Dropping the third nap:
As your little one changes and grows, so will their napping schedule. So, when is the right time to drop that third nap? How can nap transitions be done in a way that does not leave your child overtired and causing wakes overnight?
Newborns and babies sleep far more than adults because they are developing physically and mentally at a rapid rate. Sleep plays an important role in their development and it lets them grow in a healthy way. Due to this, we see babies and children taking naps during the day.
The balance of wake and sleep time in the day play an important role in the overall sleep – especially the overnight sleep. When naps are missed or sleep is delayed, your child might accrue a sleep debt. A sleep debt is pretty much exactly what it sounds like; it’s a cumulative difference between the sleep they need and sleep they have. If your baby is missing out on sleep consistently, their sleep debt grows, causing them to become overtired. This can create sleep issues such as night wakings, short naps, early morning rising, and not to mention the cranky baby you’d likely have on your hands.
When transitioning from 3 naps to 2, it can be easy for a sleep debt to occur if your baby is not ready for the change. By keeping on track with an age-appropriate nap routine, you can gauge when your child is ready to drop the third nap.
When does the transition occur?
Generally speaking, your little one will be ready to transition from 3 naps to 2 when they are between 6-9 months of age. However, if your child is an independent sleeper and takes longer naps, they might be able to drop the third nap earlier. During the 20+ years working as a baby sleep consultant, I’ve seen this change occurring in babies as young as 5 months and as old as 10 months. However, it’s most common around 6 to 7 months when their daytime naps begin to extend.
Is my child ready for nap transition?
It can be confusing to figure out when, exactly, your own child is ready to drop their third nap of the day, also known as their ‘catnap’. The third nap is shorter than the other two and can last up to one sleep cycle, which is approximately 45 minutes.
A sign that your child is ready to drop this nap is that their routine is starting to shift slightly. If the first two naps are well established (especially the lunch time nap), it shows that your child’s inner sleep clock, also known as sleep circadian rhythm, is aligned. Another sign is that you just can’t seem to put them down for their third nap, no matter how hard you try!
Signs that your baby still needs the third nap
If you find your little one taking their third nap more days than not, it’s a pretty solid sign they still need that catnap in the afternoon. They also might need their catnap if a big developmental milestone is happening, such as rolling or crawling. When your baby is going through a developmental change, they will need more sleep as they are using up more brain and body power.
If your baby has not learned to sleep independently, or they are going through a difficult sleep regression, getting expert advice from a baby sleep consultant might be a good idea for your family. You will be able to get personalised advice you need about when your little one is ready for the transition from 3 to 2 naps as well as tips and tricks on how to help your baby sleep better.
How can I transition from 3 to 2 naps?
To make the transition work and to avoid a sleep debt, you have to make sure that naps 1 and 2 are restorative enough to help combat the greater awake time before bed. For a baby under 5-6 months of age, naps can still be short because their sleep cycle has not fully matured yet, which is why it is uncommon to transition to a 2 nap schedule before this age.
When your baby stops taking that third nap during the day, they might need to go to bed earlier than before. This typically means a bedtime of around 6:15 to 6:30 pm (or later if they can manage more wake time). The goal is to prevent your baby from getting overtired as they adjust to longer periods of wakefulness without that nap.
Every child is different, so make sure to observe your little one’s sleep habits and figure out when the time’s right to drop the third nap. Get in touch with a baby sleep consultant if you want to learn more or need help with the nap transition.