Updated: Aug 31
There is an average amount of day sleep a child needs for their biological age to support their growth and development. But as your child grows, they will need less and less day sleep over time, until they are around 3 years of age and drop their day sleep completely.
Before 6 months, there is the most change with the day sleep quantity dropping around half an hour or so every few weeks. After this point, the changes are fewer and further between. To help you navigate your child's day sleep and the process around dropping their naps, I have provided you with the information you need to navigate this.
From around 3 months of age, your baby will be having 3-4 naps a day but by 4 months, most will be having just 3 naps a day, balanced evenly across the day. The first nap is usually dropped around 6-8 months of age, although I find the most common age that babies drop their nap is about the 6.5 month mark.
Three naps to Two naps -
The third nap is the first to be dropped and this will happen somewhere between 6-8 months of age. Between 4-6 months of age, this nap length drops by about 15 minutes each month, so by 6 months of age, this late afternoon nap is 15 minutes in length.
Signs to look for that will alert you to dropping this nap include:
the lunch nap falling apart
bedtime settling becoming difficult
your child waking up soon after bedtime.
This nap should be dropped cold-turkey, although you can use it in an emergency when you first drop it if they are not coping in the late afternoon. Many children have difficulty staying awake to their normal bedtime when this change is first made, so be aware that your child’s bedtime may need to be temporarily 30 minutes earlier than usual to reduce that longer awake window between the midday nap and bedtime.
Two naps to One nap -
The morning nap is the next to go and this will typically occur anywhere between 14-18 months of age, although I do find the average age is 15 months.
Around the 12 months mark, many parents feel that their child is showing all the signs to drop the morning nap and move to one nap. However, the 12-month sleep regression is often marked by nap refusal which presents as though the child doesn't need two naps anymore, but this is never a signal to drop a nap. Your child needs to re-establish a two-nap structure for a little while longer before dropping this morning nap.
To successfully move to one nap with minimal impact to their night sleep, your child will need to able to manage 5.5 hours awake time and last easily until 12noon when on a 7-7 structure. If this morning nap is dropped too soon or too fast, it may interrupt night time sleep and create early morning waking due to over tiredness.
Signs to drop the morning nap and move to one nap include:
Refusing to sleep until after 10am for at least a week
Refusal of the second nap
Catnapping for the second nap
Difficulty settling at bedtime
Night waking or long periods of awake time overnight
Early morning waking:
To successfully drop this nap, you should start by reducing the length of it to 15 minutes every day, and observe the outcomes. If your child's sleep improves, then you would continue on with the 15 minute morning nap however, if you don't see the changes you were hoping for, the next step is to offer your child their morning nap every second day, then every third day, until the nap is eventually dropped.
One Nap to No Naps
The final nap is usually dropped between 2.5-3.5 years old, however it is important to gradually reduce the time of this nap after 2 years old. After 2-years of age, it is normal to notice small disruptions to your child's sleep, but keep in mind that any difficulties that do appear in your child’s night sleep are most likely a result of too much day sleep.
Your child will typically be having a 2-2.5 hour nap at 2 years. When you start the process to reduce this nap, you would remain vigilant for any unusual changes with their sleep, such as:
Delayed sleep phase at bedtime
Long periods of awake time overnight
Early morning waking
Nap refusal after 2.5-3 years of age
The removal of this nap should be slow and gradual once you start to notice the disruptions to their overall sleep. Dropping the final nap can take several months until it has finally disappeared. The first move to be made is that the nap length should be shortened by 15 minute increments. Always monitor each change that you make for 5-7 days. If you see the changes you are looking for, no further changes need to be made. If you haven’t seen the results you are looking for, you would shorten the nap further again, reducing its length in 15 minute increments. When the nap is 30-minutes in length, you can de-regulate the nap and allow your child to have the occasional nap when they need it in places appropriate for you e.g. the car or couch.
Who would have thought dropping naps for your child would be so involved! But I hope I have given you the tools to navigate the nap drop process through all the ages and stages of your child's growth.
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My name is Shereen Nielsen and I am a certified infant and child sleep consult, working with children aged birth to 12 years. I am also a lecturer and mentor for students on their journey towards becoming a Sleep Consultant, through my on-line internationally recognised sleep consultants course.
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