Knowing When to Drop The Nap
Updated: May 18, 2022
If I kept a record of the types of sleep questions I’m asked (I don’t, but...), this one would definitely make the top 3.
I get questions about dropping naps at least twice a week, and any time I post about it, the comments are buzzing! And it’s certainly not only first time parents asking these questions. I’m always surprised at how much I’m able to forget in between kids, right? So I did you a solid and broke down all of my secrets and suggestions to making some of the big nap transitions go smoothly. And it’s certainly shareable, so if you know someone in a similar sleepy situation, you know where to send them, right?
For starters, here’s a quick breakdown of the amount of naps your little one typically needs by age. Maybe it looks slightly different in your home (and that’s OK if things are working well!), but this is a great jumping off point.
First Thing’s First
A super important distinction we need to make when assessing whether or not your kiddo is ready to drop a nap is whether they’re going through a regression or truly ready to subtract a nap from their schedule.
How do you tell the difference?
Like 2-3 weeks, and see if things improve. If they improve, you’ll know it was a developmental leap and your little one still needs the same amount of naps. If things don’t improve AND your child is around the age that a drop in naps happens, then it’s probably time to make changes to their sleep schedule.
No matter what nap transition they’re at, while they’re going through this change, it’s important to bump up their bedtime by 30 minutes. Transitioning from your usual sleep schedule (even though the change is needed!), can be tough on your little, and moving bedtime up a bit helps them not get overtired. Once they’ve adjusted, go back to their normal bedtime.
In order to make the transition from 3 naps to 2 smoothly, it’s really important that your little one can handle a 2.5-3 hour awake window. If they can’t do this yet (that’s okay too!), then they’re not ready to cut the nap. This jump typically happens when babe is 6-8 months.
How do you know they’re ready to say goodbye to that third nap?
If there’s consistent pushback during that last nap, then it might be time to say goodbye to it. Whether its protesting from baby when you put them down, or just rolling around and playing instead of sleeping, they might be telling you that they’re just not tired enough for it. Their awake windows might lengthen on their own, leaving no time for a third nap anyway.
To be honest, that third nap has never been about quality sleep. It’s really just there so that baby can make it from their second nap to bedtime. While it’s necessary when babies are little, there’s a reason it’s one of the first naps to go.
And since I love a good example, here’s what a typical day might look like:
Not to scare you, but this transition is a big one for littles. So if you’re finding it hard, it’s because it is.
It often hits around 14-18 months, and you’ll know it because your baby struggles to fall asleep at naptime, takes shorter naps, wakes up early, or takes ages to go to sleep at bedtime. This transition is tough because they don’t need it enough to take 2 naps and sleep well at night, but if they don’t take that second nap, they’re grouchier than Baby Bear when he finds his porridge has been eaten.
The other thing to know is the 12 month sleep regression can also hit around this time. Remember what I taught you about discerning between regressions, or needing to drop a nap? Don’t be hasty in dropping a nap too soon, because if it is a regression, your little one will still need those 2 naps.
So if it’s not the 12 month regression, try a schedule like this:
Ohhh, this one is tough! Mama just isn’t ready for her baby to not need a nap anymore. Naptime is as much about having your own time as it is about your little one getting their needed rest. So when it’s no longer a consistent thing, it’s an adjustment for everyone.
Transitioning out of naps often happens somewhere between age 3 and 4. So again, don’t confuse that 2 year sleep regression with not needing naps anymore, because 2 year olds certainly still need them!
Some of the telltale signs that a nap has got to go, is when your kiddo struggles to fall asleep at bedtime on the days they nap. The tricky part is that they easily fall asleep during nap, so the parent thinks the nap is still needed. But then they’re up super late (like 9:30 or 10!) and still wake up at their usual time, but now they’re tired from a late night. It might not be a fight at bedtime, but they just aren’t tired enough to fall asleep.
So how do we ease into it? Cap the nap to 1.5 hours, then 1 hour. Or you can just remove it altogether and enjoy some fresh air to help keep them awake. And as always, move bedtime up 30 minutes while they’re transitioning.
I’m alllll about having quiet time when naps aren’t needed anymore! Non-stimulated time is still good for your little one. And let’s be honest, you also need a break! So even if they’re not napping, they're still benefiting from quiet time.
Naps are key to ensuring that night sleep also goes well. If you’re really struggling with baby’s sleep, know that I’ve been right where you are, and I know how to get you out! Come chat with me (don’t worry, it’s free!) about how I can get you from nap chaos, to sound slumber. Dependable naptime is just as important for you as it is your babe.