Just when it seems like you’ve got the whole sleeping baby thing under control, your little one goes and keeps changing and growing, right before your eyes. Changing from four or five naps a day to three doesn’t seem to be too challenging for most parents because newborns tend to do this naturally, as they develop and become able to handle longer awake periods. However, it seems that transitioning from three to two naps, poses a bit more difficulty and often takes some nudging and work on the parents’ part.
The best place to begin this process is to ascertain whether this is what needs to happen (in order to have a reasonable daily schedule and bedtime) or if this is what your baby is demonstrating they want! There will be cues from him or her about their growing needs.
Here are a few ways to tell:
• The first two naps are quite long and restorative, so that it becomes difficult to have a third one without pushing bedtime down too late.
• They are having a much more difficult time falling asleep when they normally would, and parents are spending much of the day rethinking the schedule and then dealing with an overtired baby or fighting to get a baby to sleep who isn’t tired. Awake periods (length) are literally always changing!
• You start to see a regression in the number of night wakings; night sleep is restless and bedtime is more difficult than it was recently.
• This transcends into earlier morning waking, often.
• Sometimes three naps is achievable, and some days one is skipped and your baby only has two.
• A third nap is difficult and not restorative or lengthy. A cat nap is fine to get your baby through to his or her appropriate bedtime, but if this last nap is always a fight, an earlier bedtime might be the best idea, while their wee bodies learn to adjust!
Below are some considerations for general frequency and number of naps, per day. (Please keep in mind that this is an approximate list, and every baby has different sleep needs, as well as different temperament and tolerance for awake periods.)
• Newborns – on demand, usually after 30 to 50 minutes of awake time depending on age.
• Three to six months – Usually three or four naps a day, depending on length and quality.
• Six to nine months – The third nap starts to become an issue and likely a cat nap or is to close to bedtime.
• Nine to 12 months – two naps per day.
• Twelve to 18 months – Generally moves from two to one anytime from 14 to 18 months, sometimes sooner.
• Eighteen months to three years – one nap a day.
• Three and a half years and up – Children start needing only the occasional nap.
There is room for movement in all of the above age groups, as there are a lot of factors to be mindful of. A couple examples: The 11-month-old who is in daycare regularly and naps once, after lunch while there. In this case, parents would want to think about having that same schedule at home. Then there is the 2.5 or three-year-old, who hasn’t been napping but starts preschool — chances are good they’ll need a nap after school. When these changes happen and you’re not sure how to handle them, simply ask your pediatric sleep expert. There is nothing set in stone in the above general recommendations — other than the fact that your babies need sleep, and that at some point your child will grow out of naps, altogether.
Here is how parents can facilitate the transition to two (hopefully long) naps.
Stretching awake periods. You’ve probably heard it discussed amongst peers, in the baby sleep community or even with me, that too long of an an awake period is detrimental to ease of falling asleep, and having a restful nap that is long enough to be restorative. So now, I ask you to step aside from that a little, by testing the waters with him or her a to make the transition. The best way to do this, is by extending what you know to be their optimal awake times/periods by 10 or 15 minutes every few days.
Ten minutes for babies who are very particular about their awake times, and perhaps 15 for babies who are a bit older and more flexible! Be especially careful of how long you decide to extend the awake period before the first nap of the day; we know this is usually the shortest awake period of the day, and also sets the stage for the rest of the day. Keep in mind that as always, awake period length is a matter of trial and error for families so watch carefully for tired signs and get them in bed before they become overtired! Too soon of an awake period results in short naps, and likewise, so does waiting too long. Try to be patient and find that sweet spot! If you have an early waker, try to keep them up until 8:30 or 9 a.m. That first naps should be at least 1.5 hours long (or more) and then a happy awake period until mid afternoon, making it to bedtime with ease, after a second good quality nap.
The next step is to move bedtime earlier. If your baby is in the age group of being ready to transition to two naps a day, chances are good that with three naps, they are going to bed at 7:30 or 8 p.m., if the naps are quality. So, with two, you’ll need to move bedtime earlier or you will all have a very unpleasant evening! It is not unheard of, and in fact is very common, for babies around the six to eight -month mark to only be able to handle a few hours between last nap and bedtime (provided napping went well) so keep this in mind when changing the schedule and bedtime. Of course, morning wake up time is also a factor here, so a six to eight month old waking at 5:30 a.m., will likely stick with three naps a day until that early waking is sorted out.
Implementing these two changes are paramount in making the transition smooth, but please keep in mind that no one has a crystal ball into your family dynamic, baby’s temperament, or other underlying factors. The very best thing you can do to ease the change, is to be at ease yourself and recognize that no change happens overnight. There will absolutely be some days when your baby takes a third nap, for a variety of reasons, and that is fine, but once you are well into the transition, try to remain consistent.
This all being said, unless you are seeing a good amount of resistance in your baby’s third nap a day schedule, then leave the third nap as it is. The more well rested they go into bedtime, the better the night and morning wake up, and the more of a sleep deficit they have going into bedtime, the higher the likelihood of a difficult bedtime and restless night.
Like all things baby, be patient, loving and consistent through all change, to make the transition easier on all of you!
As always, should you wish for help specific to your particular child, you can find it at eatplaysleep.ca
You can reach Regan Forsyth of Eat Play Sleep Family Wellness at firstname.lastname@example.org or 587-349-3772.