Tackling Tricky Nap Transitions

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The 6 to 18 month period can bring with it some semblance of consistency and predictability. Schedules begin to emerge, your baby may be easier to read, sleep bouts consolidate. This can feel like a major relief after the uncertainties of the first 6 months, particularly if you are a first time parent.

At the same time, however, this window of time features some monumental shifts in your baby’s development (cognitive leaps, crawling, walking, first foods, first words, growth spurts, never ending teething), all of which can turn your sleep routine upside-down for what can feel like weeks on end. 

Signs of a Baby Nap Transition

Amidst all this growth, it can be difficult to recognize another fundamental change that will pop up and misdirect your little’s newly consistent schedule: the nap transition. Suddenly your trusty routine is plagued by sleep resistance and frequent wakings. Sleep is the last thing on their agenda. And you are left to question whether you ever actually knew what your baby’s schedule was in the first place.

So how to tease apart nap transitions from all the other sleep-hindering developments that your little one is experiencing? Here are 3 common signs that it may be time to drop that nap:

  • Late bedtime – No doubt you’ve worked hard to achieve that consistent early bedtime that is prescribed as being so important to a good night’s sleep. And your baby was finally succumbing to a manageable 7pm lights out. But all of a sudden, he just wants to party when you are ready for an evening glass of wine. Maybe he’s contentedly playing in his crib for an hour or more. Maybe he’s screaming out for your company. Either way, if you notice that bedtime continues to creep later and later and you begin to question if it’s negligent if you fall asleep for the night before your baby, it may be time to drop that nap.
  • Early morning wake ups – Perhaps your babe is still happy to go to sleep at a reasonable hour, but instead has decided that 5am is the BEST time to summon you to play. You turn to all your tried and tested tricks for getting him back to sleep (a diaper change, a good long nursing session, a snuggle with mom and dad), but nothing works anymore. And now you’re stuck with the uncertainty of whether to move nap time earlier, which inevitably leads to an earlier bedtime. And you quickly get sucked into the reinforcing spiral of early-to-bed, early-to-rise. It may be time to drop that nap.
  • Nap resistance – Has your baby decided that naps are for chumps? Does it take him an hour to fall asleep, if he even falls asleep at all? Do you wonder how it’s possible that he still isn’t tired? You may notice that naps themselves become the biggest struggle during a nap transition. Often, in fact, one nap will become epically long, while the other(s) will become all but non-existent. Again, this can perpetuate an early bedtime and the dreaded early morning wake up. And you may begin to wonder if this is your new normal. It may be time to drop that nap. 

Sleep needs change as baby grows

You see, as your baby grows and the brain matures, the sleep debt reservoir becomes larger. It takes a longer time to fill. In other words, your baby is capable of staying awake for longer periods of time without feeling tired.

At the same time, bouts of sleep become increasingly consolidated, allowing for those nice long stretches of quality sleep we all long for. And, because the world is not SO new, the total duration of sleep required in a 24 hour period diminishes slightly.

For all of these reasons, it can be harder for your baby to sleep according to your previously mastered schedule. The sleep system has simply matured to the next phase.

So if you’re faced with bedtime battles, early morning wakings, and/or nap resistance, ask yourself whether it may be time to drop that nap. 

3 to 2 Nap Transition (~8 Months)

At around 8 months of age, you may notice that the late afternoon catnap is becoming a daily struggle. And, if it happens at all, it’s leading to an ever later bedtime. Prior to this stage, your baby was probably spending no more than 2.25 hours awake at any one time. Ease into this nap transition by working towards a 2-nap ladder schedule:

Morning wake up

2 hours awake

First nap

3 hours awake

Second nap

4 hours awake

Bedtime

At first, you may want to offer more of a 2-3-3 hour or 2-3-3.5 hour schedule. You can base this on how tired your baby seems between naps. 4 hours may be far too long for your baby to be awake.

It can also be very helpful to offer the 3rd catnap every second to third day for the first few weeks, particularly if you are experiencing the early-to-bed, early-to-rise trap.

In addition, check your baby’s total sleep times (in a 24 hour period) with the recommended durations for his age group to help troubleshoot struggles with this schedule.

For example, too much daytime sleep can lead to an early riser, while too little daytime sleep can lead to frequent night wakings.

2 to 1 Nap Transition (15 to 18 Months)

Somewhere between 15 and 18 months (and sometimes as early as 12 months), you will once again witness a shift to later bedtimes, early wake times, or nap resistance. Once again, it may be time to transition to a single daytime nap.

For both of my kids, this manifested as epically long morning naps and a subsequent resistance to the afternoon nap. At this point, you may be experiencing something of a 2-3-4 hour or even a 2.5-3+-4+ hour ladder schedule. If these wake times start to impede on nighttime sleep, I suggest slowly making the shift to a single nap:

Morning wake up

6 hours awake

Nap

4 hours awake

Bedtime

Again, this is likely to occur slowly. Begin by pushing the morning nap later and later, staying attuned to the sleepy cues of your baby. This may mean offering a first nap at 10 or 11am, and a second catnap later in the afternoon to avoid an unreasonably early bedtime.

Once your little is able to stay awake for longer stretches in the morning, you can push the single nap to begin around mid-day (between 12 and 1pm) and drop the later nap altogether.

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