How to Drop to One Nap

I found complete bliss when my kids made the transition to one beautiful 3 hour-nap in the middle of the day. I had a kid-free break to look forward to each and every day that I could use however I saw fit.

This was great for a couple of reasons. First of all, it made planning our day a whole lot easier, since I didn’t have to stick around the neighbourhood all the time, to ensure that my youngest was getting back into the crib at the appropriate time. Suddenly, we had the whole morning to go out and do whatever needed doing.

Second, and I must be honest here, that two to three hour break in the middle of the day was absolutely glorious. I could get a whole lot done in that time, or I could take a break, if that was what I needed. I won't lie, I took the opportunity to nap myself on more than a few occasions.

Now, I’m not one to recommend less sleep, typically, but there’s no getting around the fact that, as babies get older, they don’t need as much shut-eye as they do when they’re infants. But how are you supposed to know when that time has come, and how do you make the transition?

How do you know that baby’s ready to drop a nap?

This transition can hit as early as 10 months, or as late as 18months. It really depends on each child and situation to determine where they fall in that frame. If you notice that baby’s doing great in the morning nap, but then fussing or playing for an hour or so before going down, that’s a very strong indication.

“He does that for a few days in a row, but then on day three, he’ll pass right out for his afternoon nap,” I hear you saying, and that’s really common. The rule I like to adhere to is this: If baby’s fighting the afternoon nap four or five times a week, and a couple weeks have gone by like this, it’s probably a good time to make the switch. Developmental milestones can cause some disruptions which might make you think that baby’s ready when they’re actually not, so make sure this is the pattern for a minimum of two weeks.

The reason I err on the side of caution here is because once you start with this process, it’s important not to back-step. If you pull the nap, but then baby manages to fight off the change, it’s going to cause some confusion, and that will just complicate the situation.

How to make the change?

So, now that you’re sure the time is right, it’s time to implement the new system. So what does that look like? Well, we can’t just change the schedule overnight. That would likely be met with meltdowns and tears from both sides!

My approach is to nudge the morning nap a half hour later every three days, up until nap time hits around 12:30. If your baby is especially sensitive to their awake window lower that nudge to 15 min intervals instead of 30. You’ll want to take your time with this, because it’s a tough transition for your little one. Don’t worry if the process takes 4-6 weeks to get fully implemented. That’s a good amount of time to shoot for.

As I’m sure you’re expecting, your toddler is going to get a little sleepy at their usual nap time, so avoid going for a car ride, or taking her out in the stroller around that time. A piece of fruit, (or fruit juice) can provide just enough of a sugar rush to get baby over the hump in this situation, so keep a stash of your child’s favourite in the fridge. Another great distraction is to head outside. The natural sunlight and stimulation of playing outdoors can distract them from how tired they may otherwise have felt if they were indoors.

You’re probably going to have to bridge the gap slightly in the afternoon, so a ride in the stroller or a quick snooze on a car ride is a good way to get a quick catnap in without putting baby down for a full-blown nap. Temporarily moving bedtime up a little earlier might be necessary as well, until they get the hang of the new schedule.

Once baby does start accepting the one nap, you may notice a little inconsistency in the length. This is completely normal and to be expected while their bodies learn to consolidate the amount of daytime sleep they require into one afternoon nap.

And just like that, before you even know what hit you, your little one will have cleared this early hurdle, and baby will be enjoying a daily siesta. Once your heart gets over the fact that your baby is growing up in the blink of an eye, you’ll be able to enjoy a little time off and a more flexible daily schedule.

Things to remember along the way.

Progress is never linear when it comes to sleep. Try to be patient when implementing change in baby’s sleep and never expect results overnight. Our bodies take time to adjust to a new schedule. Be sure that you’re managing realistic expectations.

Naps can be incredibly difficult to establish, because they take time. The fact remains that daytime sleep doesn’t have as many factors working for it as night time does. Its sunny and bright out, and there’s way more playtime to be had! The appeal just isn’t as strong as it is at bed time. That doesn’t mean that baby doesn’t need to nap! Stay strong, and remember the daily battle is always to avoid overtired.

Happy napping,


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Cory Biederman

Petawawa, ON