All about naps and nap transitions
Today’s video on naps and nap transitions is a longer one – I’m going to take you through the first two years of a baby’s life and explain all about naps – how they develop at first, and how they typically transition from three daily naps, to two, to one, and eventually to not needing a nap at all. I’ll be showing you how you can help with the transitions if it looks like a change is coming, and how you can help your baby settle into a sleep pattern that suits them and you for each stage of their development.
Please note, I give an approximate age for each of the nap transitions, but it is definitely approximate. Your baby’s transitions may come earlier or they may come later and you should always pay more attention to the signs coming from your particular baby than to anything I say or that you read in a book about what is supposed to happen at a given age.
If you are struggling with any of the nap transitions or with sleep in general, you will find more information in my online sleep plans, which are available for babies aged 6-24 months, and also offer the possibility of adding on online support with me
So at first things tend to be very unpredictable. In the first few months of a baby’s life, they tend to not necessarily be awake for very long between sleeps. It could be half an hour, it could be 40 minutes. And there is absolutely no predictability as to when they will sleep nor how long they will sleep for. This is entirely normal and it’s OK.
At that age there is absolutely nothing there to help them start sleeping in any kind of structure, their brain is not yet developed in that area. Then at around four months, sleep starts to change. If your baby is that age right now, take a look at the article and video about the 4-month sleep regression – that will really help you to spot and understand the signs.
Four to six months – Three Nap Stage
Between four and six months, sleep cycles start to form and sleep starts to consolidate. So you might have had a cat napper and then suddenly they start taking some longer naps. Between five and six months, what you tend to find is they start to fall into a bit more of a structured sleep pattern, which typically forms into a pattern with three naps in a day, lasting a total of about three and a half hours, and then approximately 11 hours sleep at night. So around fourteen and a half hours sleep in a 24 hour period is kind of average.
Some take a bit more, some take a bit less, but generally there is only so much sleep a baby can take within twenty-four hours. So if your nights are shorter and your day sleeps longer, if you want to put some of that day sleep into the night, you can start to shift and play around with it a little bit.
So we tend to be looking at around three and a half hours over the day. This is generally spread over three naps it works quite nicely if your first two naps can be the chunkier naps, maybe an hour and a half each with a half an hour catnap in the afternoon. Or it could be an hour in the morning, two hours at lunch, and then half an hour in the afternoon to get you through to bedtime.
Obviously, your baby isn’t reading a manual and they don’t know how long they’re supposed to sleep. But if you can get a big, heavy, chunky sleep first thing in the morning and skimpy naps throughout the rest of the day that potentially will have some kind of knock-on effect at night.
Shorter sleeps in the first part of the day with a big sleep in the late afternoon can play havoc with evening bedtimes. So, you can try to structure things a little bit for you throughout the day.
A six or seven-month-old can typically stay awake for 90 minutes to two hours between waking up and going down for their first nap. Between nap one and two, they might do two hours, two hours 15, then between nap two to nap three, they might be able to do about two and a half hours, and then between nap three and bedtime, you’re looking at two and a half, three hours at your top end, really between the nap and bedtime.
Eight to nine months – transition to two naps
The other reason I’m saying it is quite nice if you can have the two chunky naps, over the first part of the day is that between eight and nine months, your baby will start to transition to two naps.
This might happen because they just point blank refuse the third nap, and that’s absolutely fine, totally and utterly normal. But if that’s the case, you may need to start using the early to bed. Don’t be afraid of the early to beds. There is a video on sleeping through the night that might help explain why early to bed can be very helpful. You might want to watch that as well, but yes, take advantage of early to beds to catch up on sleep when they first start to miss that third nap.
But if you find that you get two skimpy naps in the morning and then the third nap is not happening, that’s going to start causing you some big problems. And you may find that some days there is a third nap and other days there isn’t. That is not totally normal. Don’t panic.
What you might then start doing is trying to tweak things a little bit. So you might start trying to gradually extend the wake window from waking up in the morning and going down for the first nap and again extending the window a little bit between nap one and two and extending the gap again between nap two and bedtime. Slowly and surely you can move the two naps so that the wake windows are evenly spaced, but don’t push it too much.
So generally between nine and 12 months, many babies still take naps of around three hours a day. So, it’s not a huge drop from what they were on at six months old. It’s just the fact that they start being able to be awake for longer between the sleeps, and the naps are then longer. So what we want to do is wake them up in the morning, then build up enough sleep pressure for them to be able to go down for a nap. but not that they’re awake for too long, that they go past it. Trying to time the naps when they are tired but not overtired is the name of the game here.
Nine to 12 months – longer waking windows
Between nine and 12 months you might be looking at nap one being around two and a half hours after waking, maybe three at a push depending on how well they’re sleeping overnight and you might find as they get closer to 12 months they might be closer to that three-hour point before needing a nap. You tend to find three hours between nap one and nap two works quite nicely, and again, anything between three and four hours between nap two and bedtime. It’s quite nice. Then when they get to 12 months, the day sleep drops ever so slightly to around two and a half hours over the day.
But they still generally need two naps. I’m saying this because a lot of people tend to think that their baby is ready to drop to just one nap when they get to 12 months because they start to refuse the afternoon nap. I can promise you now the chances are your baby is not ready to drop to one. At 12 months they’re just going through this standard development, which they all go through, and it just takes a bit of tweaking and getting through it.
So you tend to find that the overall day’s sleep is a little bit less but still two naps.
15 to 18 months – transition to one nap
Between 15 and 18 months they start transitioning to one nap. And it’s really important I’m saying this to you because you’ll tend to find a lot of nurseries who try and push the one nap before your baby is ready. So it’s really important for you to have that knowledge as to when your baby is probably most likely ready to start trying to transition.
Again, two naps to one is not an overnight transition. This is one that takes time. So what you’ll start to find happens is they start refusing the afternoon nap. They go down like a dream in the morning and they start refusing the afternoon nap. If it’s just an odd day, don’t worry about it. But if it’s been happening for a few days, then you need to start tweaking things.
So what you’ll probably need to start doing then is capping the morning nap. So you might put a cap of, say, ten o’clock in the morning and wake them after then. So they’ve got that three hours awake between waking up from that one and going down for nap two, then they are more than likely ready for that second nap. This helps them start trying to take a long afternoon nap because you cut the morning nap shorter and they’re having a longer afternoon nap.
This is all in the ideal world. The reason I’m saying this, though, is by the time they’re on one nap a day, we want it to be around two and a half hours in one big chunk. And that’s not something that’s suddenly just going to start happening, because if they are used to doing an hour or an hour and 15 minutes naps, this is asking them to do a lot, to suddenly have a two and a half-hour chunk.
So, we’re gradually giving them the chance to get used to sleeping for longer periods of time, and also not having them get massively overtired because we’ve stretched them so much.
Then what will probably start to happen is they’ll start to refuse that morning nap. Then they’re not going to get from waking up in the morning to this lunchtime nap that they’ve been having. So that’s when you need to do a big shift the other way. So you might find that the big nap that they’re getting you to do, it needs to sit at around half-past ten, eleven o’clock because they’re not going to get any later than that because they can’t. So we might start them at half-past ten. Maybe we’ll hope for a nice, big, chunky nap. And it might just mean that we have to do an early to bed that day. And then what we’ll start finding happens is we start trying to push them bit by bit and again, try not to do really big chunks.
If you do a really big push, it’s going to cause you some problems because your baby’s going to go down really overtired and they’re going to really fight you at this point. So we want to start getting them down when they’re tired. So what you’re doing is gradually moving until we’re sitting around half past eleven till 2:00 o’clock for a nap. OK, obviously this is an awkward one because this is lunchtime.
A lot of nurseries tend to do lunch around eleven o’clock and then snacks in the afternoon and that’s really not a problem at all. That tends to work quite well. And then if you want to have your lunch in peace and quiet and you can as well. So that tends to be how you work through to the transition. And now with regards what happens then, so we’re looking at around two and a half hours.
This is between 15 and 18 months this starts to happen. And like I say, it’s not an overnight fix. And even when they have a one-day nap, you might still need some days where they have two naps. So you might as well try for that morning nap in the morning. And if it doesn’t happen, you go for the big one nap. It might be a bit earlier and it’s just about tweaking things until you’re sitting on it quite nicely.
Two years old – still one nap
At two years old they still need two hours a day, which again, people normally are quite shocked by because they’re still active. They’re thinking they probably only need an hour. They’re still needing around two hours at two years old. But the average age to drop the nap completely is about three and a half years old. And it’s really important that I say this because, again, what tends to happen when your baby hits two is you’ll go through a huge leap where they decide that they’re not going to nap anymore. It’s not that they don’t need the nap, it’s actually very much a developmental thing and it is very, very common.
If you keep offering the nap it tends to come back. OK, and that’s really important to be aware of. Three and a half is the average age that they tend to drop the nap and it might be by three. They might only be on half an hour and it might be that that half an hour might only be every other day until there is no nap.
I hope you found this helpful. Feel free to write a comment and tell me how nap times work for you – it’s really great to get feedback.