When (and How) Should you Drop a Nap?

Do you know how many naps your child should have per day and how long each nap should last for?

It may surprise you that actually nobody knows how long babies and toddlers should nap for and how many naps they should have per day.

If you have followed recommendations from a book or chart, it’s important to know that the figures they contain are completely most likely based on nothing more than personal opinion and random guesswork. There is no science which tells us what the ‘ideal’ baby or toddler nap looks like and none which shows us how many they should have based on age. Each child is different. What works for one won’t work for another exactly the same age.

The best way to ascertain how many naps your child should have (and how long they should last for) is to follow the cues your child gives to you. Far too many parents experience untold levels of stress worrying that their child is not meeting the recommended nap expectations for their age. They invest large amounts of time and energy (and often money) to try to get their child to nap more often, or nap for longer, largely because they are following un-evidence based guidelines and not their child.

nap

What science can tell us is the average length of time babies and toddlers sleep for during the day at a given age. It’s important to understand here that we’re only working with averages, there will always be children who sit well outside of these and are perfectly fine. Some will sleep for much more, some for much less. Some will take this sleep over several short ‘catnaps’ and some will take it over one or two much longer naps. Both are equally fine and healthy.

  • Newborn: 5-6hrs average total day sleep
  • 3 months 4-5hrs average total day sleep
  • 6 months 3-4hrs average total day sleep
  • 9 months 2-3hrs average total day sleep
  • 12 months 2-3hrs average total day sleep

What we do know is that daytime naps naturally lessen in length and frequency as the child gets older. This is because they can tolerate more awake time, from both a physiological and neurological perspective as they grow. Circadian rhythms also mature as sleep begins to consolidate, particularly at night. In general the more night sleep consolidates so lessening naps correlate. Research has shown that post two years daytime napping is correlated with a later onset of bedtime sleep and less night sleep. Or in other words, overly encouraging naps in toddlerhood can lead to more trouble with sleep at night.

 

Are There any Averages for Frequency of Naps?

Not evidence based ones, however in my experience the following patterns seem most common:

  • Newborn – no specific pattern
  • 3-6months – 4 or 3 naps per day
  • 6-9months – 3 or 2 naps per day
  • 9-12months – 1 or 2 naps per day
  • 12-18months – usually 1 nap per day
  • 18-30months – daytime naps stop on most days at some point.

Now, these are just averages based on my professional experience, there will always be babies and toddlers who sit outside of these. There will always be an eight month old who doesn’t nap at all and a three year old who naps every day, this just provides a vague timeline. This isn’t a list of ‘shoulds’ though. Remember there is no such thing as ‘should’ in terms of length, timing or frequency of baby and toddler naps.

nap

 

Dropping Naps

The only predictability when it comes to naps is that all babies start out napping and at some point over the next four years or so the frequency of naps reduces until ultimately they stop sleeping during the day.

The best way to drop a nap is to be ‘baby led’. That means ideally following your child’s cues or allowing it to happen totally naturally. The following are signs that your child is perhaps ready to drop a nap:

  • Taking much longer to fall asleep for naps
  • Not falling asleep during things that usually end in sleep – e.g feeding or babywearing
  • Waking after fifteen minutes or so of napping
  • Difficulty getting back to sleep when waking after a short nap
  • Difficulty falling asleep in the evening (more than previously)
  • More night waking than usual
  • Early morning waking (earlier than usual)
  • Skipping a nap every now and again
  • Complete reluctance to nap at a time they previously napped.

 

 

How to Handle Nap Drops.

There are two main (gentle) approaches here:

  1. Let it happen naturally – this can take several months for the nap to drop. Some days the baby will take the nap, others not. If you follow this approach don’t force a nap that is not happening. Try for a maximum of 15 minutes to get the baby to nap and then abandon the idea. Try again after a 15 minute break, this time for a maximum of 10 minutes. If it hasn’t happened by this point it’s not going to happen. The pro of this is that it’s totally baby led and very respectful of the child’s needs. The con is that it takes time and during that time you may have very difficult nights and an occasionally grumpy baby.
  2. After spotting some of the above cues (if you don’t spot them don’t do this!) aim to shift your baby’s sleep timings to fit in with a dropped nap – e.g: if going from two to one, if they usually nap at 10am and 2pm, aim for one nap in the middle – at 12 lunchtime.Try to keep them awake and occupied – lots of play, talking and interaction and avoid things which trigger sleep – e.g: car rides – outside of this time zone. The pro here is this is definitely a quicker way to change naps, the cons is that you’re going to have mega grouchy, cranky baby for at least a couple of weeks while their body clock adjusts to the new timings. Initially they’re going to be sleep deprived as they lose a daytime nap but the night sleep is not yet consolidated. It takes time (at least 2 weeks) for this to happen. Think of it as your baby having severe jetlag for a fornight. Jetlag sucks, as adults we know how bad it feels, this is what your baby is going through. Definitely don’t drop naps around the time of a holiday, a big family get together or starting nursery!

nap1

Will the Naps Always Stay Dropped?

Probably not. As adults we haven’t napped every day for many, many years. Yet we still nap sometimes. On days when we feel ill, days when we’ve had a bad night sleep, days when we have a hangover, days when we’ve been really busy and working hard. Babies and toddlers are no different. There will be days for many years to come where they will have a random nap outside of their normal timings. This is really no bad thing. If they nap they obviously need it, so leave them to it! What you’re aiming for is a fairly consistent pattern, not a robotic schedule.

When did your children drop naps and how did you do it? Let me know in the comments!

Sarah

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About SarahOckwell-Smith

Sarah Ockwell-Smith, Parenting author and mother to four.
This entry was posted in Babies, Toddlers, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to When (and How) Should you Drop a Nap?

  1. Letitia says:

    Thankyou, we’re having issues with feeding to sleep of an evening and not going down until late at the moment but we’re still on 3 naps. I’m hoping now that this will pass, as with most things x

  2. Hotmail says:

    Love this Sarah!

    Anoushka

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  3. breathdeepandcontinue says:

    Naps started to become difficult at around 15/16 mo. Then sporadic by 18m. Now at 22m he rarely naps and if he does its very late and he won’t go to bed till late. We try to be led by him as much as possible but sometimes I try and discourage the late naps. I do slightly envy people who’s toddlers have mega naps while we’re full on all day. But one day they’ll also be nappless mwahahahahaa!

  4. Michelle says:

    Great article! Thank you

    My son is 15 month’s. He dropped from 3 naps to 2 at 8 month’s. He now wakes at 7am and naps from 9:30 for 1.5 or 2 hours. He then has an afternoon nap from 3-5. He wakes about 5-6 times per night so I’m thinking to drop his morning nap. I’m just wondering how to fit in meal times though as he’s a very picky eater. We currently have breakfast from 7:30-8:30 and lunch at around 12 or 1. Dinner is then at 6 and be sleeps at 8:30pm. With meal times in mind, how do I go about dropping the morning nap? He happily sleeps in the morning but I’m hoping it will help us both sleep better at night.

  5. Lyss says:

    I nurse both kids to sleep still. 3y5m and 18m. They both still nap about 5 hours after waking because they’re early risers and get up at 5am

    My youngest only ever had one scheduled nap at the same time as her brother and she’d often fall asleep nursing in the evening.

  6. Jacqueline says:

    My 9.5 month old daughter does really well with a set schedule. I’m careful to not make her overtired and put her down for naps at set times. She dropped her 3rd nap at 6 months and has been taking 1.5-2 hour naps for both until a few weeks ago due to the 8-10 sleep regression. Her naps lately are a hit-or-miss (45 minutes or less) because of developmental growth (crawling, trying to stand, etc.) but she still takes two naps.. and one is usually an hour or more. With that, she’s still sleeping 11-12 hours straight at night.
    What worked for us was the 2/3/4 awake time. Now it’s more like 3/3.5/4 and we have a bedtime routine so she has a chance to wind down before lights out. I’ve been taking her up to the nursery to drink her bottle and quietly read books before naps too so she can relax before she goes down for a nap.
    Lately it’s been 7am – wake; 10am~11:30 – nap; 3pm~3:45/4pm – nap; 7~7:30pm – bedtime (roughly).

  7. Kristy Paterson says:

    My son is 13 months old and is baby led transitioning to one nap a day. His awake times have been getting longer and he was fighting nap time. Today he woke at 6am and went down for his nap at 11 am. He will likely sleep for approx 100 minutes sometimes he wakes briefly between cycles. He may start to look tired around 6 pm tonight but will have his bath then bed about 6:30 for a story and sleep. If he is in daycare he will only nap 40-45 minutes so will want a 2nd nap around 4:30pm. It will be nice to push his morning sleep back later on non daycare days to get his bedtime later but I’m just letting him lead the way.

  8. Jessica says:

    So helpful, as always.
    Thanks Sarah!

  9. Sandra Darby says:

    Followed this guide to drop naps previously but now I’m stuck with the dropping the last nap. My boy is nearly too, very active, early riser and never slept through or for any substantial length. One of these terrible sleepers. He falls asleep during the day breastfeeding but I make sure I wake him latest 1pm or after an hour. He’s been I’ll and slept loads again but now he’s up in the middle of the night playing, waking loads and not falling asleep easy neither nightime nor nap. How to drop the last nap? Cold turkey?

    • Christina says:

      You could try dropping the nap and pushing bedtime earlier? This worked for me. I went from a 8-9 pm bedtime, bouncing around for hrs and taking forever to go to sleep and fighting his nap, waking throughout the night to no nap, bedtime at 5 pm, falls asleep within 30 min and sleeps through the night. I did have a bottle for if he woke in the night at first, it is a sleep trigger for him but he slowly stopped waking up and needing it.

  10. Christina says:

    This is great! My now 29 month old son dropped to 1 nap before he turned 1 and then dropped his only nap around 18 months! Bedtime is at 5 and he sleeps 12 hrs through the night. We still get a random carseat nap or stroller nap but for the most part he just takes multiple “quiet times” throughout the day. My 13 month old daughter dropped her 2nd nap a month ago and does a 1-2hr nap before lunch. She also is in bed by 5 and pretty much sleeps through the night, if she wakes she settles back right away or wakes for her one midnight nurse. People think I am crazy to allow naps to be dropped and have such a early bedtime but both dropped naps and bedtime were initiated by the kids! They let me know when they are tired and I follow thier lead, works great for mommy.

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