For many toddlers, there is a "transition time" where the child is not really ready to drop the morning nap, but also not really needing two full naps. This never happened with Brayden; he was pretty textbook. He continued sleeping well for his morning nap but not well for his afternoon nap. That is how I knew he was ready to drop the morning nap. We dropped it cold turkey at 17 months and he did just fine.
Kaitlyn (currently 18 months), however, has experienced this transition time. I know she isn't alone because I have received many questions about it over the last several months.
When Kaitlyn was about 14 months, she started to not sleep well for both naps. This was extremely odd to me. She has always been a really good napper. She loves to sleep. I started to wonder if perhaps she was ready to drop the morning nap. It surprised me because she didn't drop her third nap until she was 11 months old. I was sure based on past history she would be an older toddler when she was ready to drop her morning nap (18-22 months).
Kaitlyn missed her morning nap once a week for church. She would then come home, eat lunch, and go to sleep for about 4 hours--making up for her missed morning nap. She was very, very tired when we got home. Tired enough that she usually didn't eat her lunch very well. Based on this, I figured she wasn't really ready to drop her morning nap.
Instead, I started lenthening her morning waketime before her morning nap and still waking her up at the same time. So, I shortened the morning nap. I also added about 10-15 minutes to her waketime between her two naps. These actions fixed things and she was back to sleeping for both naps: 1.5 hours in the morning and 2-2.5 in the afternoon.
For some children, this morning nap might need to be shortened more than that. As I said, Kaitlyn is a sleeper. She is still taking a long morning nap though it is shorter than it was.
There is a possibility that for some children, this is just a phase. Maybe it is teething. Maybe it is all of the new skills and abilities he is getting as he gets older. Maybe it is curiosity. I suggest you rule these things out before you start to tweak waketimes and naptimes.
Some children might be able to go to a "weaning" process at this point (see Dropping a Nap: A Weaning Process: http://babywisemom.blogspot.com/2008/02/dropping-nap-weaning-process.html). If so, you would play the morning nap by ear. Some days you might take it. Others you might not and just have one nap. You might start off with an every-other-day approach. One day two naps, one day one.
Kaitlyn is now 18 months old. As I said, she misses her morning nap on Sunday for church. This week she also missed her morning nap for her 18 month well-baby doctor appointment. I thought this was a good opportunity to test to see if she is ready to drop the morning nap. I would love for this nap to be dropped for the holidays; it really makes things like errands and visiting friends and family much easier.
At this point, Kaitlyn handles her missed morning nap once a week really well. She is perfectly happy. However, day two was a bit different. She was still happy, but as lunch approached she got to be more clingy than usual with me. As we ate lunch (at about 11:30), she put her head down on her tray and continued to eat. I asked her if she was tired. She replied "uh-huh" and then rubbed her eyes to show me. At that point in the day, I knew she just wasn't ready to drop her nap every day. She couldn't handle two days in a row. Yesterday, she was more tired than usual all day.
I believe right now Kaitlyn could go to a weaning process. I don't think she could go to every other day yet, but I think she could do a couple of times a week. However, I will continue with the two naps unless we have reason for just one until she is ready to go down to one.
Also, don't mistake needing to adjust for not being ready. Most children will take about a week to adjust to not having a morning nap. Some will be able to adjust in a few days. That means he will either be more cranky or more tired as lunch time approaches. So how do I know Kaitlyn truly is not ready and it isn't that she simply needs to adjust? I just know. It isn't something I can put my finger on. Because Kaitlyn is as flexible as she is, I am pretty sure she could drop her morning nap right now and survive. She isn't cranky. Emtionally, I could handle her. However, she would not be operating at 100% yet. That is what I want for her. I want her waketimes to be spent learning and growing, not sitting in a zombie-like state for an hour or two.
If you think your child is ready to drop the morning nap, you can always give it a try. My guess is after two-three days in a row, you will have a good idea if he is really ready or not. I suggest doing so while having other things to do. Errands to run, people to visit, etc. I suggest that for the child who doesn't necessarily like sleep. For Brayden, if I had tried that with him at home, he would have quickly insisted that is the way things are done from now on, ready or not. Not to say that is what I would have had to do (I am the parent), but he would have "seen the light" so to speak. For Kaitlyn, it would have been okay to try just being at home. She would have most happily gone back to sleeping in the morning anyway. Keep in mind that children will have an easier time staying awake if they are out and being stimulated rather than the same old scene at home, but after a couple of days, signs will being to show of yes, he can handle this or no, he still needs some sleep in the morning.
If your child is transitioning right now, take heart that it is a fairly common thing. He is not abnormal by doing so. If he is transitioning, try one or more of the following:
- First look into other possible reasons for the poor sleeping. Teething, cold, growth spurt, simply curious, etc.
- Try shortening morning nap and lengthening waketimes.
- Once you know (or suspect) the nap is ready or about ready to be dropped, try weaning from the nap if desired.
- If you aren't sure if the nap is ready to be dropped but think it might, give it a try for 1-3 days and see how it goes.
- Just live with the poor naps for a bit until he is fully ready to drop the nap.
- Dropping a Nap: A Weaning Process: http://babywisemom.blogspot.com/2008/02/dropping-nap-weaning-process.html
- Dropping Naps: http://babywisemom.blogspot.com/2008/01/dropping-naps.html
- Dropping the 3rd Nap (evening): http://babywisemom.blogspot.com/2008/01/dropping-3rd-nap-evening.html