Just as you’ve settled into a routine with your baby, things seem to change. During these early months, there is constant growth and development that can impact sleep. If your baby is taking 4 (or more) naps and sleep is feeling a bit tricky, it could be time to drop a nap. I’d love to share the signs of the 4 to 3 nap transition and help you with the steps for dropping that 4th nap.
When do babies drop to 3 naps?
The typical age for the 4 to 3 nap transition is between 4-5 months; some babies may transition a little earlier and some will be ready a little later. By the time your baby is around 5 months, we do want to aim for 3 naps each day. See my tips for how to do this below.
Expert Tip: Until about 5 months, it’s possible that the number of naps your baby takes will vary from day to day depending on how long your baby naps. Don’t let this worry you!
What are the signs my baby is ready for 3 naps?
Your baby may be ready for the 4 to 3 nap transition if they are between 4-5 months AND:
have trouble falling asleep at nap time and/or bedtime
start to regularly protest or refuse the last nap
struggle with short naps
require a bedtime after 8:00 pm in order to fit the fourth nap into the day
experience early morning wakings almost daily
If your baby is 3 months, 4 months, or 5 months and is showing changes in sleep, it could also be the 4 month sleep regression. Still having trouble knowing whether it’s time? Read more about Signs It's Time to Drop a Nap.
What are the wake windows for the 4 to 3 nap transition?
For a consistent three nap routine, wake windows are between 2-3 hours. Typically when a baby is ready for the 4 to 3 nap transition, they are able to stay awake close to 2 hours for the first wake window of the day. Each wake window tends to increase as the day goes on, so by bedtime your baby will be able to stay awake for about 2.5 hours.
Which nap gets dropped during the 4 to 3 nap transition?
The last, or fourth, nap of the day is the nap that is dropped during this transition. When making the transition from 4 naps to 3, wake windows lengthen which shifts all naps a bit later. Eventually, the fourth nap is no longer needed as your baby is able to handle more awake time and naps become more consistent.
Here are sample schedules for a 4-5 month old who is ready to drop the 4th nap. Keep in mind, these are just samples and your baby’s days will likely look different based on their individual sleepy and hunger cues. The first schedule is a 4-nap day in which this baby needs wake windows between 1 hour 45 minutes and 2 hours 15 minutes.
Important Note: After transitioning to three naps, wake windows increase to between 2-2.5 hours. Notice that when taking four naps, bedtime was falling after 8:00 pm and overnight sleep was just over 10 hours BUT moving to three naps led to more consolidated naps and more nighttime sleep! If you’re struggling, check out my 5-24 Month Collection.
How long does it take to transition from 4 naps to 3?
Some little ones transition from four naps to three fairly quickly, while others can go back and forth between 3 and 4 naps for around 2-4 weeks. Much of this depends on the length of your baby's naps.
Please know that it’s very common to see short naps at this age (think 20-45 minutes). Naps usually don’t begin to become predictable and consistent until around five months of age. Did you catch that? Short naps are normal and developmentally appropriate for those first five months (and even a bit longer for some babies). If you’re struggling with naps, check out my blog: What to Do When Your Baby Won't Nap for more help.
How do you transition to 3 naps?
1. Gradually lengthen wake windows.
As your baby transitions from 4 naps to 3, we want to gradually add a bit more awake time to each wake window. Aim for 5-10 minutes every few days. In order to do this, you may need to switch activities when you see your baby flashing sleepy cues. If you need some ideas for how to keep your baby awake just a little longer, check out these ideas for stretching wake windows.
2. Provide a wind-down routine.
Just like a bedtime routine helps prepare a baby for a good night’s sleep, a predictable nap time routine sets your little one up for a restorative nap. A nap time routine doesn’t have to be complicated! We just want to allow a few minutes to decompress before a nap.
Here’s one example: remove uncomfortable clothing, change diaper, slip into a sleep sack, read a book, dim the lights, and into the crib awake. All of this sends cues to your little one’s brain that sleep is coming!
3. Adjust bedtime as needed.
Ideally, we want bedtime to fall between 7:00-8:00 pm. At this age, this really is the sweet spot for bedtime. Know that when your baby is dropping a nap, a flexible bedtime can help prevent your baby from being overtired or undertired.
On a 3-nap schedule, the wake window before bed is between 2.5-3 hours. There may be days during this nap transition when your baby may struggle to make it much past 6:00-6:30 pm. And there may be days when your baby took an unexpected snooze late in the day, and bedtime needs to be later than normal. Both are okay! As your baby adjusts to consistently taking three naps, bedtime will become more predictable.
4. Stay consistent.
For many babies, this transition can take 2-4 weeks. Please remember, short naps are still normal at this age and not every day will look the same. Be patient and keep moving forward. Consistency is so important as you help shift your baby’s sleep routine. Give your little one (and yourself) lots of grace.
If sleep is a struggle all around, know that I have classes that can help. If your baby is around 5 months or older, my 5-24 Month Collection will give you step-by-step guidance to set your little one up for great days and consolidated nights. Not sure which class is right for your baby? Check out Which Class Should I Take?