The 3-2 Nap Transition

Nap transitions, oh, nap transitions. Oh, how I love you. Oh, how I despise you.

On the one hand, after the transition is over, the day looks beautiful and glorious. You have so much TIME to do all these THINGS that you’ve needed to do!

But the transition itself… can be brutal.

The good thing is that, of all the nap transitions, transitioning from three to two naps tends to be the most painless, as nap transitions go.

(The only less painless than this, are, of course… the 6-5 transition, the 5-4 transition and the 4-3 transition. But those are so unnoticeable – and sometimes non-existent – that I’ve deemed them unworthy of mention. However, should you find yourself struggling with any of hte aforementioned transitions, this post will guide you through that as well.)

So then, without further ado… let us dive in.

When?

Ahh, such a good question you’re asking, my dear.

But as with all good questions, let me answer with a question (or a two).

How long is your baby’s awake time limit? And how long are her naps?

See, the average age that children are ready for a 2-nap day is somewhere between 5 and 7 months, with most kids landing at about 6 month mark.

6 months is the age that sleep scientists and doctors talk about babies “consolidating daytime sleep”, meaning they’re sleeping less often during the day, but in larger chunks of time. Or, in a nutshell: your baby’s brain changes then.

But I’ve worked with babies as old as nine months old whom I’ve put on a 3-nap day to start with.

Because in order for a 2-nap day to happen, we have to have 3 awake times + 2 naps in a 12 hour period. In short: longer naps, and longer awake time.

But let me show you what I mean.

What?

Let’s take a look at an approximate ideal 3-nap day. But before we do, I want to stress two words in that sentence: approximate — because it’ll look *something* like this, though not exactly, and ideal — because that’s what I aim toward with clients whose babies are on a 3-nap day.

So here’s an approximate ideal 3-nap day:

7:00 am wake for the day

8:45 am nap #1 begins

10:45 am wake from nap #1

12:45 pm nap #2 begins

2:15 pm wake from nap #2

4:15 pm nap #3 begins

5:00 pm wake from nap #3

6:30 pm begin bedtime routine

7:00 pm in bed for the night

I built this schedule assuming a couple of things (aside for the 7-7 day):

  1. Baby’s awake time limit is roughly 2 hours (1 hour 45 minutes before first nap)
  2. First nap is about 2 hours, second nap is about 1.5 hours, and last nap is just a one-cycle catnap

So now let’s take a look at an approximate ideal 2-nap day for a kid who’s freshly transitioned:

7:00 am wake for the day

9:00 am nap #1 begins

11:30 am wake from nap #1

2:15 pm nap #1 begins

4:15 pm wake from nap #2

6:30 pm begin bedtime routine

7:00 pm in bed for the night

This baby is also on a 7-7 day, but here’s what’s different:

  1. Baby’s awake time limit is 2-2.75 hours
  2. Baby takes two 2-hour naps.

Of course, this 2-nap day would also work fine with a baby who has a 2.5-3 hour awake time limit, and takes 2 slightly shorter naps (1.5 hours), or one longer and one shorter nap (one 2 hour nap, one 1 hour nap).

But a baby who’s just transitioned will likely still need about 3-4 hours of daytime sleep a day, so a catnapper won’t be ready to transition until those naps lengthen or the awake time lengthens enough to compensate.

And, a baby who’s only going about 2 hours of awake time, unless they’ve got two 3 hour naps, just won’t be able to go a full 12 hours with only 2 naps in it.

Capisce?

How?

So how do you make the transition?

Well, one of two ways.

Option #1: Organically. Most babies, especially those who’re already napping well, wll slowly make the transition from a 3-nap day to a 2-nap day as their awake time limits get longer. As 2 hours turns into 2 hours and 15 minutes and then to 2.5 hours, the third nap gets pushed out of existence.

What you’re left with, though, is a big black hole between second nap and bedtime that’s too long to go without a nap, but too short to have a nap in. In that situation, if it’s only slightly too long, you can push bedtime up; or, if it’s really too too long, then this is the perfect place to toss in a short little motion nap.

Option #2: Push it. Sometimes, you may find yourself in a situation where it won’t – or can’t – happen organically. Maybe you’ve got a catnapper still on 3 naps at 9 months old, and you’ve tried to let it happen… and it’s just not (yep, I’ve worked with kids like that!). Maybe your kiddo is frozen at a shorter awake time limit, and doesn’t seem to be able to do well with something longer. Or maybe it’s something else entirely.

Regardless of the reason,t hough, if need be, you can push the transition. I’d aim for a nap schedule of about 9 and 2 on a 7-7 day; whatever time first nap is, you’ll start by pushing it 15 minutes, and do the same with the later naps of the day. Push another 15 minutes every 1-3 days until you’ve hit your goal time.

Regardless of which method you use, though, it’ll usually take about 2-4 weeks to transition. Once that transition is over, you’ll be good to go, with a beautiful, glorious 2-nap day, with perfect little compartments for breakfast, lunch and dinner as you start to introduce solid foods to your kiddo.

So what do you think? Harder than you expected? Easier? Let me know in the comments!

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Comments (4)
  1. Sarah

    Yay! I was so excited to see this post, because I’m currently in the big black hole stage with my 7 month old – he wakes up from his second nap around 2:15, but I don’t want him going in for a nap at 5:15! My problem is that his naps are not getting much longer than an hour and a half max. How do I lengthen his sleeping time at each nap?

    • Hi Sarah,

      Sometimes you can lengthen the nap, and sometimes you can’t; sometimes naps will naturally lengthen, and sometimes… they don’t. What does a typical day look like for him?

      If he’s not able to have a long enough awake time limit to have a 6-7pm bedtime, then I’d just stick in that catnap while his awake time limit naturally lengthens.

      Once his awake time limit is 2.5-3 hours, he’ll be good to go: 2.5 hr morning awake time + 2x 1.5 hour naps + 2x 3 afternoon awake times = 11.5 hours. Slightly early bedtime, with 30 minutes added on to the nighttime to make it a 12.5 hour night and bam: 24 hours taken care of.

      See how that works?

      Chaya Shifra

  2. blimie

    Better later than never! That’s me at 40+ with #8, finally managing to put a kid to sleep in just 5 minutes! Amazing!! (I’m coming from the “”nurse to sleep” method.) I never knew how much there is to know.
    Now that I learnt about the 45 min nap (from Binah) a lot of things made sense.

    Today, I was happy to see your 2-3 nap story, so I tried it right away – 8 month old, 5:30 crankiness, so I put him in for nap #3, and figured it would be for 45 minutes. He woke next at 9, so, of course it’s not a nap, he got a drink and back to sleep. I guess I’ll have a fartugs shiur with him.

    What’s the right thing to do such a time?

    Serve the family supper with a kvetchy baby in hand, trying to push off nap to bedtime, and end up with an overtired baby? Wake him after 45 minutes? (I wouldn’t have the heart to do that)

    Keep up your avodas hakodesh! And keep the emails coming, I’m learning slowly….

    • You got it, Blimie – never too late! (My mother asks me if I can go back in time to work with her when she was a new mother…) I’m so glad you’re learning so much.

      When you’re doing that catnap as a crib nap, your baby may not wake after 45 minutes. If that happens, I’d recommend waking him by no later than 6 so that he’ll be ready for bed before 8 pm.

      Best,
      Chaya Shifra