Everything You Need to Know About a Nap Transition

mother and toddler smiling through a nap transition because they managed it successfully

I’ve often wished that my kids better appreciated how amazing naps are. But since my daughter is in the last stages of outgrowing her current nap schedule, it’s got me reevaluating an important question: what’s the best way to handle a nap transition?

The short answer to that (based on both extensive research and experience raising three older kids) is by slowly phasing out naps and using a strategic bedtime – while also remembering all I’ve learned about the importance of both naps and sleep in order to successfully sleep-train children.

What is a Nap Transition?

A nap transition is when your child’s daytime sleep pattern has changed.

It’s quite natural, as children grow, for their sleep to go from “all over the place” to regular intervals of sleep and wakefulness. Now, as this sleep consolidates and your baby develops. naps during the day will get further and further apart – until they finally don’t need any daytime naps.

This period of change is a nap transition.

How do You Handle a Nap Transition?

Like I said earlier, the best way to handle a nap transition is to slowly phase out naps and make use of a strategic bedtime.

Because phasing out a nap isn’t something that can happen overnight – at least not in any real-world child I’ve encountered!

So let’s talk about some common nap schedules – and how to more seamlessly transition from one to the next.

What are Common Nap Schedules?

While newborns just sleep when they want to, by a couple of months of age they’ve begun to nap on somewhat of a schedule. Usually, anyway.

For newborns, it’s best to use baby wake times to gauge wakefulness and time naps. It’ll help you slide better into a regular daytime and nighttime sleep pattern.

Three Nap Schedule

As baby develops, they’ll slide into three (or sometimes four) naps.

Babies usually take:

  • a morning nap
  • a mid-day nap (right after an early lunch)
  • an afternoon nap
  • and sometimes a late afternoon cat nap

This is totally normal – and they’ll be at this stage for a few months until they graduate to just two naps a day.

Two Nap Schedule

Two naps a day won’t start until at least 6 months old – although that’s an early estimation. Most children aren’t ready for two naps until closer to 7-9 months of age.

Naps at this stage will be:

  • the first nap mid-morning
  • an after lunch (or mid-afternoon) nap

My kids took their naps mid-morning and right after lunch – and then still needed an early bedtime most days!

One Nap a Day Schedule

By about 10 months, some kids are ready to graduate to a single nap each day. Other kids aren’t ready for this until closer to 15-18 months – it all depends on your child.

So don’t feel bad if your child needs more (or less!) sleep. Go with it.

Most naps at this age are a single, long nap after lunch. Some days we had an early lunch to keep the crankiness at bay. Other days we had a late lunch because my kiddo wanted to play longer.

It’s okay – just watch their sleep signs for cues on adjusting nap time.

Tips for Transitioning Between Nap Schedules

Now, as you’re adjusting between the different nap stages, here’s a tip:

Begin by alternating schedules so that you can ease into the next stage without letting your child become sleep deprived – or letting yourself get frustrated and overtired yourself.

In other words, let’s say that you’re going from 3 naps a day down to 2.

  • Let’s call 3 naps a day your A schedule
  • And let’s call 2 naps a day your B schedule
  • (anyone else feel like you’re back on a high school or college schedule with A and B Days?)

So let’s alternate days – let’s do an A day – then a B day. Rinse and repeat for a few days – or weeks if needed! Use your baby’s sleep cues as your guide.

If needed, do a three or four-day rotation: ABBA or ABAA or even BAAA. There’s no wrong answer – just see what works and know it’ll take a few weeks to go from one level to the next.

The trick is easing the adjustment period so that you can avoid any sleep issues – like a sleep regression.

Tip: Use a Strategic Bedtime

One final tip is this: during an adjustment, when you’re on a B day, make use of a strategically earlier bedtime. After all, they’re missing out on 2-3 hours of sleep. They’re going to need that extra sleep that an earlier affords.

How much earlier should you make bedtime? We usually just moved it forward by 15-30 minutes.

Tips When the Problem is that Your Kid’s Not Napping

Now, not napping at all is a different problem – but it’s still a big problem during a nap transition. So let’s break it down by age for ease.

Baby Not Napping

There’s a ton of reasons why your baby’s not napping – and even more ways to fix it. So many that I had to make this a separate post!

What you can do when baby’s not napping

Toddler Not Napping

When your toddler begins to skip naps, it’s a sad, sad day. It’s a sign that they’re ready to move on from naps all together.

Sometimes this manifests in weird ways – so see if any of these sound familiar.

  • Is your toddler waking up earlier or staying up later, but still napping?
  • Do your toddlers fight naps and bedtime?
  • Are naps unreliable?

If the answer to any of those was a yes, then I hate to break it to you, but here it is.

Your toddler’s outgrowing naps.

Now, you may still be able to get in the occasional nap. But the reason your toddler is waking up early (and staying up later!) is because they don’t need as much sleep. So if you want to keep the nap, you’re going to have to adjust to the new, later bedtimes – and the earlier wake-up times.

Or if you’d rather keep bedtime (and wake-up times) where they were at, it’s time to phase out the naps using the tricks above. Seriously – just scroll up to the above section.

If bedtime and wake-up times haven’t changed yet, but your kid is fighting bedtime tooth and nail, they can still be outgrowing naps.

With my daughter, I noticed the fighting first. So we began transitioning her out of naps altogether. There’s still days when she needs a nap – but she’s happy to go to bed again.

And not having to fight at naps AND bedtime? While knowing she’ll happily go to bed each night? It’s so worth it.

Oh – and make sure you read this next section on preschoolers. Because it’s got some great advice on how to talk about naps with your kids.

Preschooler Not Napping

Now, if you’re lucky enough to have a preschooler who still naps, that’s amazing. All of my kids were done napping by 2. But from talking to other moms with preschoolers who did nap, it’s very similar to dealing with a toddler who’s outgrown naps.

If you haven’t already, scroll up and read the section on toddlers skipping naps. It’s just above this section and will talk you through the transition.

The big difference is that preschoolers can talk (and complain) a lot more. And while talking more can be nice, it doesn’t mean that they understand what’s going on.

So make sure you talk with your preschooler about what’s going on. Let them know that they’re growing up – and that they may not need as many naps.

You may also want to let them choose when they nap – or when they skip it and have a slightly-earlier bedtime Provided they aren’t crazy cranky, of course!

For example, we’ve asked our cranky preschoolers this before:

Do you want to go rest in your bedroom right now or do you want to have extra rest time in your room at bedtime?

They usually choose at bedtime – which is just fine. We’ll have a bedtime that’s 15-30 minutes earlier than usual.

But sometimes, if they’re sick, they’ll choose to go rest in their room for a few minutes. And if they’re sick, I’ll usually let them take a tablet and watch some Curious George or read them a book.

Conclusion: Naps and Kids are Amazing

Really – they are. Being a mom is a hard but fantastic job. So here’s to hoping that you’re enjoying it as well. And, that these tips are as helpful for you as they are sanity-saving for me.

Oh – and if you don’t see your question answered? Let me know – so I can get it answered and added for other tired parents.

Related Topics:

  • Want to browse all things naps? Here is my nap resource hub – all of the tips and tricks I’ve learned while researching and trying things out with 4 stinky sleepers.
  • Not sure if you’re putting your child down for naps or bedtime at the right time? Here’s how we finally learned to recognize our kids’ sleep signs – and they were a lot more subtle than we first realized!
  • Got a question about where your kids can or should nap? Here are all of the best (and some not-so-great) places for your child to nap – and where we let ours nap.
  • Ready to transition your child into sleeping in their own crib? Skip the circus – and do it the easier way with these tips.

Want me to hold your hand through sleep training?

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Kimberly C. Starr

I'm a ginger who loves reading, eating, being a nurse, spending time with my family, and writing about it all. I believe humor is the best medicine, followed very closely by chocolate and tacos. To read more about me, click here.

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