My fifteen-month-old naps from approx 10am to 12p. He has been rejecting his second nap (typically around 2:30/3p.) He nurses to sleep for nap time and also wakes to nurse or to be rocked 2-6 times during the night. I'm wondering if I need to drop or adjust morning nap?
S, mom to 15-month-old twins H & B
Many toddlers transition from two naps a day to one too early.
This transition often takes place in daycares at around 12 months, while most toddlers aren't actually ready to drop a nap until 15-18 months, although it can range from as early as 12 months to as late as 21 months.
There are typically two patterns we see when children are ready to transition from one nap a day to two. The first, and more common, is that they take a long morning nap and then can't seem to fall asleep for the second nap, resulting in late afternoon overtiredness and misery. This can also lead to nighttime or early morning wakings as a result of the overtiredness.
The other pattern we see is children that skip the first nap in favor of playing in the crib. These children generally have an easier time transitioning to one nap a day as they essentially make the switch themselves.
If your toddler is struggling to keep two naps a day, preserve that second nap as long as possible. Here are some sugestions as to how this can be done:
This can be a tough transition to make so plan for a couple of low-key weeks, if possible. There's no magic trick to make it easy. I recommend moving the morning nap time back by 10-20 minutes per day. You can expect that it will take him a bit longer than usual to fall asleep because he will be a little bit overtired. I suggest you allow a minimum of 90 minutes in the crib. If your child sleeps less than an hour, leave him! He may well fall back to sleep if given enough time.
While you are making the transition, you may temporarily need to offer a very early bedtime, as early as 5 pm. You'll know you need to do this if your child is cranky or alternatively, acting wound up and bouncing off the walls in the late afternoon. If this is happening, you can expect that your child may not eat much dinner. Don't worry about it -- she is unlikely to wake from hunger (really!). It's much more likely that she will wake up from being overtired. So just get her to bed as early as you can.
As you are able to move the nap later, your child will gradually be able to lengthen out the nap with the single nap ideally being around two hours, though this will vary for each child. Your child will likely need an earlier bedtime now than when he was taking two naps a day, though likely later than 5 pm.
Some children do well with having an occasional day with two naps a day as they transition to one nap a day. If your child is just miserably tired by 9 am on some days, this may be a good option for your family. Rest assured, as she gets older and as the transition to one nap a day stabilizes, it will get easier!
In the case of the family with 15-month-old twins, we tried many things. We eliminated the sleep crutch of nursing and rocking to sleep -- took only two nights! -- and capped the morning nap at 1 hour. We moved bedtime earlier. They weren't able to move the morning nap earlier than 9:15 am due to some medical issues, unfortunately, and after a week, the afternoon nap was still erratic. Ultimately we decided to move the morning nap later again, making it 15 minutes a day later. The toddlers are currently working on making it to 11:30 am for a two hour+ nap.
The transition from two naps a day to one is a tough one but it's a beautiful opportunity for a family to get a little further from home. In daycares, the transition often means that all toddlers sleep on the same schedule, which means it's easier for children to sleep.
If you would like help transitioning your toddler from two naps a day to one, or if you need support with any other sleep challenge, schedule a free chat with me. Let's get your family the sleep you all deserve so you can better enjoy your time together!
Abby Wolfson is a pediatric nurse practitioner, certified child sleep consultant and former NICU nurse. She divides her time between Brooklyn, NY and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.