You know what frustrated me most when my oldest son was a baby and a young toddler?
The fact that just when I’d worked out a nice, predictable daytime sleep schedule, he’d get a little bit older, and that would blow my perfectly-crafted routine to pieces.
I’m positive a lot of you know exactly what I’m talking about (even those of you who’ve never been able to establish a nap schedule.) The first few years of a child’s life are full of changes, and those changes add up to mean ever-shifting sleep patterns and schedules.
This is really apparent when you consider a child’s typical nap schedule from birth to toddlerhood. Newborn babies take 5 or more naps each day; by 18 months, toddlers are taking one nap. That’s a lot of change. And transitioning between all those nap schedules can be a huge headache for little ones and for their parents.
That’s what we’re tackling today. It’s time to talk all about nap-transitions – let’s get started!
When Do Nap Transitions Usually Happen?
There’s no blueprint, of course, that’ll let you know exactly when your baby or toddler is due for a nap transition. However, there’s a general timeline (we’ve shared it previously in this article) that most babies and toddlers seem to follow, and that will be helpful in pinpointing when nap transitions are most likely to occur:
- From 1-4 months, the number of naps your baby takes will be variable, but will hover around 4-5 naps per day, depending on how long his naps are and how long he can stay up between naps.
- By 3 or 4 months old, she will lean towards just 4 naps, rather than 5.
- From 5-8 months, most babies will have three naps per day. They will start to resist the fourth nap, no matter how tired they are. There are a few babies who will only have two naps at a very young age, but those naps are usually long.
- From 9-15 or 18 months, on average, your baby will nap two times a day. Although many people believe most babies can transition to one nap at 12 months, the average age is actually 15 to 18 months.
- From 18 months to 4 years, toddlers nap once a day. The age to transition away from all napping varies a lot, from 2 to 5+ years old, but the average age is between 3 and 4 years old.
The early nap transitions (from five, to four, to three) usually happen quickly and aren’t as problematic. It’s the other nap transitions (from three, to two, to one, to none) that tend to frustrate parents. Those nap transitions take longer, for one thing (my middle son has been transitioning from one nap to none for the past YEAR), and they seem to affect children more noticeably.
“By far, we get the most questions in the Helpdesk about the transition from 3 to 2 naps and from 2 to 1. The 2 -> 1 transition can be the most difficult, for some, because you now have a toddler who has tantrums and a mind of her own! 😉 It also causes the most sleep deprivation, usually.”
How To Tell If A Nap Transition’s Approaching
How will your baby or toddler let you know that a nap transition is coming? Here are a few signs to look for:
- Your baby or toddler begins consistently refusing a nap: Most parents find that their little one suddenly starts refusing a nap (usually an afternoon one) that, just yesterday, they agreed to without a problem. That tends to be the classic sign that a nap transition is approaching.
- The timing of your baby’s or toddler’s naps begins to change: Other parents discover that before a nap transition, the schedule generally goes crazy. Naptime goes from being predictable to being all over the place. This can interfere with nighttime sleep, too — if the afternoon nap doesn’t happen until late afternoon or early evening, for example, it can interfere with bedtime.
- The length of your baby’s or toddler’s naps begins to change: You may notice that one or more of your little one’s naps are suddenly much shorter than normal. This can be a sign that your baby or toddler is getting ready to drop a nap.
Signs of an Approaching Nap Transition, or Signs of a Sleep Regression?
One thing to remember — not all nap craziness is a sign that a nap transition’s coming on. Let’s not forget about those sleep regressions! Refusing to nap is often a symptom of a sleep regression; in those cases, it shouldn’t be treated as a sign that a nap transition is coming on.
For example, a baby who’s in the throes of the 8/9/10 month sleep regression may start to resist naps. But that’s not a sign that she should downshift from two naps to one — not at all! Most children aren’t ready for one nap until 15-18 months. Similarly, an 18 month old who suddenly starts refusing to nap probably isn’t giving up naps altogether — he’s probably just going through the 18 month sleep regression.
How to tell the difference? Wait a bit. Most regressions work themselves out within a week or two. If the napping issues haven’t resolved themselves within a few weeks, then you can think about making a nap transition.
“We tend to be cautious about jumping into a nap transition. Our general rule of thumb is to wait until your baby is skipping a nap more than 4 times a week. All situations can have the ‘What ifs’ of course, so we evaluate it on a case-by-case basis. Many times, your baby doesn’t seem to give you a choice and you know what to do.”
Making Baby and Toddler Nap Transitions Easier
For some babies and toddlers (especially those who are highly adaptable), nap transitions are a piece of cake. They only take a few days, and there’s little (if any) “pain and suffering” involved. If that’s the case in your home, then a sort of “cold turkey” approach to nap transitions might work well. Simply cut out a nap, re-vamp the schedule, and endure a few fussy days. Bam. Done.
For others, though, nap transitions are difficult and loooong. If your baby or toddler is in that second category, you’d probably appreciate some suggestions as to how to make those transitions a bit easier, right?
We hear you. That’s why we’ve included so many nap-focused resources in our VIP Members Area. Check them out below!
Special VIP Members-Only Nap Resources
Mastering Naps & Schedules. For starters, all Baby Sleep Site® VIP members receive unlimited access to all our e-Books. That’s right – for the price of your membership, you can read all our e-Books at no additional cost! That includes Mastering Naps & Schedules. With over 45 sample schedules (all available for you to view in the Members Area), Mastering Naps & Schedules is THE e-Book for tired parents of non-napping kiddos! We tackle all your top napping issues, including how to get your baby or toddler to take longer naps, how to get your child’s naps to be more consistent and predictable, how to manage nap transitions, how to encourage good napping while traveling – and more! Become a VIP member today, and access the e-Book instantly – no download necessary!
Nap Audio Courses — Another great VIP members-only resource? Our audio courses. Hosted by Nicole herself, these audio courses offer you insider information and our trademark sleep coaching methods and techniques. And guess what? We have a special audio course that’s completely focused on managing nap transitions. That’s right – as a VIP member, you will have access to this coaching session with Nicole! She’ll walk you through the basics of navigating nap transitions without destroying your existing daytime schedule, or ruining night sleep.
VIP Members-Only Nap Articles — And now, we’ve recently added a special members-only article on this very topic: 5 Practical, Hands-On Tips For Managing Common Nap Transitions. Learn our 5 top secrets for how to gently and painlessly navigate nap transitions, and help them happen in a way that preserves your child’s sleep while also preserving your own sanity! 😉
For more details about all our VIP member benefits (including weekly chats with a trained sleep consultant and our Ask the Author feature), visit our membership page. Consider becoming a VIP member today!
Don’t feel up to working on your baby or toddler’s nap challenges on your own? While our VIP Members Area is great for DIY moms who prefer to tackle sleep challenges on their own, we know that other moms much prefer to go straight to one-on-one help. Well, good news – we offer that, and you can start getting the personal help you need TODAY!
Browse our list of consultation package options here.
Once you make your choice and purchase, you will immediately receive an e-mail with your Helpdesk login information. You’ll be able to log in and start your Sleep History form right away. It’s that simple!
51 thoughts on “How to Manage Your Baby or Toddler’s Nap Transitions”
Please help! Our almost 16 month old baby is refusing all naps. Here’s the back story. We sleep trained him young for a variety of reasons. For many many months, he goes down at 7 and sleeps to near 7am and takes two naps, one at 10 and one at 2 for anywhere from 40-60 minutes. It is usually smooth. I put him in his crib and he falls asleep on his own. For about 4 days in a row, he refused to take either the morning or afternoon nap. In order to get him to sleep at least a little bit for some of those days, I’ve held him (big mistake! ). After the 4th day I thought, ok, this baby is ready to drop to one nap. I also knew it wasn’t good to keep holding him. So I read up on dropping naps and moved his first nap to 11 for the last few days. Every time I’ve put him down for the last few days, including at night, he is refusing to sleep. For instance, I put him in at 11 am, he’ll stand there with his blankie waiting for me to come back in. At first he might cry or whine, but after a few minutes he stops and just stands there. This happened three times the other day (I tried 10, 12 and 2). I’ve left him there from anywhere between 50 minutes to and hour and fifteen minutes. He is so tired, he’ll stand there almost falling asleep while standing but never lay down. I’ve been watching him in his crib for the last hour just standing there. I feel like he knows if he just stands there, eventually I’ll come back in and take him out. Then at night, he sat in the middle of his crib for an hour and a half dozing off before he finally fell over and fell asleep. It goes without saying that he’s a freaking mess and grumpy. Help! What do I do?
Hi @Kathleen – Thank you for writing! I am sorry that sleep has become so disrupted doe your 16 month old! You are not alone! Toddler sleep can be so tough, so hang in there! Perhaps you’re right and he does know that you will come and rescue him if he stands long enough? This could be a good place to start and see if you can do things differently! For example, lay him back down instead of pick him up when you go in? For additional help, I would recommend that you consider our e-Book, The 5 Step System to Better Toddler Sleep. This can help now and in the future too! The book includes a number of detailed sample schedules, as well as an explanation on how to make changes in your sleep routines and schedules. It also contains several sleep planning worksheets and sleep logs.
You can find out more about this ebook here: https://www.babysleepsite.com/5-step-system-toddler
And there is an option to purchase with an Express Sleep Plan, which is an instantly generated plan specific to your family’s history, your family’s philosophies, and your specific goals.
Good luck Kathleen! We hope that you are all sleeping better very soon, and are here to help if you need us!
Approximately two weeks ago my daughter (who just turned 5 months) has been resisting her naps and will not nap unless I am holding her. Prior to this she would take 2-3 naps ranging from 30-120 minutes. This recent development coincided with when she started teething which her first tooth came through 4 days ago.
We started sleep training at night when she was 4 months (pediatrician approved) and has done really well. We put her down at 6:30-7pm depending on her naps that day and she will sleep until 5-6am. If she wakes up at 5am I will nurse her and she goes back to sleep until 7 or 7:30am.
I am at a loss when it comes to naps. I watch for her tired signals—rubbing eyes, yawning, or fussiness and try to put her down for her first nap two hours after she wakes up. When I transfer her to the crib she wakes up. I give her a few minutes to self soothe before picking her up. When all else fails I put her in the baby carrier or stroller. I would much rather have her sleep then not at all. While I have eliminated sleep associations at night the doctor said to continue nursing or rocking her to sleep (during the day) and that we would review this at her 6 month visit. Any suggestions on how to get her back to her old sleeping habits?
Hey @Sarah, thanks for writing to us! I’m so sorry to hear you’ve recently been struggling with naps. I personally found naps to be trickier too with both of my boys, so hang in there. Here is a link to a free guide with tips on nap sleep that may give you some additional ideas: https://www.babysleepsite.com/free-baby-nap-guide/
It may take some time and a little bit of aging before you can get on a set schedule, but it sounds like you are doing an amazing job doing your best to make sure she doesn’t get overtired. If you want more specific help we can offer that too. We have an ebook all about naps and schedules that you may be interested in looking at for more in depth information: https://www.babysleepsite.com/mastering-naps/
I hope this helps!
My 13 month old baby started daycare 3 weeks ago… he’s on 2 naps a day, an hour each. At the beginning he was at daycare for 2 to 3 hours and taking his first nap over there but just for 30 mins… last week he didn’t take his first nap at all and his second nap was just for 30 to 45 mins… He seems to be ok (not fussy and he doesn’t look tired). For bed time I put him down in his crib around 5:45pm and he takes between 30-40 mins to fall asleep but he doesn’t cry, he was just talks to himself. I thought maybe he would wake up at 6:30 (hoping 12 hours of sleep at night) but he has always been an 11 hours baby and so he slept the same amount of hours even though he didn’t nap well during the day… at the weekend he took his 2 naps like normal at home… and this week he is full time in daycare and he’s not napping in the morning and yesterday his nap was just for 20 mins… the teacher at the daycare is doing almost the same routine that we do at home before nap and bed time… so I wonder if this is just because it is a new environment or maybe he’s ready to transition to 1 nap… I’m really worried because he has been ok napping at home, but everything changed when he stared daycare… any advice please!!!! Thanks a lot!!!!
Hi @Natalia, thanks for writing to us. A transition to daycare can be a lot for a baby, and it is taking place at an age where he could start to transition out of the 2 naps, but he may be doing 1 some days and 2 other days for a while as he transitions. Here is a link to a free guide with tips on naps for you here: https://www.babysleepsite.com/free-baby-nap-guide/
If you need more help making this transition, let us know! We can help. You can read about all of our options to work one-one-one with a sleep consultant here: https://www.babysleepsite.com/baby-toddler-sleep-consulting-services/ and they will be able to look at his full schedule and help you figure out how to handle it. They often work with families whose children are in daycare as well, and know how to navigate with the daycare schedule and can give you tips for that.
I hope this helps!
So my 14 mo old has been fighting her afternoon nap for about a month. I know it’s a timing issue. Her first nap is 9 am (she wakes at 6 am) and she sleeps well at this nap (60-90 min) and her next nap is 1:15 pm. Some days she goes right down. Some days she fights it. Almost all days she wakes up at about the 2:30. I’ve found that if she doesn’t sleep until 3 pm she is super tired by bedtime at 6:45 and will likely wake at least once in the night. However, if she can sleep until 3 pm this rarely happens. I’ve tried moving the nap back 15 min and it is always met with 30-45 min of fussing and not napping unless I strap her on me. How can I get my child to take a good afternoon nap without fussing in the crib for 20+ min or being worn? (Even in the car she will fight this nap sometimes).
@Heather, thank you for your comment and I am so sorry to hear you are struggling with your 14 month old’s naps! My son is 15 months old and I can definitely relate to this afternoon battle myself. What’s helped me is finding the perfect schedule for my son, which can take some figuring out for sure. We have an ebook that goes into this and provides you with TONS of sample schedules to help with your nap time (which by default can often help with nights as well). If you are interested in seeing the packages we offer this ebook in, you can read more about it here: https://www.babysleepsite.com/mastering-naps/
I hope this helps! Hang in there!
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