A child’s sleep is ALWAYS evolving. As your child gets older, their wake windows will become longer, and their total sleep needs will drop! Eventually, this will lead to them needing fewer naps in a day than they did before.
Not sure if it’s time to drop a nap or not? I’m going to give you the exact signs you need to look for when you’re thinking about testing out that new nap schedule!
First Step: Check to see if your child is the right age to drop a nap
While every child is different, there are average age ranges in which we can expect children to drop a nap! This chart will be your first clue that a nap transition is coming.
Keep in mind, age will not be the ONLY sign that your child needs to drop a nap. They should be within these age ranges, AND they should be experiencing the typical symptoms that it’s time to drop a nap (which we will go over in a minute!).
Second Step: Pay attention to your child's behavior
Your child's behavior will be the biggest clue as to when you should be dropping that nap! I'm going to make this as simple as possible and put it in a stoplight analogy! Here is a quick image you can screen shot to save for later, and then I'll go into depth for each category below!
Red Light Stage (AKA: Pay attention!):
You’ll know that a nap transition is coming if your baby is approaching or within the normal age range to drop a nap, AND you’re seeing one or more of the following:
1. Their nap is sometimes shorter than it used to be: Maybe your child used to sleep for at least 90 minutes at one of their naps, but lately it seems like every 2-3 days they only sleep for 45-60 minutes. This is a good sign that they may need a little more sleep pressure before this nap, which means a slightly longer wake window! This may also mean that their overall sleep needs are starting to drop.
2. It’s taking them a little bit longer to fall asleep for naps and/or bedtime: Your child used to be out like a light bulb when you put them down for sleep, and now they seem to just want to hang out for a bit longer before drifting off to sleep. This is a really normal sign that we are amping up to drop a nap!
3. Morning has started earlier: Maybe your little one used to wake up around 7:00 AM every morning, and all of a sudden that wake-up time has shifted closer to 6:45 or 6:30!
What to do during the red light stage:
Nothing! I truly mean it! This is not the stage that you want to jump in and make changes: it’s too early for that! Instead, all I want you to do at this stage is to be aware of what is going on. Make a mental note of when you started to notice changes and how consistent those changes are.
The ONE step you may find yourself taking at this stage is to extend wake windows slightly. If you notice that your little one consistently takes longer to fall asleep, then try adding 15-20 minutes to their wake window. It’s important not to rush into this step! An off-day of sleep (or two) does not warrant a change in the schedule. Seeing a lasting trend in your little one’s sleep may however warrant a slight schedule change.
Yellow Light Stage (AKA: Get ready!)
Your child is at least the minimum age to drop a nap and you have been in the red light stage for a bit. All of a sudden, things are starting to feel a little more uncomfortable. I like to call this the “nap limbo” stage. Your child is approaching the time to drop a nap but may not be quite ready for those big, long wake windows yet! Behaviors you may notice during this stage are:
1. Bedtime has started to become uncomfortably late. Maybe you have been slowly adjusting wake windows because it’s been taking your little one longer and longer to fall asleep for bedtime and/or naps. All of a sudden, you notice that your previous 7:00 PM bedtime is now approaching the 8:00-9:00 range! That’s quite a change and it’s a good sign that a nap transition is around the corner!
2. Your little one often takes short naps or on a rare occasion may skip their nap altogether: This is a classic sign that a nap transition is around the corner! However, be aware that during sleep regressions you may ALSO notice this behavior! The 6-month and 12-month sleep regressions are notorious for this! This is why I recommend NOT dropping a nap at these ages, and instead waiting 2-3 weeks to see if the regression improves first.
3. Your little one may have additional night wakings and may take longer to fall back asleep: Whether your baby was sleeping through the night or not, you may notice that they take a bit longer to re-settle at their night wakings or to transfer between sleep cycles, especially in the early morning hours!
What to do during the Yellow Light Stage:
Start researching what your child’s new schedule will be like! If you don’t already have it, download my free schedule guide HERE. Every child spends a different amount of time at this stage. Your child may be ready to drop their nap tomorrow, OR a few weeks from now.
Start tracking your child’s sleep to determine what patterns you are seeing so that you can easily recognize when it’s time to drop the nap altogether!
If your child skips a nap altogether then move bedtime up by an hour. Your child is likely going to be very overtired if you try putting them to bed at their normal time.
Green Light Stage (AKA: Go for the nap transition!)
It’s time to drop that nap! Here are the signs I want you to look out for:
1. Your child’s overnight sleep has dipped below 10 hours. Research suggests that children need at LEAST 10 hours of sleep at night. If they are getting less than this, then we likely need to cut out some of their day sleep so that we can have more consolidated night sleep.
2. Your child ONLY takes short naps or has started to skip their naps somewhat regularly: If your child is skipping their nap but their temperament seems fine, then this is a very normal sign that it’s time to transition!
3. Your child is experiencing early morning wakings or split nights: An early morning waking is a waking that occurs before 6:00 AM. A split night is when your child has a long waking overnight (usually 1-2 hours long!). Both of these are strong signs that we may need to make some adjustments to the sleep schedule.
What to do during the green light stage:
We have a few options when it comes to dropping naps! You can either take things slow and gradually, or you can rip off the bandaid.
A gradual approach may look like adding 15-30 minutes of awake time to each wake window every day until you meet your target schedule. This may put bedtime awkwardly late for a few days – don’t stress about it! It’s temporary! Once you get close enough to your ideal schedule, you can likely rip off the bandaid for the last stretch!
A rip-off-the-bandaid approach is exactly what it sounds like! You will immediately want to implement your new schedule. Don’t be surprised if your little one seems sleepy around their normal nap times: it can take some time to adjust to a new schedule!
I believe that your intuition matters here. You truly know your child best! However, if you are hoping for a little more guidance on which route to take, then here are my two cents:
1. Age matters: If your baby is on the younger side of the age range to drop a nap, then you may want to move more gradually. For example, a 13-month-old may need a more gradual transition to dropping down to one nap than an 18-month-old!
2. Temperament matters: A happy, easy-going baby will likely do better with a cold turkey transition as opposed to a baby who is more sensitive or resistant to change. Temperament is something that starts developing a birth and can really dictate how your child will handle nap transitions!
3. Sleep patterns matter: If your child has been consistently skipping a nap anyway, then there is no point in gradually transitioning them! Instead, you should just rip the bandaid off and move them to their new schedule! However, if your child has been consistently napping, but their naps have simply been on the short side, then you may find that a more gradual approach works better.
A little reminder:
Even if your child is completely ready for a nap transition, it may not feel like the transition goes smoothly at first! This is completely normal. Nap transitions typically involve some pretty big schedule changes, and this can feel like a bit of a shock to your child’s system.
Don’t stress if things feel a little wonky at first. You may still notice short naps or that your child takes a long time to fall asleep. It can take up to 3 weeks for your child’s body to regulate to their new schedule.