How to do know when to drop a nap? The first thing to know is when it comes to your baby dropping a nap, timing is everything. Try to do it too early and it can lead to a disrupted sleep routine. If you do it too late, your baby will automatically try to do it themselves, which can also lead to disruptions in their sleep patterns and routine.
And by the time you figure out they’re not yet ready to drop a nap, it can be really hard to get them back on track, causing a lot of unnecessary frustration and confusion.
The good news is there are a few telltale signs to help you identify if it’s time to drop a nap. Let’s go through each one.
Your Baby’s Age Can Signal When to Drop a Nap
The first thing to consider is your baby’s age. Babies generally go through nap transitions at around the same time.
Typically the ranges to expect are:
- Zero to four months old – Expect four to five naps in a day, and they have them on demand. There is no clear schedule.
- Between four to six months of age – Here they usually move from four naps per day to three naps per day.
- At six to nine months of age – They go from three naps per day down to two. This is the most common nap transition that parents first start to notice because it’s a bit tricky. And generally, the baby is dropping that final nap of the day, which is an afternoon nap, and it’s typically a catnap.
- Between twelve to eighteen months of age – Here you’ll notice that your baby is going from two naps per day down to one nap per day. Typically, the average age they drop this nap is around 15 months, but they can drop it earlier or a few months later if need be.
- Between two and a half to six years old – This is where they have their final nap transition and go from having one nap per day to no naps at all.
But what’s important to note is that these changes in their sleep need to happen for a minimum of two weeks. We want these changes to become more of a trend rather than just a small blip in their sleep.
If it’s just a small change in their sleep patterns that resolves after a few days or up to a week, it’s more than likely that your baby is going through a sleep regression, becoming sick, or going through a developmental leap.
If your little one falls between the age ranges listed above and you notice one of the following changes in their sleep, then it does indicate they might be ready to drop a nap.
It May Be Time to Drop a Nap if Your Baby Isn’t Sleeping at Nap Time
One sign that you might notice is that your little one starts to find it difficult to fall asleep at their usual nap time. This is the most common and obvious sign that babies use to indicate that they need to drop a nap.
What parents typically notice in this case is when they place their baby down for a usual nap, the baby starts to fight that sleep, where previously the baby fell asleep really easily. That means they might take longer to fall asleep, or they skip that nap completely no matter what you do to try and get them down.
Typically this happens with the afternoon nap, and it’s generally happening because the baby does not yet have enough sleep pressure to fall asleep. Basically that just means they aren’t tired enough. Their wake windows have expanded, and they no longer need that nap.
Your Baby Isn’t Sleeping at Their Usual Bedtime
Another sign you might notice is that your little one is finding it difficult to fall asleep at their usual bedtime. In other words, they’re starting to push their bedtime later and later into the evening. The way this is displayed is they start to either protest or play in the cot for a long period of time before they fall asleep.
This may be an indication that your little one needs to drop a nap, and that’s because that last nap in the day is simply too close to their bedtime. That late nap is not allowing them enough wake time to build up that sleep pressure required to fall asleep at night.
Your Baby Wakes Up Earlier Than Usual
You might also notice that your little one is starting to wake up earlier in the day. Previously you might’ve had a little one who would sleep until 6:30 am, but now they’re waking up at 5 am ready to start the day.
This happens because as your little one gets older, the amount of sleep they need in a 24-hour period reduces. But if they are still having a daytime sleep, then it’s taking away from the nighttime sleep.
So, for example, if your little one only needs 14 hours of sleep over a 24-hour period, but they’re having two lots of two-hour sleeps in the day (four hours of naps), then, basically, they only need 10 hours of sleep in the night to get this sleep requirement. So this means they’re going to start waking up earlier because they don’t need to sleep anymore.
Shorter Naps Tell You When it’s Time to Drop a Nap
If you notice that your little one is starting to have shorter naps than usual, it may be time to drop a nap. Some babies who need to drop a nap may actually keep their usual nap, but they start to shorten it as a result. They might wake up after 30 to 45 minutes when they used to nap for an hour and a half before.
And this is because they have enough sleep pressure to fall asleep, but they’re not tired enough to stay asleep. They haven’t been awake long enough to join two sleep cycles. And this indicates that they need a longer wake period, which means they may need to drop a nap.
Now, if you believe your baby doesn’t need to drop a nap, but they’re still having short naps, and they’re not yet going through a sleep regression or developmental leap, you may want to check out my post on why a baby may be having short naps, and most importantly, how to fix it.
Getting your little one on the right napping cycle for their age can be a confusing and chaotic time, and it’s something we all go through as parents.
Keep these tips in mind if your baby is currently going through a sleep transition. And remember to download the free ‘New Parent’s Guide to Naps’ for a handy quick-reference guide that tells you when to expect your little one to drop and nap and what to look for.