Consolidating Naps: A Tricky Dance

Most toddlers are ready to transition from two naps to one around 15-18 months. That said, if your toddler’s naps are going well, leave them alone! But when things start to get funky on the nap front, it might be a sign that she is preparing to consolidate her naps. Your toddler is ready to transition to one nap when she:

·      Consistently gets 10-11 hours of uninterrupted sleep at night (if she’s not, work on improving her nighttime sleep before tackling naps)
·      Consistently takes longer and longer to fall asleep for her morning nap
·      Consistently takes shorter morning naps or sleeps too long in the morning then refuses her afternoon nap

If your toddler’s afternoon nap isn't going well, try shortening her morning nap – don't let her sleep longer than an hour. Maybe even 20-30 minutes. Think of the morning nap as a catnap to take the edge off, so she isn't overtired for the more important afternoon nap. Eventually she will drop the morning nap altogether. But catnaps can be a really good stopgap measure, buying her body a few more weeks/months to adjust.

When the time has truly come to kiss the morning nap goodbye, brace for a 7-10 day process. Gradually push her morning nap later – 11am for 2 days, 11:30am for a few days, then noon, etc. Don’t let the nap get stuck in the late morning. Your goal is for her nap to start between 12:30-1pm and last at least 2 hours.

Some children adapt quickly to an “after noon” naptime, while others really struggle. I found that keeping my toddler out of the house from 9-11am made a big difference. Keep her busy at the playground, library, or a friend’s house before bringing her home for lunch and then nap. Just don’t let her fall asleep in the stroller or car ride home!

If your sleepy toddler wakes up from her nap after only an hour, try to encourage her back to sleep using whatever method works best for her and you. Consistency is crucial here. If all else fails, you can always let her crash in the car or stroller so that she isn’t falling apart by 5pm.

Bear in mind: this is a significant transition that can last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. It often leads to short-term sleep deprivation since toddlers typically go through a "two naps are two many but one is not enough" stage. During that time, put her to bed earlier than usual and be open to an occasional two-nap day if you sense she is getting over-tired.

(Some excerpts from The Good Night Sleep Tight Workbook ©2010 Kim West LCSW-C, The Sleep Lady ®)