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Signs It’s Time to Drop a Nap

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Article by:

Cara Dumaplin

RN, BSN, Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant

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baby laying happily in crib since he is ready to drop a nap

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You’re not alone if it seems like just about the time you’ve got a predictable nap schedule or routine figured out, everything changes. Perhaps you have to add activities or preschool pickup in the middle of nap time, you start to see short naps pop up, or your baby simply stops napping. Or maybe you’re wondering if it’s actually time to drop a nap altogether.

If the idea of dropping a nap seems stressful, I want to offer you some reassurance: your baby or toddler can do this! But before you dive in, be sure your little one is actually ready to drop a nap.

What are the signs it’s time to drop a nap?anchor

Your baby or toddler is at or near the appropriate age range:anchor

4 naps to 3 naps ➡️ 4-5 months,⁣ 3 naps to 2 naps ➡️ 6.5-8 months, 2 naps to 1 nap ➡️ 13-18 months⁣, 1 nap to no nap ➡️ 3.5-4 years⁣

AND you're seeing one or more of the signs below:anchor

1. The last nap of the day is interfering with bedtime.anchor

Is your little one fighting bedtime when it was smooth sailing before? They used to fall asleep independently within minutes, but now they either protest like crazy or just lie awake in the crib.

Your child may simply need to be awake longer before bedtime. You’ll likely want to start by shifting bedtime a bit later, but eventually, you’ll need to drop the last nap to keep bedtime between 7:00 and 8:00 pm AND get the active awake time their body needs to fall asleep easily.

2. Your baby or toddler--all of a sudden--just doesn’t seem tired at nap time and begins to have trouble falling asleep.anchor

If your baby or toddler was able to fall asleep at nap time a week ago but now just won’t seem to drift off, this can be a sign that your little one needs more awake time prior to each nap. Dropping a nap helps create an age-appropriate daytime schedule and prevents a battle at nap time.

If falling asleep at nap time has always been a struggle, my classes can help. The 5-24 Month Collection will walk you through how to get solid naps in the crib, set up flexible routines, handle tricky days, and make all those nap transitions! ⁣If your little one is 2-4 years old and the Quiet Time transition feels scary, know that my Toddler Sleep Training class will walk you through every step of this big change.

3. Night wakings or early morning wakings are becoming your norm.anchor

Is your little one now waking in the middle of the night or ready to party at 5:00 am when this previously wasn’t an issue? This can also mean it’s time to drop a nap.

Night wakings and early morning wakings can be caused by too much daytime sleep. As your child gets older, their sleep requirements change. Too much daytime sleep CAN create interrupted or shorter night sleep, simply because your baby or toddler’s sleep needs have already been met during the day.

4. Your baby or toddler begins to consistently have short naps--when longer naps were normal before.anchor

Is your baby or toddler suddenly deciding nap time is over after a 30-45 minute snooze? 

If your little one starts taking shorter naps when longer naps were normal before, their nap schedule may be the culprit. It’s very possible that they need more awake time before being ready for a solid nap. Dropping a nap during the day can be the answer to helping your baby or toddler be tired enough to take long, restful naps.

How do we drop a nap?anchor

So, you’ve decided it’s definitely time to drop a nap, but you’re not sure how to approach it? Here are your 6 steps to dropping that nap:

1. Gradually push your baby or toddler to stay awake just a bit longer. anchor

Start with 10-15 minutes later than their normal nap time. Our goal is NOT to push them into an overtired mess, but just ever-so-gently widen their awake time (also referred to as “wake window”).

To see appropriate wake windows for your baby’s age, visit my sleep schedules

2. Change your baby or toddler’s activity when you start to see sleepy cues.anchor

As babies begin to get tired, you’ll start to see rubbing of the eyes, yawning, blank stares, and even some fussiness and/or clinginess. When this begins, it’s time for you to become more involved.

For example, your baby is playing with blocks on the floor and begins to flash those signs of being tired. It’s time for you to get creative so we can try to stretch that wake window a little longer. Now would be a great time to go outside and count how many trees are in your front yard, bring out a toy they haven't seen in a while, or stand at the sink and splash in the water. You are simply telling their little brain, “Let’s stay awake just a bit longer.”

Pushing these wake windows sometimes requires creativity, and it definitely requires you to be actively involved for that little stretch. If you need some ideas for activities with your baby or toddler, check out my age-specific sleep schedules.

3. Expose your baby or toddler to light during awake time.anchor

Light stimulates your little one’s brain and signals that it’s time to be alert. If possible, GET OUTSIDE. Children exposed to natural daylight while awake tend to be better sleepers. If the weather keeps you inside, then open the blinds and turn on the lights.

4. On the other hand, when it’s time to sleep, cut the light.anchor

Darkness sends a signal to your baby’s body that it’s time to sleep. Make it REALLY dark at nap time; block out all light (use code Cara for 10% off) in their sleep space!  No, I mean ALL light. If you can see your hand in front of your face, it’s not dark enough. A bit of light seeping through the blinds can end naps prematurely and wreak havoc on your entire day.

Expert Tip: I understand that you may worry that your baby will need “cave-like conditions” for sleep. You can start adding in more light later if that’s your concern. Right now, we are attempting to help set up a new nap schedule and darkness is so helpful!

5. Be flexible with bedtime.anchor

Yes, beyond the newborn stage, the sweet spot bedtime of 7:00-8:00 pm is best for most babies and toddlers. BUT as you’re adjusting nap times, you may find that your little one can’t make it much past 6:00-6:30 pm. That's an acceptable bedtime during a nap transition. Please know, we don't want an overtired baby.

On the other hand, you could find that your baby took an unexpected snooze late in the day and bedtime needs to be later than normal. Both are OKAY! As you gradually adjust and drop the nap, bedtime will become more predictable.

6. Maintain a consistent bedtime and nap time routine.anchor

This consistency cues your baby or toddler that sleep is coming. Often, this little ritual prior to sleep is the most important part of altering their daytime schedule. Remember, they don't know the time on the clock, but they do know the activities that happen before sleep. This routine doesn’t have to be complicated. Simply do the same activities in the same order in the same place.

If you're struggling, know that I have classes and resources to help you with nights and naps based on your baby's age. Give yourself and your little one some grace. Transitions are hard on everyone and can really take some time (think 2-4 weeks). You can do this!

Are you ready to have a great little sleeper?

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