hours to his morning nap then if his night sleep is broken by frequently wake ups.  So when your child is waking too early from naps, looking at whether he might have been overtired when he went down can help you understand what led to the short nap.

Lastly, if you want your child to learn how to take longer naps, then you are most likely going to need to do some nap coaching so he learns that when he wakes at 30 or 40 minutes, it is not time to be awake.  Nap coaching is not very much fun and can be very frustrating.  The reason for this is because naps happen multiple times a day and require persistence and consistency in order to improve.  Also, often one parent is home alone with the child, doing the nap coaching so it can be more isolating and sometimes discouraging.  With some focus on improving your child’s naps, however, it is absolutely possible to make changes so that your child is getting enough sleep for his developmental stage.

Have you been struggling with helping your child improve his or her day sleep?  Contact me for a FREE 15 minute phone consultation to learn more about how to improve your child’ s naps.

Naps: Friend or foe

napping baby 2I find that parents often have a love/hate relationship with their child’s naps.  Naps are great because your child will feel refreshed and restored after a good nap.  When your baby or toddler is getting the right amount of day sleep, she is happier, she is able to stay awake for longer periods of time before becoming overtired, she will have a better ability to adapt to changes in her environment, as well as many other positives that are the result of being well rested.  Not to mention, parents also feel better when they have had a little down time while their little one sleeps.  However, when naps aren’t going well, meaning that your child refuses to nap or her naps are too short, nap-time can feel miserable for everyone.

New parents are often frustrated that their baby doesn’t nap well or naps are inconsistent.  This is very common and normal.  Some children are better nappers from birth then others.  Children who aren’t such great nappers often have to learn how to nap.  In general, naps typically don’t fall into place until night sleep has improved.  Most children will learn to consolidate their night sleep before their day sleep.  Also, when children don’t have the skill to put themselves to sleep at night and sleep well at night (when it is actually easier to put yourself to sleep), it is even more difficult for them to accomplish this task during the day, a time when it is harder to sleep.  Many babies don’t begin to take better naps until they are closer to 6 months old.  Better day sleep comes with brain maturation, and the ability to stay asleep through sleep cycles, for many children, comes with age.   For babies under 6 months old who are struggling with naps, I tell parents to do whatever they have to do to help their child get day sleep even if that means sleeping in a carrier or with motion, especially as it gets closer to the end of the day and your baby is more overtired.  When your baby is 6 months and able to put herself to sleep more easily, you can work your way out of any sleep crutches you have been using.  If your child is over 6 months old and is not napping well, it is often because you are using a sleep crutch to help your child go to sleep (such as rocking, bouncing, or feeding to sleep).  These tools may help you get your child to sleep at the beginning of the nap but when she moves through a sleep cycle (partial arousal), often occurring at 30 or 45 minutes, she will not be able to get herself back to sleep without once again needing your help.

So how much sleep does your child need during the day?  Below is a chart to help you determine if your child is getting enough day sleep.  Please keep in mind that these are averages meaning that some children need more day sleep and some need less.


Hours of day sleep (# of naps)

0-4 weeks 6-7 hours (4 naps)
5-8 weeks 6-7 hours (3-4 naps)
9-12 weeks 4.5-5 hours (3-4 naps)
4-6 months 3.5-4 hours (3 naps)
6-9 monthsMost children move to 2 naps during this time period 3-3.5 hours (2-3 naps)
9-12 months 3 hours (2 naps)
12-18 monthsMost children transition to 1 nap between 15 and 18 months old 2-3 hours (1-2 naps)
18 months-2.5 years 2.25 hours (1 nap), 2 hours for children closer to 2.5
3/4/5 years 1-1.5 hours for younger children, encourage quiet time for children closer to 5

If your child is not napping well, it may be that she needs to learn how to do this.  Nap coaching takes time, consistency and lots of persistence on your part..  If you would like help with improving your child’s naps, contact me.  Naps don’t have to be a daily struggle in your home.