How change your baby's napping habits
As a parent, so much of your energy in that first year is spent on figuring out your baby's sleep. How much they need, why they're waking up, what they need to fall asleep...those are really just the tip of the iceberg. What's possibly the hardest part is when you finally feel like you have a handle on your baby's schedule and then suddenly something changes. Dropping a nap is one of those times.
So how do you know when it's time to drop a nap and what to do about it?
Your baby is growing at a rapid rate, and part of that is the fact that over the course of weeks and months, they'll require less sleep as well as consolidate more of it into their nighttime sleep. Which means your baby will need to drop a nap at some point. Today we're going over the signs that show your baby is ready to transition down to fewer naps (3 to 2 and 2 to 1) as well as the best way to go about making the switch. Doing so in the calmest way possible is the goal here!
Typical Baby Nap Schedule
Before we get into the signs your baby will show you when it's time to reduce their nap number, let's first look at about how many naps a baby needs at what age.
0 - 2 months: Could be anywhere from 4-6 or more. Naps at this age are mostly baby-led - meaning they just sleep when they want to. There is no need to worry about a schedule during this time.
3 - 5 months: During this time frame is when we recommend sleep training (discussed more here) and moving to a more formalized schedule with your little one. If you're curious as to what that might look like, we recommend reading, "Newborn Sleep Patterns and Schedules for the First Year." Your baby may still take 4 naps in the earlier weeks of this stage, ultimately moving to 3 as the schedule they follow becomes more solidified.
6 - 7 months: Chances are that at this time your baby will be in a very good routine of 3 naps per day. This usually looks like one long one in the morning, another longer one in the afternoon, and one in the early evening (maybe longer or shorter depending on your baby's needs).
8 - 9 months: During the beginning of this phase your baby might still be taking 3 naps. The evening nap will get shorter until it's eventually dropped. By 9 months, most babies will only be taking 2 naps.
9 - 12 months: Plan to cruise along during this time frame with your baby on 2 solid naps per day with one in the morning and one in the afternoon.
13 - 18 months: Your baby will likely begin this phase on 2 naps. All babies are different, but somewhere in here is when you can expect your baby to be ready to drop down to 1 nap.
In looking over this chart, you can see that baby sleep needs change quickly. Even having an entire month where sleep looks the same doesn't happen that often. As your baby grows and matures, their sleep patterns will, too.
So how do you know when the right time is to drop a nap? Let's talk about the signs to look for.
Signs That Your Baby is Ready to Drop a Nap
Whether you're having your baby go from 3 naps to 2 naps or 2 naps to 1 nap, there are some general signs to look for to help you know that it's a good time to make the transition.
Here are your biggest clues:
- Your child's age falls in the recommended range of going down to fewer naps (at least 8 months old to drop to two naps; between the ages of 1-2 to drop to one nap)
- It takes your baby a long time (15 minutes or more) to fall asleep for at least one of their naps
- Your baby wakes up very early from their nap (and you're sure it's not just the 45-minute intruder like we talk about here)
- Your baby never falls asleep for their nap
- At bedtime, your baby doesn't seem sleepy and doesn't fall asleep easily
- Your baby is bright-eyed and bushy-tailed way too early in the morning
Ultimately, if you're finding that you're having to pull out all the stops to get your baby to sleep, then it's time to start looking at your options to move to fewer naps. I know this can rattle the schedule, and that can be hard as a parent when you feel like you finally got it all figured out. Luckily, your new normal will feel just right soon enough.
Dropping from 3 Naps to 2 Naps
We'll start with the younger babes who will need to move from 3 naps down to 2. In looking above, you'll see that this is likely to occur between 8 and 9 months. We all know that every baby is different so if it happens a little earlier or later, that's completely normal!
For most families, this transition is actually easier than the one that will occur when your baby moves to toddlerhood and only requires 1 nap per day. That's because often the 3rd nap of the day is what many of us refer to as a "catnap."
What is a catnap in baby terms?
A catnap lasts anywhere from 30 - 45 minutes. Most babies take this nap before dinnertime - or perhaps when the rest of the family is eating dinner.
Going from 3 naps down to 2 isn't quite as daunting since you're eliminating a shorter stretch of sleep.
Here's how to go about dropping the 3rd nap:
Step 1 Know your baby is ready: Make sure your baby is ready to drop the nap by utilizing the signs listed above. They won't necessarily be showing all of the signs, but if you can check off at least a few, and they've been giving you those signals for at least a week, it's time.
Step 2 Shorten the 3rd Nap: We suggest shortening the nap for a few days if they are still going down for it. But if they are just staying awake anyway, there's no reason to try to force it.
Step 3 Lengthen the wake window: Try to push your baby's wake window between naps 1 and 2 a little longer each day. When the catnap is eliminated, it makes it a very long stretch until bedtime. Aim for the 2nd nap to end about 3-4 hours before bedtime.
Step 4 Move up your baby's bedtime: Until you've worked out the kinks with making your baby's 2nd nap begin and end a little later, you'll want to push up their bedtime. This may stick without the catnap or you may notice they can hang a little later as time goes on. You don't want an overtired baby at bedtime, so pay attention to their sleepiness cues.
Step 5 Keep consistent sleep cues: Lastly, pay attention to the routines that let your baby know it's time to sleep. For example, make it very dark (with blackout curtains) when it's time for nap and bedtime. This cue helps a lot! Additionally, utilizing a tool like the Dreamland Baby Weighted Sack will help your baby relax when it's time for them to doze off.
Dropping from 2 Naps to 1 Nap
The 2 nap to 1 nap transition can be a little tougher on both family and baby. It will probably also take more time as well as patience on your part. Whereas the 3 to 2 nap transition often happens naturally with little push from you, the 2 to 1 nap takes a little more strategizing.
Keeping consistent sleep signals as we suggested above is one thing that we suggest you don't change as you move through this. Even if you make what seems like a drastic change in your day's schedule, your baby relies on the cues (such as their weighted sack) to think, "Oh, I guess it's time for me to go to bed now!" Keeping your crib routine in place throughout as we suggest here (probably shortened a bit for nap time) is one of the best things you can do!
Here are the rest of the steps to successfully get down to 1 nap per day:
Step 1 REALLY know your baby is ready: When moving down to 1 nap, you want to really be sure your baby is ready! What this means is that you're using our above signals about when your baby is ready to drop a nap and noticing them for 2 or more weeks. This is because babies will go through a period of time where they might not take a second nap for one day and then go right back to doing 2 per day for several days again. You don't want to do it too soon. But if you notice your baby is taking forever to fall asleep or other noteworthy clues for a good period of time, it's likely they are ready to drop down to 1 nap.
Step 2 Push the morning nap later: This step is important! You can do this while your baby is still taking a 2nd nap. We suggest a gradual shift over several days. This way, your baby can make it to naptime without getting beyond overtired. Aim for a 30 minute shift give or take over a few days, and then do the same again for a few days. Continue until the nap is about the time it would need to be when your baby drops to one nap. By the end of this shift, your baby should be down to 1 nap per day.
Step 3 Get the 1 nap to midday that balances morning and afternoon wake time: Aim for your baby's 1 nap to begin right after lunchtime - perhaps around 12 or 12:30. Ultimately, you don't want your baby to have to be awake for a lot longer period of time in the afternoon/evening then they were in the morning.
Step 4 Move up bedtime: You may have to start your baby's bedtime earlier once they've moved to one nap. Makes sense, right? The thing is, your baby's number of sleep hours doesn't actually change when they drop a nap. They're just consolidating the amount of sleep (about 13-15 hours per day) into a longer stretch of nighttime sleep with one long nap lasting about 2.5 - 3 hours.
Once you have your baby down to 1 nap per day, it's pretty smooth sailing in terms of how their sleep schedule will look going forward. They will continue to take this nap everyday through their preschool years with some children even needing a nap through kindergarten.
Getting Through the Nap Transitions With a Smile!
Nap transitions are just another one of the challenging times when it comes to your baby's sleep. If only your baby came complete with unique instructions to everything they needed in this department! But at the same time, it's these challenges that really help guide you in knowing who your baby is and how to parent them best. This is a great time to remind you that all babies have different temperaments. Some babies may protest the transition more than others. Use our tips and best strategies to help you know when to transition their naps down, but ultimately, let your baby be your guide.
Nap Transition FAQ's
What is a nap transition?
Simply put, a nap transition is when your baby “drops” a nap during the day and ideally, is sleeping better for longer during the night. While every baby is different, this tends to happen at around 3 months.
When should babies be on a nap schedule?
While it may seem counterintuitive, the better and more often your little one sleeps during the day, the better - and longer - they’ll sleep at night. Keep in mind that most newborns sleep between 14-17 hours and they need that time to grow and develop, sometimes sleeping as much as 4 hours at a time! Try not to worry about “scheduling” naps until baby is at around 3 months old. By then he’ll be getting used to life outside of the womb and it’s a good time to establish a routine.
Routines work best when they are consistent. For naps this includes noticing his sleep cues. Does he rub his eyes when he’s tired? Does he cry or seem fussy at certain times during the day? That’s when it’s time to wind down and establish some sleep routines like darkening the room, playing soft music, some extra cuddles… while it’s important to do this for night time sleep, it’s good to have a similar routine for daytime, so baby knows that naptime is near.
Once you have consistent routines in place during the day, it should be easier for baby to sleep independently through the night in the months to come!
What is a good pre nap routine?
Every baby is different but usually, a good pre-nap routine is a shortened version of the night-time sleep routine. For some this means darkening the room, playing soft music, changing baby out of their play clothes… it could also be reading a story and most likely, putting on a fresh diaper. Whatever your pre-nap routine is, stick with it while it works. It will change, and change again as baby develops! That’s okay, but you’ll find that consistency is key… and will likely lead to better quality sleep, for everyone!
What is the 2 3 4 nap schedule?
The 2, 3, 4 nap schedule is a system that helps a lot of families establish better sleep routines once baby reaches 6 months old. Essentially, it works like this:
- 2 hours after baby wakes from their nighttime sleep, put them down for nap #1
- 3 hours after that nap ends, put them down for nap #2
- 4 hours after nap #2 ends, put them down for bed
To put it in real life scenario (we’re using 2 hours per nap for sake of example only -and wishful thinking!!) the 2, 3, 4 nap schedule would look like this:
- Baby wakes up at 7am… nap #1 starts at 9am
- Baby wakes from nap #1 at 11am. So nap #2 starts at 2pm
- Baby wakes from nap #2 at 4pm. So bedtime starts at 6pm.
The 2, 3, 4 nap schedule may not work for every baby, but if it’s what you need to get started on a routine, it’s definitely worth a try!
Does the 2 3 4 nap schedule work?
Every baby is different and what works for one, may not work for another. As with everything baby-related, sometimes it’s a matter of trial and error. It’s also good to remember that as baby grows and develops, their habits tend to change. So while the 2, 3, 4 schedule may not work at first, a month later it might. Trusting your instincts is so important as a parent! No one knows your baby like you do, so follow those instincts and you will find the routine that works best for you and baby!
Should I put a baby in a sleep sack for naps?
If you’re wondering when to put baby in sleep sack, they are good for newborns through toddlerhood, although every baby is different. Once your baby starts rolling over on their own, or is breaking free of the swaddle, it’s a good idea to introduce the sleep sack. Sleep sacks work best when baby no longer enjoys the soothing benefits of swaddling. Since it’s a wearable blanket, sleep sacks also adhere to the AAP rule of “bare is best” – nothing in the crib (or co-sleeper, bassinet, etc) other than the mattress, mattress sheet or cover, and baby. A sleep sack will keep baby at just the right temperature, so no need for any extra anything in his sleep space. The good news is, baby can use his sleep sack anytime you put him to sleep. It will soon become a comfort object, something familiar that triggers “it’s time for bed!” which should help him sleep like a pro – at naptime and bedtime!