Everything You Need to Know About All the Nap Transitions
Updated: Jul 11
What’s the point of a nap anyway? In a young child, naps help maintain idealistic homeostasis throughout the day. Naps bridges the gap(s) between making it through the day and nighttime sleep, when the body has extra assistance from certain hormones being released at certain times to help your child fall asleep and stay asleep.
Think about it like this – younger babies will need to nap more frequently because their rapidly developing brains and growing bodies need a break to rest and recharge. As they continue to grow and mature, sleep needs change. They have a bit more stamina with awake times, and don’t need as many naps throughout a day.
It’s common for children to nap until 2.5-4.5 years old. Some may even nap or have a quiet time until they go to school.
It varies from child to child when all nap transitions will occur, so we are here to outline the averages for you today. We want to give you an idea of when the transition may be on the horizon for your child, as well as how to complete each transition successfully.
First things first, the 12-Hours of Day/Night & Awake Times
With any child ages 0-5, you should always start by providing 12 hours of sleep at night. So, if your child wakes for the day around 6:30 a.m., they should be going to bed around 6:30 p.m. The caveat to this rule would be if your baby is still a newborn…bedtimes would be later, say 9:00-11:00 p.m., and you’d gradually move it forward as they start to get longer stretches of sleep at night.
With 12 hours of nighttime sleep, you have 12 hours of day time. When should naps happen? This will vary from child to child, and is usually based on age. You’ll want to follow wake windows for a good portion of your child’s first 6 months or so, until they are on a set 2-nap schedule. Learn more about determining your child’s sleep needs here. Once you have an idea of the best amount of awake time for your child right now, you can tweak as you go – remember, all babies are different, and since these are just averages, your baby may need a bit more or a bit less time added to their average awake time. Pay attention to your child’s sleepy cues, and adjust wake windows accordingly until your baby drops to two naps, which is typically a good indicator that, developmentally, they’re ready to go by the clock now.
Signs a Nap Transition Is Coming Soon
Luckily, you don’t have to guess when it’s time for a nap transition, as your baby will likely show you, in a variety of ways. You’ll definitely want to tread lightly and not automatically jump to the conclusion that a transition is needed, because things could get messy if you pushed your child to make a transition too early – you want to rule out any sleep changes or struggles due to illness, development (physical milestones or language), or major life changes (moving, starting daycare, etc.) first.
Then, a good rule of thumb is to wait a solid two weeks, and if any of the following has been occurring for 10 out of 14 days and you can rule out any of the above as the cause, then it might be time for a nap transition! Here’s what to watch for:
Early mornings happening out of nowhere
Consolidation of one or two naps, with others pushing bedtime later
Taking longer than usual to fall asleep for naps (10-15 minutes is average, so longer than this is an indicator that sleep needs are changing)
Falling asleep at bedtime is taking longer than normal
Again, these can all also be signs of a regression, so make sure you can rule that out first.
The 4-3 Nap Transition
Commonly occuring around 12-20 weeks when your baby’s bedtime will likely be moving earlier…trying to squeeze in a fourth nap just gets awkward!
Up until 8-12 weeks, your baby probably had some later bedtimes…like, 10:00 or even 11:00 p.m. As they’re hopefully starting to get a longer initial stretch of sleep at night, you gradually move the bedtime earlier, and it gets closer and closer to 8:00 or 7:00 p.m. Again, that fourth nap just gets awkward, and it’s time to drop it!
Simply get rid of it, and replace it with an earlier bedtime. Bedtimes will vary depending on how long the naps are.
The 3-2 Nap Transition
This transition occurs for most babies between 6-8 months. Their wake windows during the day keep getting longer, and before you know it, they’re taking their third nap around 5:30/6 p.m. and bedtime is getting pushed later and later.
Again, the timing of things is getting awkward.
In order to maintain a decent bedtime, ideally between 6:00-8:00 p.m. and 12 hours before your little one usually wakes for the day, you’ll want to cut out that third catnap and just offer a bit earlier of a bedtime. Before you know it, the awake time stamina will lengthen again and bedtime can be gradually pushed later.
Naps can now be set and you can go by the clock! If your little one is on a 7-7 schedule, they can nap around 9:30 and 2:00. Again, these are averages, so tweak for your child accordingly.
The 2-1 Nap Transition
This is, rightly so, the biggest seeming of the nap transitions. It typically occurs between 12-18 months, with 14-15 months being the most common time to drop to one nap. Some children are pushed to make this transition sooner than ideal due to a schedule change at daycare. This transition can take a solid 4-6 weeks to solidify, so be patient and give it time.
The goal is for your child to now be having one solid nap, right in the middle of their day.
Let’s say they were napping at 10:00 and 2:30 prior to this. They’d wake around 7:00 a.m. for the day and go to bed around 7:00 p.m. You’d want to start by pushing both naps back by 30 minutes for 3-4 days, so 10:30 and 3:00 (wake baby by 4 to preserve bedtime). After that, push things back another 30 minutes, 11:00 and 3:30 (wake by 4:15 to preserve bedtime). After a few more days, you’ll do one nap at 11:30 and implement an early bedtime, probably around 6:00. After a few days of this, you now nap at noon regularly, and gradually push the bedtime back to 7:00 p.m.
Again, this transition takes the most time, so give yourself and your child some grace over the next 4-6 weeks.
The Transition to Quiet Time
You’ll likely notice that it’s taking FOREVER for your child to fall asleep at night because they simply aren’t tired enough at bedtime anymore. Or they’re waking SUPER EARLY because they simply aren’t tired enough to sleep much later.
While we LOVE nap time, we always want to preserve nighttime sleep, so if this is the case, it might be time to drop the nap. Don’t fret, though! Your child likely still needs some down time during the day, so it’s now time to implement quiet time.
Give your child a few quiet activities that they can do on their own, in their bedroom. Save these activities solely for this time of day. Start with 10-15 minutes (use a timer!) and work your way up to an hour or so.
When quiet time is over, it’s time to move on with your day.
Phew! Did you get all of that?!
We know this is a lot, and likely something you’ll want to come back to when, inevitably, your child is ready for the next transition. Bookmark this page so you have it forever!