You expected the sleepless nights in the beginning. But fortunately, you got through it. Naps, too, frustrated you but your hard work paid off and you finally achieved those glorious naps you thought you might only ever read about. Sleep was finally going well but now all of a sudden you can’t figure out your baby’s sleep needs anymore. Does baby need two naps a day or just one?!
First and foremost, to ensure your child is on his/her ideal sleep schedule he/she needs to be napping at times that are based on the child’s circadian rhythms. If your child is struggling to get to sleep at nap time it may be that sleep is not occurring at the correct times. If we put a child down for naps at the times that are biologically appropriate for a child of her age it will be easiest for her to fall to sleep and get her lengthiest, best quality sleep. Conversely, if a child is being put down for her naps at the incorrect times it makes it incredibly hard for her to settle down and fall to sleep. Our biological clock evolves as we grow and our brains mature however, which is why the amount of sleep your baby needs shifts. At some point during the 12-18 month range most babies make the transition to one nap a day which can make it hard to figure out their exact sleep needs. Below are some guidelines to help you figure out when your child might be ready to transition from two naps to one, and how to do so.
12 Months to 14 Months
Your baby still needs a two- nap schedule at least through her fourteenth month. The first nap should begin between 8:30 and 9am. (Around the age of 12 months you may find you need to cap this nap at 10am in order to preserve a good second nap.) The second nap should begin between 12:30 and 1pm. It is very common around the age of 12 or 13 months for a child to begin to protest one or both naps. Do not be fooled, this does not mean your little one is ready for one nap a day! The best thing to do when this happens is to continue to be consistent with your routine, expectations, and schedule. The only adjustment we may want to make is to offer naps earlier (yes, earlier!) to build in time for your child to babble, tumble or pace her crib and still be asleep on time. With consistency the two naps should return.
15 Months to 18 Months
Sometime during this period, you can expect your child’s schedule to change to just one nap a day. You might see one of the following scenarios that indicates your child is ready to make this transition:
She plays through her entire morning nap, or it takes her so long to fall to sleep for this nap that it starts later and lasts too long which then interferes with afternoon nap. Others may continue to fall to sleep quickly for nap one and take a great nap but then refuse to take an afternoon nap or the afternoon nap starts too late and interferes with bedtime. In either scenario I would wait 5-7 to be sure this really is the new norm; at times milestones can temporarily interfere with sleep. If you feel confident that your child is past the point of needing two naps a day read on to learn how to make the transition as smooth as possible.
Once your child is only taking one nap it should begin at 1:00pm. It might be a stretch to get there initially so that is why we want to keep the two naps for as long as possible. On day one of the two-to-one nap transition start with the nap as close to 12pm as possible. Hold at 12pm for 3 days. On the fourth day, move to 12:15pm and remain there for 3 days. On day 7, move to 12:30pm. It is then OK to stay at 12:30pm for a month or so and once your child has adjusted push on to 1pm. Your child will likely become cranky and tired if he is not being offered naps at times his body has become accustomed to, but going back and forth will be too confusing for your child and will make it harder for him to adjust. Once you decide to implement the schedule changes, just go for it! While you are transitioning to a new schedule you will need to be consistent with your approach. Exposing him to lots of bright sunlight and fresh air during periods of awake time will also help reset his biological clock so try to get out and about – but do not let him fall asleep in the car or stroller which will foil his scheduled nap!
Your child likely will become overtired during this process because it’s a hard one! He will need an early bedtime during the transition to compensate. Typically, a 15-18-month old can tolerate 4 hours of awake time between the time the last nap ends and when he is fast asleep for the night but, during the transition he may need a bedtime that falls closer to 3.5 hours after the nap ended until he has adjusted. Hang tight, try your best to keep your child well rested and know that within time your child will adjust. Once he does, you will have long periods of awake time in the morning to get out and visit those places that were too challenging to get to in between his two naps!
Lauren Stauffer is a Family Sleep Institute certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant and owner of Well Rested Baby. She offers a host of services including in person, phone, email, and FaceTime consultations that can be tailored to meet any family’s needs and schedule. Please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a consultation. Be sure to follow WRB on Facebook for more great sleep tips!
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