When Should We Do the 2 – 1 Nap Transition?

Nov 12, 2023

If you are reading this, it’s likely your baby just celebrated their first birthday; they are finally sleeping through the night, the two naps are happening on schedule, and a sense of calm finally comes over the house…. Then, they nap strike. Suddenly, out of nowhere, they wake after 30 minutes crying hysterically, refuse to go down for a nap or only sleep if they are held or driven. You might be thinking, “is it time to move to one nap a day?” It sounds like it, but let me explain so you can move through the checklist and ensure you aren’t shifting too soon or waiting too long to make the transition.

What happens when the baby refuses a nap or stops napping well?

The science side of baby sleep training and education points to hormones. When you are awake, your body is producing adenosine, known as the sleep pressure hormone. When you sleep, your adenosine levels fall.

There are other hormones at play: cortisol, which typically peaks between 4 & 6 am, preparing your body for the day, and melatonin, the sleep pressure hormone, which peaks at bedtime and is in fact, not a sleep aid but prepares the body for sleep.

So, what do hormones have to do with naps? Well, around 4 months, a baby shifts from stage-based sleep, 50% REM, and 50% Non-REM to cycle sleep, averaging 45-60 minutes through the cycles. As a baby grow, their tolerance for being awake longer and taking less frequent naps has to do with the balance of these hormones. If they are awake too long, their body can trigger stimulant hormones, which throw the whole day off and leave you with a strung-out crying baby, both in the day, at bedtime, and overnight. Schedules are the most essential part of good sleep and having the right timing is crucial to consistent longer naps that many people desire.

Nap transitions happen because of the ability of a baby to stay awake longer and balance the hormones better as they move through the first year.

The wake windows by age also yield schedules for a baby too. Here is a rough outline of those wake windows aligned around a 7:00 am and 7:00 pm day.

  • 3 months old: Typically, a 90-minute wake window between sleep and a 4 -5 nap schedule. {At this age, babies can’t consolidate naps yet, as they are on the cusp developmentally, but we have to get that stage to cycle sleep transition above done first}.
  • 4 months old: Typically, a 2-hour wake window and 4 naps. When you start sleep training, I like to suggest nap 1 and 3 are independent and naps 2 & 4 are supported to balance cuddles, independently settling but most importantly, hormone balance, AKA avoiding overtired.
  • 5 months old: Typically, a 2.5-hour wake window and 3 naps, which by now should be spaced across the day, “around” 9:30, 12:30 and 3:30.
  • 6 months old: Typically, at 2:45 – 3-hour wake window and the shifting in the month from 3-2 naps.
  • 7 months old – 11 months old – 3 hours wake window, 2 haps and 3 hours of total daytime sleep.
  • 12 months old: This is when you start to watch for changes and signs that they might be ready to move from 2-1 nap.

What age should you move a baby from 2 -1 Nap?

I recommend my sleep coaching clients between 12 & 15 months watch for signs to shift to one nap. Some kids naps at daycare will go, as mine did on their first birthday, ready or not. Kids adjust, but that’s the window you start to pay attention to. In my 10 years as a baby sleep coach, I have only moved 3 kids before 12 months to 2 naps and have had to move many more over 15 months to 1 nap because they were ready, but with so many other sleep issues happening, parents didn’t realize it.

What are the signs to move baby from 2 -1 Nap?

The first sign is that your independent sleeper is no longer taking two nice long naps. They fight one {usually the second}, and it’s battle royale to go down, or it’s very short. If that’s happening, it’s because their hormones are out of balance. They can stay awake longer, but if you put them down too soon and their adenosine levels aren’t high enough, they don’t have the “sleep drive” to take a long nap.

The problem with babies skipping the second nap is that parents wait until bedtime to get them down, and at this point, they are severely overtired, which fuels a baby crying hysterically at bedtime, more overtired wakings, and early morning wakings, all because they are overtired.

The second sign is that your baby is still waking at night, then exhausted by morning, intake is inconsistent, and they might even still be eating overnight.

Babies need to eat 24-32 oz of milk, breast, or bottle for optimal growth. When baby gets that in the day, they no longer need it at night. However, if they have a habit or sleep prop of nursing or eating to sleep overnight, the broken sleep and hitting the “Vegas Milk Buffet” at 3 am are the root of your issue, too.

What is the Ideal 1 Nap Schedule for a Baby?

When babies are sleep trained, AKA, they can settle and sleep without your help, which they should be able to do at 12 months; they should wake refreshed from 11-12 hours, ready to start the day hungry. Then, based on age, they can go 4-6 hours awake between sleep, with optimal adenosine levels, that set them up for one nap a day, from about 12:45 – 3:00 pm, waking at 3, to protect bedtime and the sleep pressure needed to settle well for the night.

What if my baby is between 12 & 15 months but doesn’t seem ready for 1 nap?

That often leads me to probe into other areas of sleep. How is bedtime? Is the baby sleeping through the night? Do you struggle with early morning wakings?

I ask those questions because the science and research from the AASM and AAP share that babies should be able to tolerate those awake windows. Then they can’t. I have to see if broken sleep or boredom is the issue.

How can I tell if my baby is bored?

Sometimes, parents mistake bored for tired. Babies move from activity to activity every 15 minutes, so they might not be tired, they might just be bored. Natural exposure to sunlight, fresh air, and even a bath can be great ways to help you adjust baby to the schedule you know they need to be on but can’t seem to get them to.

Busy boards like this on Amazon {affiliate link} can be a neat thing you can help them explore. Below is the one I made for Max; sadly, he barely played with it. In his defense, he was at daycare five days a week from 7:30 to 4:30, but I had big dreams.

How do We Transition from 2 -1 Nap with baby?

In my early years as a baby sleep coach, I would try to get babies there gradually, adjusting them 15 minutes a day to the goal of 12:30 laying down in the crib and 12:45 asleep. However, I realized that really just prolonged the pain for another week because then they would still need an afternoon cat nap and would fight that. So, my best advice for moving from 2-1 nap is to get there as fast as you can.

  • Give baby sunlight exposure, even out a window from the inside in winter.
  • Use the bath time to keep them stimulated and awake.
  • Use food, like these yogurt bites, to district them around lunch, so you can get them down shortly after.

Then, give it about a week, and baby should adjust, consolidate, and settle nicely into one long nap a day.

Should we flip between 2 naps and a 1 nap schedule?

I would avoid this, as it confuses the body clock. However, if you are heading out of town, or a long drive at 10 am leads to some shut-eye, it’s OK; just know or try to time another drive around 3 pm to avoid overtired and help balance out the hormones, so bedtime still happens smoothly.

If that second nap doesn’t happen, get them down to sleep. I have put sleep coaching clients down for the night at 6 pm and they sleep until 7 am the next day. They don’t know what time it is, they know they are tired, and you need to protect them from being overtired.


Should it be dark in a baby’s room for naps?

Yes, I love darkness, and so does baby. Who can nap well when it is bright? Close the curtains, cool, calm, and comfortable and kids sleep well. Every at daycare, they do calm and sleep well for naps, too, despite the chaos.

So, in summary, if your baby is between 12 & 15 months and still on 2 naps, start to watch for signs they are ready and make the adjustment. As always, the team of Sleep Consultants here at Tiny Transitions is here to help.

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