How to manage the transition from one nap to zero naps

Updated May 25, 2022
1-0 Nap Transition

It’s bittersweet but true: One day your child will stop napping. If this fact is a little (or very) intimidating, we get it! Families rely heavily on naps -- whether it’s to recharge or to get other things done. Find out what you can expect when your child is ready to drop their last nap, and how to make the transition go as smoothly as possible.


IN THIS ARTICLE


Most children continue to need naps (at least some of the time) until 3 to 5 years of age. As with all nap transitions, there are some kids who will transition earlier than the average age, and some who will reach this milestone later. While there are plenty of 2 year olds who drop the nap, the early transition often results in other sleep issues -- such as early waking and increased night waking. 

Wondering whether your child is outgrowing their daily nap? You’ll know that your child is getting closer to being ready for the transition when they’re at least 2.5 - 3 years of age, and you see some (or all) of the following signs:

  • Frequently skipping naps

  • Difficulty falling asleep at usual sleep times

  • Nap and bedtime are getting pushed late, resulting in less than 10 hours of night sleep

  • Consistently staying awake for more than 6 hours before bedtime

  • Early waking and or split nights (when your child stays awake for long periods at night) on 1-nap days

In order for a 1-nap schedule to work well, a child needs wake windows of 5 - 6 hours on either side of the nap.  As toddlers become preschoolers, their optimal wake windows lengthen and they start needing longer periods of wakefulness in order to become tired enough to fall asleep and stay asleep. This is why we see children start having difficulty falling asleep at their typical nap and bedtimes: they start needing longer than 6 hours of wake time before they’re physically ready to sleep.

You can be confident your child is ready to drop the nap completely when they’re able to comfortably (and consistently) stay awake for at least 12 hours a day. Although some toddlers are capable of doing this on a short term basis, it’s rare to see a child younger than three years old who can stay awake that long on a regular basis. Two year olds often need a schedule adjustment rather than a nap transition.

Not in any hurry to say goodbye to daytime sleep? Parents, we hear you! We encourage holding onto the last nap as long as you can. Dropping it too early can lead to chronic overtiredness, which is a common cause of increased irritability, daytime sleepiness, night waking, and early waking. 

If you’re starting to see signs that your child is ready to transition away from the nap, there’s no need to panic. There are some strategies you can use to preserve naps as long as possible. Before ditching the nap completely, you have some options:

First, try shortening the duration of the nap. This can help lengthen the awake time before sleep periods, and increase sleep pressure, allowing you to maintain the nap for longer.  

For example, if your child is showing signs of readiness to transition, but naps for 2 or more hours when they do sleep, you can try shortening the nap to 1.5 hours and aiming for a wake time of about 6 hours before bedtime. You may find that this helps regulate naps.

Sample 1-nap schedule with 90 minute nap

Nap12:30 PM - 2:00 PM (1.5 hour nap) 5.5 hours of awake time before nap
Get ready for bed7:00 PM
Asleep 8:00 PM 6 hours of awake time before bedtime

Note: Sleep needs vary by child and this chart should be viewed as an example.

If that’s not successful, you can try limiting the nap to one hour in order to increase the sleep pressure before each sleep period, which can make it easier for your child to fall asleep. Here’s what that might look like:

Sample 1-nap schedule with 60 minute nap

Nap1:00 PM - 2:00 PM (1 hour nap) 6 hours of awake time before nap
Get ready for bed7:00 PM
Asleep8:00 PM 6 hours of awake time before bedtime

Note: Sleep needs vary by child and this chart should be viewed as an example.

If you’re starting to see nap resistance, and other signs of transition readiness, we encourage you to continue offering opportunities for day time sleep. However, expect that many naps will be skipped. It’s common for children to alternate between no nap and 1-nap days. 

If your child is content in their sleep space, go ahead and let them have some down time for 60 - 90 minutes. If they don’t fall asleep, be sure to offer an earlier bedtime to limit overtiredness. Many children are able to sleep for 12 hours when they don’t nap during the day. For example, if your child wakes at 7:00 AM, and skips their nap, go ahead and target a 7:00 PM bedtime. 

This irregular pattern can be understandably challenging for parents, but the back and forth is temporary. Allowing the opportunity for naps can help young children adjust to staying awake for longer periods. Some families who need more predictability find it helpful to offer naps once a week, or on weekends only, until their child is ready to drop the last nap completely.

Since hunger can cause shortened sleep, we’ll want to adjust meals and snacks on zero-nap days to ensure that your child doesn’t wake too early the next morning. Ideally, your child’s night sleep will be longer on the days that they don’t nap. They’ll still need about the same amount of sleep in a 24-hour period, it will just be distributed differently: one longer stretch at night, instead of split between day and night sleep.

This change in night sleep means that your child may have to go longer in between meals, and it may take some time for them to adjust to lasting 12 or more hours in between dinner and breakfast. Consider whether you can move dinner later, or add in another snack during the day, in order to prevent early morning hunger pangs.

Initially, it can be challenging for families to adjust to life without naptime. It’s not only rest and recharge time for the child -- the caregivers need that time too! 

Once your child stops napping for the most part, you can build a scheduled “quiet hour” into your daily routine. The idea is that your child will spend some alone time in their sleep space doing calm activities, giving them (and you) a chance to relax. In some cases, they may surprise you and end up napping after all.

Before leaving your child with some quiet activities (such as picture books, puzzles, or coloring) try to spend 10 - 15 minutes giving them your undivided attention in their bedroom. Some parents like to continue to use their pre-nap routine for that together time, which can help ensure that your child stays content once you leave.

Whether your child skips naps occasionally, or has completely stopped taking naps, it will be important to move bedtime earlier on those no-nap days. This will help minimize overtiredness (which can contribute to sleep issues) and ensure they get enough sleep overall. Try aiming for about 12 hours of sleep on days your child doesn’t nap.

In some cases, children will continue to nap at daycare or preschool, but would sleep better overall if they transitioned away from that day sleep. This can be stressful for parents who notice that their child has trouble falling asleep (or doesn’t sleep well during the night) on days they nap. 

First, we recommend talking to your childcare provider. There may be room for flexibility. Discuss options such as moving the nap earlier, limiting the nap to an hour, or offering a non-sleeping quiet time instead.

Some childcare providers must continue to offer naps due to state law or private regulations. In those cases, consider whether you can move bedtime later so that there’s 6 hours of awake time before bed.  Follow a zero nap schedule on the weekends to help balance out the naps on the days they are at school. 

1-0 Nap transition FAQ

Q: How much nighttime sleep should my child be getting if they aren’t taking a nap during the day?

A:

Sleep amounts vary by child. Younger children who drop the nap closer to 3 years of age will likely need about 12 hours of sleep, while older children of 5 years may be well rested with 10.5 hours of sleep.

Q: Does your child need to have an earlier bedtime?

A:

Yes, bedtime typically needs to be moved earlier on days your child doesn’t nap. While families often miss nap time at first, earlier bedtimes can free up evenings for parents to enjoy some adult time - like breaking out the hidden ice cream and binge watching your favorite series without interruption.

Q: How does dropping naps affect nighttime sleep?

A:

If a child is ready to drop their nap, and follows an age appropriate schedule, night sleep should lengthen by an hour or two. If a child is transitioned away from naptime before they’re ready, this can lead to overtiredness and increased night waking.

Q: How long does this nap transition take?

A:

This tends to be a longer transitional period than others, since children are adjusting to a bigger change: typically going from staying awake for about 6 hours, to staying awake for a 12 hour stretch. The transition can take weeks, or months, depending on the readiness of the child. It’s common for children to occasionally (but not regularly) nap, before they completely stop napping.

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Note: The content on this site is for informational purposes only and should not replace medical advice from your doctor, pediatrician, or medical professional. If you have questions or concerns, you should contact a medical professional.