How to Transition from Two Naps to One

When your kid suddenly won't go down without a fight, it may be time to switch their daily snooze routine. Here’s what you need to know about the “two to one” nap transition.

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Toward the end of their baby's first year, many parents have mastered a daytime routine consisting of two naps (one in the morning and one in the afternoon). But around the 12-month mark, many infants began waging a mini revolt, causing their napping habits to shift.

"Children usually go from two naps to one sometime between ages 1 and 2," says Harvey Karp, M.D., author of The Happiest Baby Guide to Great Sleep. Figuring out when and how to make the move can be tricky—but you can use this blueprint as a guide.

Signs Your Child Needs Two Naps Daily

Not sure whether to make the "two to one" naptime transition? If you notice the following signs—courtesy of Elizabeth Pantley, author of The No-Cry Nap Solutionthen your child probably still needs two naps every day.

  • Your child is under 12 months old
  • When you put your child down for a nap, they play, resist, or fuss for a while—but they always ends up sleeping for at least an hour
  • Your child usually falls asleep during daytime car rides
  • Your child is fussy or acts tired if they miss a nap
  • Your child is dealing with a change in their life (such as a new sibling, sickness, or starting day care) that disrupts their nap schedule
  • Your child misses naps when you're on the go, but takes two good naps when you're at home

Signs Your Child Can Adjust to One Nap Daily

There are lots of ways your child may let you know their napping schedule needs tweaking. Look for these common signs that they're ready for a transition, according to the The No-Cry Nap Solution.

  • When you put your child down for a nap, they play or fuss, then take only a short nap or never fall asleep at all
  • Your child can go for car rides early in the day and not fall asleep
  • When your child misses a nap, they're cheerful and energetic until the next nap or bedtime
  • Your child naps well for one of their naps but resists the other nap

In general, "if you see consistent changes in your toddler's sleep pattern for about two weeks, it may be time to transition to one nap," says Kim West, a children's sleep therapist and coauthor of The Sleep Lady's Good Night, Sleep Tight.

How to Make the "Two to One" Nap Transition

Making the switch before your child is ready can lead to miserable days and a return to nighttime wake-ups. That's because overtired kids tend to sleep worse than well-rested ones. Before you decide to consolidate naps, see whether fiddling with your toddler's schedule solves the problem, suggests West. If they take a long morning nap and then melt down in the afternoon, see if ending their A.M. snooze early makes them more cooperative for the second. If waking them up after 75 minutes doesn't help, keep shortening it. However, don't cut any nap to under 45 minutes; your child needs that much time to complete a sleep cycle.

Here are some more tips for making the "two to one" nap transition.

Make changes gradually.

Most toddlers go through a "one nap is too little, two is too many" phase, which can last from a few weeks to two months. Once you conclude that your kid is ready to make the switch, start steering them toward a single midday siesta. Begin by pushing the morning nap later by 15 minutes every day or two. Your ultimate goal is to start it shortly after lunch. By that time, your exhausted toddler should sack out for two to two-and-a-half hours.

If your child is used to waking up after an hour, see if you can soothe them back to sleep. You can also use a white-noise machine, which may help them sleep longer. "If all else fails, this is the time to use one of your standby techniques, such as putting your toddler in the stroller or taking a drive, to ensure they get the refresher they need," says West.

Smooth rough patches with quiet time.

During this transitional time, your toddler may be a bit sleep-deprived. So as you switch to one nap, try to ease their morning crankiness by establishing "quiet time," during which you read or listen to soft music, says George J. Cohen, M.D., a pediatrician and author of American Academy of Pediatrics Guide to Your Child's Sleep: Birth Through Adolescence.

Accomodate for less sleep.

Consider moving their dinner and bedtime earlier to make up for the reduced daytime sleep. You should also be open to an occasional two-nap day when your child seems to need it.

Consider their daycare schedule.

If your child's sleep schedule at daycare doesn't align with the routine that works at home, talk with the staff about coming up with a plan, suggests West. You might even ask whether it's possible to move your child to a different room at the center during rest time. But don't stress out too much if the director is unable to accommodate you: Lots of children do perfectly fine following one sleep pattern during the week and a contrasting one on weekends. Gradually, the two will be in sync and you won't need to worry about their napping routine again ... at least until age 3 or 4, when they're most likely to give up daytime sleep for good.

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