Sleep Expert: How to know if your baby is ready to drop a nap
If you're wondering if your child is ready to drop a nap, sleep expert Lucy Wolfe offers some guidelines
Naps will feature quite heavily in your young child's life until at least three years of age. As your child grows, his daytime sleep pattern will get more organised. It will also go through a number of transitions, from the early days of requiring five-plus naps throughout the day to when your child is around 18 months, when he will comfortably only require one daytime sleep.
It's getting through these transitions and maintaining a correct balance between the sleeps that is crucial. A potentially under-rested child will not sleep well overnight, conversely a well-rested child with the wrong nap balance will not sleep well at night either.
From birth to six months
Most young children in the early days will sleep in between their feeds. There is a wide range of varying nap needs in the first six months, but as your child heads closer towards six months, potentially, the day sleep pattern will begin to emerge and parents will note a four-hour nap quota, balanced between four and five sleeps.
Initially, I would encourage parents to:
(a) Work on identifying their child's "sweet spot" for sleep, generally represented by brief and innocuous eye rubs as opposed to intense and obvious sleep cues
(b) Perfect their ability to achieve this sleep with reduced parental dependence.
This will set the scene for great nap habits from early on.
This is generally the time when it is possible to observe an established pattern for daytime sleep. In this age range, I would anticipate a total of around 3.5 hours, balanced between three sleep segments.
Bear in mind that the first two naps of the day are the most significant sleeps that your child will take, and retain, for some time. The third sleep is still very much a biological requirement and missing this can cause lots of issues at this age such as sleep-resistance at bedtime and/or frequent night arousals.
Although, it would be advisable to establish cot-orientated sleep for nap number one and nap number two, the third sleep may happen "on the go" in a car, buggy or sling. Although very much needed, it is only a filler and will be redundant by the time your child is eight months plus. A key point to note is to ensure that all your day sleep is finished by 5pm in order for bedtime to be correctly established.
Generally, a wakeful period, not exceeding 2.5 hours between the end-of-day sleep and bedtime, works very well.
Somewhere close to eight months, most young children no longer require the third nap mentioned earlier. In most instances, no action is required on your part; your child will just be able to stay awake for around four hours between their second nap and bedtime. In order for this transition to work well, it may be necessary to ensure that the balance of the first two sleeps is correct.
The daily sleep need now will range from 2.5-3 hours in total, between two naps. It is this nap misalignment that can cause issues.
Routinely, there is a power play between the first and the second nap, with nap one wanting to be stronger and longer than nap two. However, there may be equality between these sleeps, but not a top-heavy presentation. All too often, a weaker second nap will increase a tendency for night-time issues.
The ideal scenario is either nap one and two being of equal duration, or at the very least, nap two being the longer nap. For example, if nap one is currently 1.5 hours and nap two is only 40 minutes, I would recommend that nap one is shortened to one hour to ensure that there is a better nap balance.
In tandem with this, maintaining a wakeful period of not more than four hours between the last nap and bedtime also helps to ensure that overtiredness does not cause further sleep problems overnight.
It is usual that your last nap transition from two naps to one nap happens in this quarter. Making this move prematurely can, once again, increase your vulnerability to night-time sleep issues. Most children perform better with two naps until this slightly later age group. This is your last nap transition and, routinely, the most challenging. Once again, the nap power play may be at work.
When your child is ready for one nap, it is the second nap that is maintained and the first nap that is retired. To make sure you don't create any difficulties, keep in mind the following:
1. When your child is ready for one nap, this sleep should ideally commence between 12.30pm-1pm and amount to two hours-plus in duration
2. Maintaining a wakeful period, not more than four hours between the nap and bedtime, is crucial, so the closer to 1pm that this sleep begins, the better. Many parents place an emphasis on the wakeful period from morning time to nap, but it is this secondwakeful segment that is more significant.
You will know your child is ready for one nap if they are at least 15 months old and, for as long as a week or more, have resisted either the first or second sleep.
If the resistance is for nap number one, the transition can be easier. You may find that your child wants to be asleep by 11.30am and, to start with, allow that. Then, really quickly, move the time by 15 minutes every two days until the start time is beyond 12pm and closer to 1pm.
If, however, the resistance is nap-two orientated, you may not yet be ready and may just need to shorten the duration of nap one - 45 minutes or even 30 minutes. Then, you will be able to start the changes as above when this approach stops working too.
Finally, most children will nap until over three years old. This transition is also fairly organic, the nap either reduces to 1-1.5 hours a day until they just stop sleeping or, you may find that the duration stays around two hours, but they don't nap every day.
Even when day sleep is no longer required, a provision for "quiet time" in its place is a great strategy to help your child switch off and relax after lunch.
Lucy Wolfe, CGSC, MAPSC, is a paediatric sleep consultant and mum of four young children. She runs a private sleep consulting practice with her 98pc effective formula for sleep; she provides knowledge, expertise and valuable support to families across the country. See www.sleepmatters.ie