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How to Know When to Drop a Nap

Updated: Sep 18, 2023

Just when you’ve gotten into a good routine with your little one, it never fails that they start having trouble with sleep again. 😱 Instead of panicking, please know that this is actually a good thing, and it is a sign they are progressing in their development (which is what we want)!

But…that doesn’t mean that sleep isn’t being interrupted somehow, which is SO frustrating if you’ve sleep trained your little one and now you feel like things are backtracking… so let’s discuss whether it’s time to drop a nap, and if so, how to do it.

Let’s start with answering some questions that can help you know IF it might be time to drop a nap…

Is your child experiencing any (or all) of the following:

Fighting (or skipping) one or more naps?

Does baby now fight naps that used to be like clockwork or always with the same wake window? It could mean they are ready to drop a nap, or maybe they need their wake windows to be adjusted in order to build sleep pressure for an existing nap.

Waking early from a nap they previously slept longer for, and seem happy and ready to get up?

Has baby’s nap gotten much shorter than usual, but they are waking refreshed? This could be a sign that they are ready to drop a nap, but like the previous question, it could also mean they just need longer wake windows to build enough sleep pressure to be tired and sleep longer for a nap.

Having trouble falling asleep at bedtime, when they previously did not?

Is your baby taking more than 20 minutes to fall asleep at bedtime? This could be they are lying there peacefully waiting for sleep to come, or are now protesting bedtime and taking forever to fall asleep. Ideally, babies fall asleep within 10-20 minutes of lying them in their crib. Any less and they are overtired, and with more than that, they are likely undertired (or severely overtired).

Is your baby experiencing split nights?

Split nights is when babies wake up (usually happy) for 1+ hour in the middle of the night. Sometimes capping daytime sleep can help with this, but it can also be a sign that baby needs an adjustment to their schedule, including dropping a nap.

Is your baby having early morning wake ups?

This usually means baby is all of a sudden waking up for the day between 4-6am. Lots of things can cause early morning wakings, but if baby is getting too much daytime sleep and/or doesn’t have enough sleep pressure before bed, then they may wake sooner than normal and be unable to fall back to sleep.

AND…the most important question:

Is your baby at a typical age for dropping a nap?***

Average ages for dropping naps can be a good sign that your little one may be ready to drop a nap, especially if you are answering yes to other questions above.

***Download my free wake window guide to see those ages and to know what to expect!

If you’ve answered yes to 1+ of the above and your little one is an appropriate age to drop a nap, then they may be ready to drop a nap. Please keep in mind that dropping a nap, even when your baby is ready, is still a big transition and there may still be days where they need the additional nap to make it to a reasonable bedtime. This is especially true for babies who are still taking 30-45 minute naps and/or children who are not yet able to fall asleep on their own at the start of naps. (Note: naps under 60 minutes long don’t have to be your reality – I can help with those!).

But first...try this!

Before you try to completely drop a nap, first try extending each of your child’s wake windows by 15 minutes every 3 days. So, if your baby’s first wake window is usually 2 hours, you’ll start with extending it to 2.25 hours (2 hours, 15 minutes) for 3 days in a row and then see if they are still fighting the nap. If they are, try it again – extend each wake window 15 more minutes and re-check how they’re doing.

Sometimes they just need slightly longer wake windows and then can resume the same number of naps. You’ll find you can only extend the wake windows so many times until the last nap drops completely because bedtime becomes too late. But maybe just extending the wake window 15-30 minutes over the course of 3-6 days is all it takes to get you back on track…that’s great! It means you don’t have to drop the nap just yet.

And if that's time to drop a nap.

So you’ve answered “yes” to 1+ of the questions above, your child is of an age where they are likely to need to drop a nap soon, and moving wake windows up to 30 minutes didn’t fix your issue….these are clear signs it’s time to make the adjustment.

There are lots of approaches to dropping naps, and those partially depend on your baby's age and number of naps. (Did you download my free wake windows guide above? I promise, it'll help with determining this!).

If your little one is in the middle of making the transition and you aren’t sure if you’re doing things “right,” for their schedule, did you know that I offer consult calls for troubleshooting these types of issues? Rather than read all the conflicting information out there, why not ask a pediatric sleep expert all your questions and get concrete advice on how to troubleshoot what you’re experiencing.

If this sounds like it would be valuable to you, request a free sleep assessment so we can discuss how I can help!

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