Sharing our experience on how we helped baby drop to one nap from two at 16 months old plus baby’s new sleep schedule after the transition.
There are few sleep changes that feel more momentous than when baby moves from two naps to one. Not only does this change mean less “time off” for mom, but it also means necessary adjustments to bedtime. Like it or not, the day when two naps become one happens to every parent.
I initially started this post when our daughter, Bibi, was 14 months old due to sleep disruptions like waking up at 5 am and refusal to nap. At the time I wondered if it was time to move her to a one nap schedule so I started to research.
It turned out she wasn’t actually ready to move to one nap from two at that point (I’ll share more at the end of this post). But I learned so much about the transition from two to one nap and I want to share it with you. This research helped us when Bibi WAS ready to transition to one nap, and I hope it will help you as you navigate this big sleeping change. Below, I’ll share how we helped baby drop to one nap at 16 Months old.
The resources I used and referenced in all my baby sleep posts are:
• The Happy Sleeper Book – Science-Backed Guide to Helping Your Baby Get a Good Night’s Sleep – Newborn to School Age
• Taking Cara Baby Paid Sleep Program
• Bringing Up Bebe Book: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting
• One-on-one meetings with lactation consultants at BC Women’s Hospital
• 7-week Pre-natal Class at the Childbearing Society
• Local La Leche Meetings in Vancouver
• Today’s Parent: Cry-it-out sleep training will not harm your baby
• Baby Sleep Site: The Ferber Method Explained
• Today’s Parent: Giving your baby morning breastmilk at bedtime might be ruining his sleep
• Taking Cara Babies: 5-25 Months Sleep Schedule
• Baby’s Breath Canada: What is SIDS
• CDC.GOV: Learn what parents and caregivers can do to help babies sleep safely
• American Academy of Pediatrics Journal: SIDS and Other Sleep-Related Infant Deaths
• It’s all in the timing: kids’ bedtimes
• Top Culprits for Early Morning Wakings
• AAP endorses new recommendations on sleep times
• Five-year follow-up of harms and benefits of behavioral infant sleep intervention: randomized trial
• Daytime nap controls toddlers’ nighttime sleep
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When is Baby Ready for one Nap?
There isn’t an exact age when all babies are ready to lose a nap. On average, most babies make the big transition to one nap between 12-24 months. The biggest indicators you will notice for eliminating a nap are your baby’s sleep and awake behavior.
Your baby may be ready to go to one nap if he or she:
- Has difficulty falling asleep at usual bedtime
- Refuses to go to sleep for one or both naps
- Is napping for different lengths of time that aren’t the norm
- Can go for morning car rides without falling asleep in the car
- Spends a longer time talking or fussing in crib or bed before falling asleep
- Can skip a nap and is still happy and playful
- Is able to handle longer awake time (around 4-5 hours)
It’s not recommended to start jumping straight to one nap when baby is exhibiting some of these signs as they could also be symptoms of other issues (sickness, teething etc). But if your baby is having issues with naptime or bedtime for at least two weeks, you may want to try and eliminate one nap to see if it helps.
How Long Should Naps Be?
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) recommends that babies ages 4-12 months need 12-16 hours of sleep including naps. Babies ages 1-2 years need 11-14 hours of sleep including naps.
Bibi’s bedtime is 8 p.m. and she wakes up at 6:30 a.m. She usually gets 10.5-11 hours of nighttime sleep. If we subtract those 11 hours from the maximum recommendation of 14, that leaves us with around three hours of naptime.
Different children need different amounts of sleep, so while the AASM recommendations are a helpful estimate, pay attention to how much sleep your child needs to be happy and energetic and aim for a combination of nighttime sleep and naps that equal his or her optimum sleep amount. It’s so important to tailor a sleep schedule according to baby’s own natural sleep cues.
When you transition to one nap, that nap is generally a little longer than the two individual naps. Bibi used to take two 1.5-hour naps, and now her single nap is right around 2 hours.
How to Help Baby Drop to One Nap
The transition to one nap can be difficult and frustrating for both baby and parents. I found that a lot of patience and flexibility is needed to help your baby move towards a new sleep schedule.
From my research I learned the following: if your baby is exhibiting signs of being ready to drop one nap, start by observing their natural sleep and awake times for a few days. Look for, and record, the times when your baby starts being fussy. Also write down how many hours they are happily awake. Next, try to extend baby’s morning awake time as long as possible. You are aiming for 4-6 hours of awake time before nap. You don’t want to torture baby, or yourself, by doing this in one giant leap. Try to keep baby awake 15-30 minutes longer each morning before naptime until you have reached the awake window that works best for your baby.
- Day 1: Baby is awake at 6:30 a.m. starts fussing around 10:30 a.m. goes down for 1.5-hour nap.
- Day 2: Baby is awake at 6:30 a.m. She starts fussing around 10:30 but is distracted by outside play until 11:00 a.m. goes down for 1.5-hour nap
- Day 3: Baby is awake at 6:40 a.m., starts fussing around 10 but is distracted with play until 11:15 a.m. Goes down for 2-hour nap.
This gradual movement continues until baby’s single nap is early afternoon. This allows for 4-6 hours of awake time in the morning, and 4-6 hours of awake time after nap before bedtime.
The transition from two naps to one is NOT always quick. There were some days that Bibi needed that extra nap and we let her have it. As long as you are moving towards a single nap, try not to get frustrated if there is some regression and baby needs more sleep on some days.
Our Experience Moving Baby from Two Naps to One
When Bibi was 14-months-old, she began waking up at 5 a.m. She was very cranky throughout the day and was also refusing to nap. We thought this might signal that she was ready to transition to a single nap. After researching, we tried to move her morning nap back to a single afternoon nap.
This backfired in a big way! Bibi would fall asleep in the afternoon, but couldn’t stay awake all the way until bedtime. This resulted in her napping at awkward times, like the very late afternoon, which then pushed back her bedtime. She continued waking up at 5 a.m. and we were all exhausted!
After about a week of this, I did more research. We decided to focus on fixing her early wake-up time as discussed in this post: how we fixed early wakings. After addressing the problems that were causing her to wake up too early, Bibi was able to resume her usual two nap schedule and turned back into her happy self.
Two months of blissful sleep later, Bibi started to refuse her first nap of the day. This time she was able to stay alert and happy for 5-6 hour spans. In the beginning, she couldn’t make it all the way to lunchtime. She wanted to sleep at 10:30 or 11 a.m. We did our best to distract her until the later nap time. After about a month and a half, she was on a consistent one nap schedule.
Unexpectedly, we found that outdoor time played an important role on how we helped baby drop to one nap. We switched Bibi’s one hour exercise time to after her single nap. She is distracted and happy while outdoors and it helps tire her out for bedtime. Exercise at an optimal time is one of the 10 habits that help our baby sleep through the night. For your family, this outdoor/exercise time can mean a different type of physical activity done at a different time, whatever works for you.
Bibi’s new schedule is:
- BEDTIME 8 pm – 6:30/7:00 am
- Breakfast 7:30 am
- Snack 9:30 am
- LUNCH 11 am
- NAP 12-2 pm
- Snack 2:30 pm
- Dinner 5:30 pm
Why a Single Nap Can Be a GOOD Thing
I’ll admit that the idea of losing an entire naptime was not appealing to me. I felt like it would mean less time for me to catch up on housework or have time to myself. I have found that there are actually some very positive aspects from Bibi moving to a single nap. It is much easier to plan when we only have to work around one nap. I’ve been able to be more flexible and arrange more outings. I also find it much less stressful. Now I only have to worry about helping baby nap once a day.
My best advice is to trust your instincts and pay attention to your baby’s behaviors. You know what is best for your child, and that might be keeping those two naps as long as possible. It also might mean moving to one nap right at 12 months. I hope sharing our experience on how we helped our baby drop one nap and these tips are helpful to you as you consider moving your baby from two naps to one.
Best of luck!