Catching Zzz's

When Do Babies Drop To One Nap? A Parenting Expert Explains

It depends on what works for your baby — and for you.

by Isobel Whitcomb
Originally Published: 
A baby taking a nap.
Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/Getty

Even though they’re not nearly as important as many of us chalk them up to be, parents are ever on the lookout for developmental milestones in their child’s motor and communication skills. Have they walked yet? Made out a word? Is this normal? This last question is best left for a pediatrician to answer. The same cannot be said for sleep.

This is not because it matters when kids sleep for less than 12 hours, go for longer stretches of time at night, or take fewer naps. But it impacts parents’ lives in massive ways — and is something that requires quite a bit of planning around. Take that precious moment when a kid drops from two naps to one for example. The shifting of schedules will have to commence. But first: Exactly when do babies go to one nap?

Parents can expect their baby to be ready for one nap around 18 months of age, says Galena Rhoades, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of Denver and director of the MotherWise program, a non-profit that provides support for pregnant people and new parents.

“But there’s a wide range,” Rhoades adds. Some 12-month olds might already be ready to sleep just once during the day. Other babies might do just fine with two naps as old as 24 months. Knowing when it’s time to make the switch involves paying attention to your baby’s cues. Signs a baby is ready to drop one of their naps include trouble settling down for their morning nap and sleeping longer in the afternoon, Rhoades says.

But let’s be honest: Sometimes it’s difficult to schedule work and childcare around a baby’s twice-a-day nap schedule. In that case, it’s perfectly fine to make the switch to one nap based primarily on what is practical for your family, Rhoades says. “Sometimes parents’ schedules need to dictate what happens.”

The important thing to remember at this stage: When babies drop to one nap, they’re not sleeping less overall. “They’re just consolidating,” Rhoades says. Between 12 and 24 months, babies should still get between 13 and 14 hours of sleep total, according to Stanford Children’s Health. A baby that normally sleeps an hour-and-a-half in the morning and again in the afternoon might switch to just one mega-nap after lunch. “Oftentimes babies almost make it to bedtime in that single nap,” Rhoades says. Parents need to wake babies up early enough that they have three or four hours to eat and settle down before bedtime, in which they should get a solid 11 to 12 hours of shut-eye.

It’s not an easy leap to make. “It can be a hard time for families, and it doesn’t happen in a short period of time,” Rhoades says. Expect the transition to take weeks, with constant stops and starts. One day, a baby might take one nap, none the next, then go back to two, she says. It’s a learning process, for babies and for families. “It’s about working to get to a schedule that works for you and your family, as well as your baby.”

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