Help me optimize my young toddler's nap schedule
March 5, 2013 3:31 PM   Subscribe

My 14 month old toddler seems to have transitioned from 2 naps a day to 1 nap a day. Our two-nap schedule was fine, but now with one nap our days are a mess. I need guidance on how to structure a toddler's daytime routine. I've read the sleep books but I need a fresh set of eyes on this situation.

I am having a hard time with our daily schedule and figuring out when the nap (or naps) should ideally happen. She self-adjusted from infant-style napping every two hours to taking two naps a day, and the naps always landed roughly at the same time. Since January, I've rarely been able to get her down for two naps in one day, and the nap does not have a consistent start time or duration. I'm worried that she's not getting enough rest during the day. I'm just going to list out the details ...

- Nighttime sleep is fine. When the second nap started to disappear, we pushed her bedtime down to 6 pm (previously 7 pm). Lately she sleeps until 7 am. She sometimes wakes during the night, but it's actually been a lot better since she started going to sleep at the earlier time.

- Starting in January, it started to become difficult to put her down for her morning or afternoon nap. It seemed rather early, developmentally, for her to only need one nap, but ... that afternoon nap just wasn't happening.

- She usually naps in the morning. Sometimes she's clearly ready for a nap at 9 am, sometimes not until 11. If it's a morning nap, she will sleep well, usually 90 minutes or frequently a bit beyond two hours. If I try to keep her up until after an early lunch, the nap is usually only 45 minutes. That's where things get pretty bad -- if we miss that morning nap, the afternoon nap is kinda crappy and she's in bad shape for the rest of the day.

- Afternoons are pretty rough on us. She's generally a cheery little thing but in the afternoons she is more prone to crying, needs a lot of attention, and acts quite nutty. We aim for dinner at 5:15 (especially to accommodate the early bedtime) but she has a difficult time with my attention on dinner prep. She just seems so tired for long periods of the day, on a daily basis.

- Maybe we're on the cusp of another developmental leap? I've noticed sleep is bad when she's about to demonstrate new skills. (That second nap disappeared when she learned to walk on her own.) She's been jabbering up a storm of new syllables the past couple of days so maybe her brain is fired up, getting ready to express language. There's also a molar that's been creeping out the past couple of weeks.

- The irregular naps have negatively impacted our meal/snack routine. It feels like we're having multiple little meals staggered around the nap. She doesn't eat that much in the morning.

- Not knowing when her naps are going to be make it pretty difficult to get together with other kids her age. I think she needs more time with other kids, and I think it's hard on me when I don't get to see anyone we know during the day, too.

Other possibly important details: I stay at home with her. My husband and I are big believers in well-rested children. She's not ever allowed any screen time. She has a "transitional object" for snuggling and sleepy time. She seems high energy and physically active compared to other toddlers her age. Her bedroom is not a play area and it's fairly dark/quiet for naps and nighttime. She's not a car/stroller napper. (Now that she's walking on her own, she dislikes being in the stroller for extended periods.)

Today she was up at 7 and ready for a nap at 9ish. She slept for about an hour and 15 minutes. She's been acting tired and unhappy most of the day and I've put her in back in her crib for some "quiet time." I think she's finally drifted off. (This is unusual - I've tried the quiet time in the afternoons for a while and she usually doesn't drift off. Maybe she knows Mommy needed to type out this question uninterrupted.) Yesterday she was up at 7, went down for a nap at 10:30ish, up at noonish, bedtime at 6pm.

What do I do? How can I adjust things so that we have a predictable daily schedule while meeting her sleep needs?
posted by stowaway to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Forgive me if this sounds simplistic, but it looks like she just needs to shift the morning nap a little later, like 11 am? That would give energy for the afternoon, an open slot in the afternoon for playdates, with the only downside that midday meals are more like snacks. Eventually, you are going to want her to eat when she is hungry and sleep when she is tired, as opposed to going by what the clock says, so just generally keep moving towards that goal. It won't be linear.

Don't forget, the time will change this weekend. Her body may be feeling it already. Don't do too much to get things set up by exact clock time now; all the daylight cues are about to change.
posted by xo at 4:33 PM on March 5, 2013

Oh, and just wanted to add that she's the one with the crazy firing synapses, the one learning to walk and talk and climb... it may be easier to find a way to prep dinner at a different point in the day than it will be to get her to not need you in the late afternoon. Adults are much more flexible.
posted by xo at 4:41 PM on March 5, 2013

Looking at that I would try to adjust her to an afternoon nap. (I survived three toddlers.)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:58 PM on March 5, 2013

Sounds like she's transitioning. My 18 month old does 630 wake up, 11-2 nap 7 or so ish bedtime, but that last nap consolidation was a PITA. hang in there!
posted by cestmoi15 at 5:29 PM on March 5, 2013

The kids I know who transitioned to one nap, including my own two, made that nap an afternoon one (asleep around noon, after lunch). I would try a few things...
- More light and more activity in the morning, preferably outdoors, to help her power through that 9am sleepiness. Maybe this is the time for playdates, if they will distract her enough and she can keep her energy up. If she gets a second wind, then lunch, that afternoon nap may happen well.
- For days where she simply cannot do without an AM nap and then is cranky, try something like books on tape. My 3yo dropped his daytime nap altogether and he's a mess by late afternoon--yup, hates my dinnertime prep--so we now do a Quiet Time when his nap used to be (that 1-3pm slot). I'm also at home with him so this helps both of us. (Winnie-the-Pooh is long, age appropriate, and well-read, by Peter Dennis.)
- I know you said she's not a stroller or car napper, but you could try over-the-ear headphones on her with relaxing music or ambient sounds. Brian Eno (Music for Airports) and some nature sounds have worked for us.
- For getting done what you need to get done, you could try a back-pack carrier like the Ergo. My guys spent many an hour sleeping on my back while I prepped dinner.
- And on that note, maybe take some time this coming weekend to prep 3-4 very easy meals for midweek. Make a big salad to last the week and give yourself permission for the meals to be spaghetti, or roast chicken with no sides, or egg salad--simple but healthy--so you can manage your own fatigue and patience level.
posted by cocoagirl at 5:57 PM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: She gets about 11 - 12 hours of sleep at night. So if she sleeps well at night and has a solid nap, she gets about 14 hours altogether.

Let me assure you all that I'm not spending my late afternoons cooking out of Modernist Cuisine while my kid cries for attention! It's a lot of crockpot and easy meals around here, and probably about half the time the dinner cooking is done in the morning. My spouse also works a lot so the weekends are not much different in terms of time that I have to myself to get things done. I've also tried carrying her in the Ergo while I do stuff and she doesn't like it at all. I think part of the problem is that our current place has an odd layout and a small, dangerous kitchen so she can't just hang out on the floor playing with pots while I cook. We're moving soon to a bigger place so perhaps that will help.

I will try the other suggestions ... never occurred to me to get her to chill out with headphones ...

The example of daily schedules is also helpful.
posted by stowaway at 8:13 PM on March 5, 2013

When my kid went to 1 nap, she still needed some chill out time. So, she would generally go down around noon and sleep for an hour or so. Then around 4, I would put her in her crib with a bottle of milk and some books, a few stuffed animals. Sometimes I would put on some music or even a cartoon on my laptop set up near her crib. I would fix dinner and do a little chill out myself during this time. I'd try to keep her in there at least an hour. She seemed totally happy to do it, too, I think she needed it.
posted by amanda at 9:16 PM on March 5, 2013

Can you do the meal prep during the morning nap? If this is a transitional phase, then a month or two of stir-fries, crockpot meals and takeaway might give you the space to spend the afternoon with her until her routine firms up again.

Our 14 month old has decided this week to sleep after midnight instead of 10pm as she usually does, so we have been putting her in sling or just walking her outside when it's dark and quiet. She runs around briefly then falls asleep much faster than trying to get her to go to sleep in the house. She seems to need to burn off that last bit of energy and then go right to sleep over an hour of calm quiet time at home. A playground walk might help with the routine?

As a side note, we have no nap schedule and I know other parents who do not have nap schedules. The babies just sleep when they're sleepy, and one day is two catnaps, the other day is a single long nap. If the schedule is stressing you out, drop it and see if that's easier.

My kid sleeps a total of 9-10 hours a day, sometimes less. Her pediatrician shrugged and said as long as she's healthy and fine, it's just how she is. My other older kids slept and sleep varying amounts as well - some kids need 10-14 hours, some kids need less. Your daughter may not need that much sleep.
posted by viggorlijah at 11:56 PM on March 5, 2013

My son took about eight weeks to fully transition from two naps to one. They were brutal, brutal weeks. Couldn't schedule anything.

What worked, honestly, was just putting his nap an hour later. If he fell asleep earlier, fine, but I didn't wait for him to be "ready" to nap, I just put him down at 10 no matter what. Yeah, it took a few weeks to adjust. We also ended up with bedtime an hour earlier to compensate. He'll be 2 on Saturday and his schedule is 7:45 wake up when dad's alarm goes off, 11AMish nap, 1:30ish wake up, 7PM bedtime.

Our cooking schedule is wonky - I do all the cooking when he's asleep and heat things up as needed. I'm not much of a cook, so this may not work if your standards are higher. Also, my husband gets home after tot is in bed, so cooking our dinner late just makes sense.
posted by sonika at 12:55 PM on March 6, 2013

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