As our babies grow and change, so do their nap schedules! But how do you know when it’s time to drop a nap? What if they are struggling to nap and it’s close to bedtime?
Let’s go over when nap transitions typically happen and how you can support your baby get their best sleep possible.
What Age Do Nap Transitions Happen?
When your baby is a newborn, they are napping often and their wake windows are pretty short, around 45 minutes to an hour. As they grow, they start to nap less frequently and their wake windows stretch.
Around 4 to 5 months of age they will usually be napping 3-4 times per day, then in months 6-8 they’ll transition down to 2 naps per day.
They'll usually stick with 2 naps per day until about the 15 - 18 month range when they’ll go down to one per day, this could happen sooner depending on daycare schedules.
And around age 3 they’ll usually drop the nap altogether.
Of course, because every baby is different, these timelines can vary a little bit. Keep in mind that any reference to age in this post refers to a baby’s “true” or adjusted age. This means that if a baby was born more than a week before their due date, it’s usually most helpful to base their age more on their estimated due date when it comes to things like expectations regarding being ready for reaching milestones - including sleep ones!
Dropping Naps Too Soon
Sometimes we try to drop a nap too soon, because we think they’re “supposed” to be sleeping a certain amount, or because of circumstances like going to daycare.
We also may be tempted to drop naps before they are ready when we notice that they have skipped a nap once or twice, or they are not napping as well as they used to.
While these can be signs or reasons to drop a nap, it doesn’t mean that they are fully ready to commit.
But how do you know? Read the dos and don’ts below!
Dos & Don’ts Of Supporting Your Baby During A Nap Transition
Do Keep As Many Naps As You Can
Don’t rush to drop naps just because they reach a certain age, or they are heading to daycare.
Provide an opportunity for them to nap when circumstances allow, like at home on the weekends if they are dropping a nap in daycare. On days when naps haven't been as long as usual, provide a chance for a 3rd nap, it will likely make bedtime much easier if they aren’t overtired.
Don’t Drop A Nap At The First Sign Of Difficulty
It can be hard, but don’t drop a nap at the first sign of difficulty. Just because they skipped a nap two days in a row doesn’t mean they are fully ready. It may work for a day or two, but if they are getting overtired it will make bedtime more difficult! When in doubt, refer to tip 1!
Do Bring Bedtime Forward
When naps are being skipped, you should bring bedtime forward by about an hour to support your baby through this nap transition.
This is essential to ensure your baby doesn’t get overtired which can lead to tougher bedtimes, more frequent overnight wake-ups or an earlier than desired morning wake-up call!
Don’t Drop The Last Nap Of The Day
When dropping naps from two down to one, it’s actually not the last nap of the day that should be dropped, it’s the first!
The challenge is, many babies will wake up early, and waiting until midday to nap is too long of a stretch. This often leads them to have a late morning nap, which ends up with your baby skipping their afternoon nap, which leads to a cranky overtired baby in the late afternoon. It can also lead to terrible night’s sleep and continues the cycle of crap naps!
How can we stop this cycle? Cap the morning nap to ensure that the afternoon nap happens. While the timing of this can look different for different babies, I’ll generally advise to cut off the morning nap by 10:30 - 10:45am to ensure a 1:30 - 2:00pm start to the 2nd nap. Usually this is about as late as you can go without it messing with bedtime. If this means you have to wake them up by a certain time in the morning, then do that. It will make the rest of the day much smoother!
Do Have A Cut Off Time
When it comes to the last nap of the day, it’s good to have a cut-off time for when daytime sleep should end so that bedtime sleep will happen.
This cut off time is usually around 5:30pm for babies under 6 months, or 5pm for those over 6 months, as bedtime should be no later than 8pm. Use this as a guideline to decide on whether or not you’ll be aiming to put your baby down for another nap or keeping them awake for bedtime, maybe bringing bedtime forward by an hour if needed.
Ask yourself if you can conceivably help your baby to fall asleep and know they’ll wake up again (from at least a 20-30 minute cat nap) by 5pm? If so, then go for the nap. If the answer is no, then opt instead for an early bedtime!
Make Sure Everyone Gets The Rest They Need
Sleep (or lack thereof) can be one of the hardest parts of having a little one! If you're not sure, or you think some changes need to happen in the sleep department, and you'd like a bit of help with that, send me an email at email@example.com and we can chat about your specific situation.
Read more about naps: The Basics Of Baby Naps
Ashley Cooley is a birth, baby and sleep specialist living in Dartmouth, NS with her husband and their three girls.