Is your child struggling with naps during the day? Does he sleep some days, resist others, and then sleep longer than ever the next day? It may be time to transition to a new nap schedule! Andrea Page, the Child Health & Sleep expert behind Little Beet Kids shares the following tips to help you navigate the ever-changing landscape of your child’s naps.
Kids are funny. Just when you’ve started to pat yourself on the back for getting your child to sleep like a champ, he decides that naptime is no longer for him. Your once peaceful mornings and afternoons, those blissful hours when all was right again in the world had turned into a chaotic battle for naptime supremacy. If this sounds like your life with baby right now, welcome to the turbulent realm of the nap transition!
Most children transition from one nap schedule to another around specific ages (see the table below). But each child is different and in addition to consulting this table, you’ll want to look for several cues that your child is ready for a nap transition. The most important cue is that your child suddenly acts like he doesn’t need to nap anymore. When you try to put him down at his regular time he may resist, then not sleep at all, and by lunchtime you’re dealing with a full-blown grump. Then to throw you off, the next day he’s out like a light during breakfast.
As a child grows, her physiological ability to stay awake for longer periods of time, increases in small increments. For example, a one month old can stay awake for only 45 min to 1 hour at a time before she needs sleep again. That’s why newborns take so many naps. As your baby grows her ability to stay awake for increasingly longer stretches of time will increase. It is this ability to stay awake longer that will to dictate the number of naps your child should take during the day.
It’s easy to neglect the importance of naps in your child’s day, but if you push a child to stay awake for longer than she is capable then you’re bound to have a difficult time putting her down for her nap. Unlike adults who will gladly crash when kept awake too long, babies have a completely opposite reaction. Most will become oppositional, resistant, and downright ornery. If you struggle with your child’s naps in general, this overtiredness may be the reason why. And, if you’re struggling with your child’s night time sleep as well, then you need to consider whether or not your child is getting enough sleep during the day, and at the right times.
But, getting back to our initial scenario—what to do when everything was going great, then suddenly your child just doesn’t seem to want to nap anymore. Chances are he’s ready for a nap transition. When determining if your child is ready to switch to a new schedule you will want to look for the following cues:
Having a harder time falling asleep at naptime (so if laid down at 12:30 doesn’t fall asleep until 1 pm, 1:30 pm, or not at all!)
Having alternating days of very short naps and very long naps (having consistent naps every day is a sign that he is on the right schedule)
Short naptimes (especially the last nap of the day, when it is consistently 30 min or less, then it’s probably time for the nap to go)
Inconsistency carrying on for 1-2+ weeks
Child is NOT sick.
Seeing any or all of the above cues sustained over a week or more means your child is likely ready for a switch. Just make sure that nothing else could possibly be causing her erratic naptime behavior like an illness or trying to adjust from the 2 week vacation you just took. If a child is on the border of the relative ages for nap transitions, or seems too young perhaps, I’ll ask my parents to first give it another week just to make sure there wasn’t something odd that may have thrown off the child. But, if the child doesn’t get back on track, then on to the nap transition we go!
When you do decide to it’s time to drop a nap, then you’ll want to start by increasing your child’s “awake” times between naps. The awake time is the time from when the child wakes up in the morning, or from a nap, to the time he goes back to sleep again. See the table above for typical awake times for given ages. The key is to gently push the awake time until you’ve increased the time between sleeps enough to drop a nap. So to switch from a 2 to a 1 nap schedule, simply increase the awake time from 3 hours to 4 then to 5 hours, and you’ll have successfully removed a nap. The second nap meanwhile becomes shorter then disappears entirely. The bedtime will temporarily shift to an earlier time, then slowly adjust back to a later time as he grows and his sleep need decreases slightly. Don’t try to go from a 10 am nap to a 1 pm nap in one day or your child will have a complete meltdown. Take it slowly.
When you switch to another nap schedule, the total number of hours slept in a day will certainly decrease. It’s very important as you start the transition to the new nap schedule to keep as close as possible to whatever number of total hours your child is sleeping in a day. So if your child is getting 14 hrs of sleep per day at the start of the nap transition, then make sure he continues to get about that many hours as you adjust his schedule or sleep deprivation may complicate the adoption of the new schedule. What this means is adjusting the bedtime to an earlier time, like say from 7:30 pm to 6:30 pm to compensate for any loss of sleep during the day. Then as the child settles into the new nap routine, the bedtime can again be pushed back to 7 or 7:30 pm as the needed or as the child’s total need for sleep decreases with age.
Some children transition easily from one nap schedule to another, others will display some erratic behaviour for a few days to a few weeks after the transition while they settle into the new routine, so don’t be dismayed if you have a bad nap day or a rough night here and there. Just remember to stay the course you have chosen and you will be able to guide your child through the schedule change easily.
Andrea Page is a Certified Sleep Sense™ Consultant and owner of Little Beet Kids a Family Wellness Consultancy helping families with all manner of health-related challenges, particularly pediatric sleep and nutrition issues. For more great info on health & sleep follow Andrea on Facebook, Twitter or visit www.LittleBeetKids.com