I got one of those teary phone calls from a friend the other day. Not because something catastrophic had happened or anything like that, but because her 13-month-old son is in the process of transitioning from 2 naps to one, and she is about THIS CLOSE to losing her mind.
Why is the transition taking so long?
Why is he suddenly waking up at 5 am again?
Why is he so cranky?
How is she ever going to get anything done during the day if he’s only taking one nap?
As I sat and listened to her vent while my 3-year-old (who completely stopped napping shortly after her second birthday) played happily with her LeapPad Ultra, I felt more than a little sorry for her. I could hear the desperation in her voice, and even though it’s been almost a year since my own daughter has napped, I still get stabby when I remember what nap transitions were like.
So I let her vent.
And I told her I understood.
And I promised her it would get better.
And then I hung up the phone, gave my sweet girl a kiss and a hug, poured myself a huge glass of wine, and sat down at this computer to share my best tips to help you cope with nap transitions.
So you don’t lose your mind like the rest of us already have…
1. DON’T EXPECT A MIRACLE
When my daughter first showed signs of transitioning from 2 naps to one nap, I figured it would be an overnight change. I’d simply keep her up until the time the internet told me a child of her age should be napping, and all would be good in our world, right?
Nap transitions don’t typically happen overnight, but if you go into the whole thing with your eyes wide open, you may handle the transition better than I did.
At least I hope you do.
2. MAKE SURE IT’S NOT A SLEEP REGRESSION
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the 4-month sleep regression isn’t the only sleep regression your child will go through.
He might go through one at 8 months, 11 months, 18 months, and/or 2 years.
Don’t believe me?
Read this article over on The Baby Sleep Site to find out more about sleep regressions. Oh, and while you’re over there, make sure to poke around a little bit, and sign-up for their emails. I have learned SO MUCH STUFF about sleep from this site, it’s ridiculous!
3. TRANSITION GRADUALLY
When my daughter was transitioning from 3 naps to 2, and then from 2 naps to one, I found it helpful to gradually push out whichever nap she was dropping rather than prematurely dropping it. For some people, this could be as simple as pushing naptime out by 15-30 minutes each day, but since my daughter was a little more sensitive to changes to her schedule, I found it more effective to do this over a longer period of time.
For example, when she was transitioning to one nap, I would put her down for her morning nap 30 minutes later one day, stick with this new routine for 3 or 4 days, and then push her nap out another 30 minutes. It made the process last a lot longer, but it prevented her from becoming overtired and miserable, so it was worth the added effort.
Of course, this strategy didn’t apply when we were transitioning from one nap to no naps. In fact, that transition happened way too quickly for my liking and I really didn’t need to do anything except comes to terms with the fact that naps were over.
So I asked a couple of my friends what worked for them, and they said they had luck by putting their little ones down for a nap every second or third day. Again, it made the transition a lot longer, but they all said it made their lives a lot more manageable.
4. GO TO TOYS R US
I always used nap transitions as an excuse to get a bunch of errands done. Since my daughter was constantly tired, she was more willing to sit in her stroller or car seat for a longer period of time, which was surprisingly nice for me as I could sometimes accomplish more in a 2-hour period than I usually do in a 2-week period. The only thing I had to be careful about was having her doze off. There’s nothing worse than looking in your rear-view mirror as you’re pulling into your driveway after a busy morning, only to realize your toddler is fast asleep! So I made sure to have a lot of great stroller- and car-friendly toys on hand, and I checked on her repeatedly to make sure she was awake.
LeapFrog makes a number of kid-friendly, hand-held devices that kept my daughter occupied. We’re big fans of the LeapPad and Leapster, but the Chat and Count Smart Phone and Learn and Groove™ Music Player also worked well.
And when nothing seemed to work and she was threatening to fall asleep no matter what, I either picked her up out of her stroller and bounced her on my hip while talking to her a mile a minute, or I cranked the tunes in the car so we could have a sing-a-long. I may have looked like an idiot, but at least my child was still awake!
5. BE PREPARED FOR SETBACKS…AND GET OUT OF THE HOUSE
Despite my attempts to make each of my daughter’s nap transitions as easy and painless as possible, there were (many) days when she simply refused to sleep, even though she was exhausted and miserable. I absolutely hated those days because I couldn’t understand why my child wouldn’t just lay down and go to sleep already, but as my pediatrician once pointed out to me, you simply cannot force a child to sleep.
So I finally stopped trying to force something I knew wasn’t going to happen anyway, and instead I packed my daughter in her car seat or stroller and got us as far away from our condo as possible. The change of scenery and time to decompress always made a huge difference in both of our moods, and I was always better able to handle the hellish dinner hour by the time we got home.
6. OPT FOR AN EARLIER BEDTIME
I read a ton of sleep books when my daughter was a baby, and every single one of them told me the best thing I could do was put her to bed early on the days she either woke up early, or refused to nap. But the voices in my head always told me she would wake up EARLIER if I put her to bed before 8 pm, so I would also chicken out.
And then I finally cracked and hired a sleep coach to help me sleep train my daughter, and when The Sleep Whisperer promised me an earlier bedtime would make a world of difference in my life, I decided to give it a try.
And you know what?
And I still opt for an earlier bedtime when my daughter suddenly starts waking up earlier, or is particularly grumpy, and I’ve always been pleasantly surprised by the outcome.
You should give it a try!
7. TAKE A DEEP BREATH
Nap transitions suck.
The good news is, they don’t last forever, and even if none of these techniques work for you, kids have a way of figuring things out on their own. So try not to focus on how tired your son is, or that temper tantrum he threw at the grocery store this morning, and try to focus on the positives.