As a certified pediatric sleep consultant, I spend a lot of time talking to parents about when and how to transition a nap schedule. For the most part, it comes down to knowing how long your baby should be awake. Once you know that information, you can get a better understanding of how many naps a day your baby will take.
First, there are signs to look for when determining if your baby is ready to transition to 2 naps.
- Is your baby old enough to handle the nap transition?
Babies make the transition to 2 naps around 7 or 8 months of age. There are a handful that will do it at 6 months and I definitely recommend making the switch by 9 months at the latest.
- Pay attention to your baby’s cues.
How is that 3rd nap going? If you put your little one down and he falls asleep, but is then awake 20 minutes later, it could be time. The other likely scenario is you baby that used to go down easily is doing a bit of protesting or goes into his crib willingly, but just hangs out without ever falling asleep.
That can make for an awfully long period of awake time before bed and lead to some serious overtiredness. You know, crazy hyperactivity or huge bedtime battles. Neither of which result in a lovely bedtime routine for you and your baby.
Your baby’s ready to transition to a 2 nap schedule. Now What?
If either of those 2 changes have recently occurred to your baby’s 3 nap schedule, give it 2 weeks before deciding it’s time to make the switch.
The reason to pause before making the change to his naps is that you want to make sure the sudden disruption to nap 3 isn’t due to a developmental milestone, like starting to sit up. Or because of something else like travel, change in his schedule or environment.
In a two week period, if the third nap of the day is short or non-existent 4 or 5 times a week, make the switch. And once you do, don’t look back.
Making The Switch: Your Baby’s New 2 Nap Schedule
Nap times need to be adjusted by 30-45 minutes to bridge the gap in daytime hours. If the nap schedule was roughly 9am, 12:30pm, and 3:30pm, the new schedule should be in the range of 9:00/9:30am and 2:00/2:30pm. You can base this on his wake time for the day and the recommended wake time window of 3-4 hours.
For some children, this instantly improves nap length or for some children it decreases nap length in the beginning due to over-tiredness. If nap length decreases, a third nap in the car or stroller can be used temporarily to take the edge off before bedtime. This is meant to be just a supervised short catnap of 15- 20 minutes.
Tips for Successful Nap Transition for Your Baby:
- Push back naptime.
Push the naptime back by 15 minutes a day for three days (example: if nap was 9am, go to 9:15am for three days). Continue pushing the time back 15 more minutes every three days until the desired naptime is achieved. This may be a time when you use the above-mentioned third catnap to get them through to bedtime.
- Distract baby to help him get used to the new naptime!
You will likely notice your baby still appears tired at the usual naptime, so you will have to distract them a bit to get them to the desired nap time. Some outside time and a little fruit usually do the trick.
- Plan on a two-week transition period.
Moving bedtime earlier by 30 minutes for two weeks can help with the gap in time and prevent overtiredness. Even though 6:30pm may seem far too early for bed, it is only for two weeks to help get through this transition.
- Stick to the plan!
Remember it takes the body 4-6 weeks to fully adjust to a significant change in sleep patterns, so don’t expect your child to adjust immediately. If it seems that naps are getting shorter or more difficult, please stick with your plan even though your baby may seem a little cranky. Remember to use the third catnap and/or an earlier bedtime to get through the transition.
And once you’re on that 2 nap schedule, you can enjoy the predictability of your day. You know exactly when your baby will be napping and it make is SO much easier!
Andi Metzler is a (formerly tired) mom, wife, and certified Sleep Sense™ consultant from California. You can learn more about sleep training and services on her website: amsleepconsulting.com.