Navigating the 3-to-2 and 2-to-1 Nap Transition

When you become a parent you accept the role of caregiver, but also the roles of personal chef, nurse, friend, researcher and so much more!

Many parents are overwhelmed by the day-to-day duties of parenting, and when you add sleep troubles on top of everything else, it can quickly become overwhelming.

What often happens is that parents finally get their little one on a schedule that was working ... and then out of nowhere, sleep starts to become an issue again. Is it a sleep regression? Schedule change? Nap transition? It’s a tough mystery to solve sometimes, which is where the following information will certainly come in handy!

What is a Nap Transition?

A nap transition occurs when your child is ready to reduce the number of naps they have during the day. For example, when a child drops from 3 to 2 naps, that is considered a nap transition.

When Do These Nap Transitions Happen?

The 3-to-2 nap transition happens between 6-9 months. The most common age for this transition to occur is 7-8 months.

The 2-to-1 nap transition happens between the ages of 12-18 months. The earliest age being 12 months as this is typically when children who attend childcare centers will make the transition in order to follow the daycare’s schedule. The most frequently recommended age for this transition is at least 14 months, but 12 months is generally fine for most infants.

All About The 3-to-2 Transition

As mentioned above, this transition occurs around 7-8 months for most babies. While the thought of a nap transition may be scary, there is nothing to fret about! Going into a nap transition well prepared is the best step in the right direction.

How do you know when your little one is ready for this nap transition? 

While every child is different, the following signs may indicate that the baby is ready to drop a nap:

  • Nap length is decreasing and wake time is increasing
  • Prolonged periods of crying or playing in the crib before naps, followed by a short nap
  • Complete refusal of nap. This commonly becomes an issue for the 3rd nap of the day
  • Baby is between the age of 6-9 months

Your little one should be showing these signs consistently for 2 weeks before you start the transition. We wait for 2 weeks to be confident that your baby is actually ready and isn’t simply experiencing a brief short sleep regression due to new developmental milestones.

Making this transition isn’t quite as frightening as many assume it will be. To make this transition you will begin by pushing your regular nap times back by 30-45 minutes to help remove the third (typically troubled) nap. It is important to offer an early bedtime to make up for the lost nap!

If your baby is an early riser, it is possible you will need to push the first nap back a bit further than usual. I recommend doing this in 30-minute increments over the course of 3-4 days. Here are two example schedules from transitioning from 3 naps to 2 naps using a 7am and 6am wake time respectively:

Example:

3 Nap Schedule

2 Nap Schedule

7:00AM Morning

7:00AM Morning

9:00AM Nap 1

9:15/9:30AM Nap 1

12:45PM Nap 2

1:15/1:30PM Nap 2

4:00PM Nap 3

X

6:45PM Bedtime

6:15/6:30PM Bedtime


Example:

3 Nap Schedule

2 Nap Schedule

6:00AM Morning

6:00AM Morning

8:00AM Nap 1

9:00AM Nap 1

11:45PM Nap 2

1:15/1:30PM Nap 2

3:30PM Nap 3

X

6:30PM Bedtime

6:15/6:30PM Bedtime


The goal amount of sleep for each of the two new naps is 90 minutes each. Of course, this length is going to vary depending on the child and the day. It is very normal for your little one to experience some sleep regression during the nap transition itself. These bumps should work themselves out within 1-4 weeks. If you find your child is having a difficult time extending naps, you can offer a rest period when the third nap would typically occur and then adjust bedtime accordingly.

All About The 2-to-1 Nap Transition

This transition is known for being a bit more difficult for both parents and children. While it does sound scary, and at times it may feel like there’s no light at the end of the tunnel during this transition, it will end! It is common for this transition to take place over 2-6 weeks.

First, let’s review signs that show your baby is NOT yet ready to transition to 1 nap, even if they’re in the 12-18 month window and struggling with sleep:

  • Your baby fusses or stays awake longer than usual at nap time, but then ends up taking a good nap (1 hr+)
  • Missing a nap makes your baby extremely tired/cranky/irritable. Your child needs to be able to handle at least 4 hours of awake time to be successful on a one nap schedule.
  • Your child is in a sleep regression due to learning a new skill.
  • Night sleep has been off lately. It is always best to focus on night sleep first, rather than naps. If your child is waking often at night, switching to one nap rarely helps and can create new issues

If you’re in this boat, you should try limiting your child’s first nap to one hour and then increasing the amount of time your baby is awake between naps one and two. This will help build “sleep pressure” before the second nap.

While every child is different, the following signs may indicate that the baby is ready to drop down to 1 nap:

  • Refusing nap 2 even after adjusting wake time and capping first nap.
  • Protesting nap 2 for long periods of time, followed by a short nap.

The same as the 3-to-2 nap transition, these signs should be happening consistently for at leasy 2 weeks before beginning the transition to one nap. Making this transition too soon can cause more sleep problems to arise.

How to Navigate the 2-to-1 Nap Transition

First, start by moving your baby’s morning nap later by 30 minutes for 3 days. Afternoon nap and bedtime (if baby falls asleep for the afternoon nap) will need to be adjusted to accommodate the later first nap.

Continue to shift your entire schedule by 30 minutes every 2-3 days until you reach an 11:00/11:30am start time for the first nap. Once you reach this point, the second nap can be removed and bedtime will be moved up earlier to make up for the lost nap.

For example, if your baby’s morning nap is typically 9:30am, you would move it to 10:00am for 3 days, then 10:30am for 3 days and so on until you reach 11:15/11:30am.

Target start time for one nap to begin is typically 11:30am-12:00pm for a baby that wakes in the 6-7am hour.

When making the switch to a one nap schedule, you can allow up to 3 hours of daytime sleep during the single nap. If your child does sleep for 3 hours, this does not necessarily mean that your baby’s bedtime should be shifted later. An early bedtime is often key to a successful nap transition. This is simply an adjustment to your child’s internal clock and will take time.

The following sample schedules show how to transition from 2 naps to 1 nap over the course of one week:

2 Nap Schedule:

1 Nap Schedule: Days 1-3

7:00AM Morning

7:00AM

9:30AM Nap 1

10:00AM Nap 1

1:30PM Nap 2

2:00/2:30PM Nap 2

7:00PM Bedtime

7:15-7:30PM Bedtime


2 Nap Schedule:

1 Nap Schedule: 4-6

7:00AM Morning

7:00AM

9:30AM Nap 1

10:30 AM Nap 1

1:30PM Nap 2

2:30/2:45PM Nap 2

7:00PM Bedtime

7:30-7:45PM Bedtime


2 Nap Schedule:

1 Nap Schedule: 6 Days in

7:00AM Morning

7:00AM

9:30AM Nap 1

11:00/11:15AM Nap

1:30PM Nap 2

X

7:00PM Bedtime

6:00-6:30PM Bedtime


2 Nap Schedule:

1 Nap Schedule: Ending Schedule

7:00AM Morning

7:00AM

9:30AM Nap 1

11:45/12:00PM Nap

1:30PM Nap 2

X

7:00PM Bedtime

6:00-6:30PM Bedtime


The foundation to a successful nap transition is always consistency and patience. Nap transitions can be overwhelming and frustrating for the whole family. It is important to remember that they are a phase every parent will experience, and they DO end eventually.

If you are struggling with these transitions, more detailed guides are available for purchase on my website.

 

Michelle Cormier

Pediatric Sleep Consultant and founder of Sleep EZzz Consulting, Michelle Cormier found her passion for healthy sleep when her first son was born over six years ago. Now a loving mother of two boys, Michelle has helped hundreds of families get the rest they need and deserve by working closely with parents to determine the cause behind their sleep troubles. No parent should feel guilty for wanting more sleep; and Michelle is striving to make that happen for more parents & children every day.


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