Transitions are a constant in a child's life, but few are as impactful to sleep as the move from one room to another at daycare. These room changes often involve babies and toddlers being put on a new nap schedule--often before they're developmentally ready for the nap change. Whether it's shifting from the infant room with two naps to the toddler room with one nap or from the toddler room to the preschool room with no nap, these changes can send ripples through your little one's sleep routine and lead to nighttime struggles and difficulty with emotion regulation. So, what happens to sleep during these daycare leaps, and how can you manage the accompanying sleep challenges?
According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, toddlers and preschoolers need 10-13 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period (see our age-by-stage sleep chart here). However, the age when a child shifts from three naps to two, from two naps to one, and from one nap to no nap varies greatly. For example, most children transition from two naps to one around 15 months (see our blog on when and how children drop naps), but the range is between 12 and 18 months. Similarly, most children drop their nap completely between age 3 and 4, but some children still need a nap until age 6. Although your child may be within the normal range of making a nap transition, it's a child's individual needs that determine whether a nap schedule change will be workable in the short term. So, how does this unfold in reality? And, what are the potential consequences of these early nap transitions?
🏫 The Toddler Room: From Two Naps to One
Many daycares will automatically move children to one nap at 12 months when they move to the "toddler" room. If your child is consistently taking two naps, this can be quite a shock to your child's sleep routine. A child who isn't developmentally ready for one nap will often only sleep for 1-1.5 hours when switched to one nap prematurely. In contrast, a child who is ready for one nap will often sleep for 2-3 hours in a single stretch. This means that not only do you now have an extended bout of awake time in the afternoon, your child will also be underslept and will probably be cranky around pickup and ready for bed very early. Although giving your child an early bedtime might feel like the best solution, forcing a regular early bedtime will shift your circadian rhythm, which could lead to an early morning wake time or split nights.
🛌 The Preschool Room: The No-Nap Dilemma
Fast forward a couple of years and your child may graduate to a preschool room around age three. At this age, some children are more than ready to bid farewell to naps, but many others still need a short nap to get through the day in good form. Abruptly cutting off a child's nap can impact not only their mood but also their emotional regulation, leading to more tantrums and frustration in the late afternoon. And yes, as noted above, offering an early bedtime might help in the moment, but can also lead to early waking or long night waking.
Navigating the Nap Transition Maze:
Talk to your child's caregivers: Discuss potential solutions with your daycare provider. Could your child stay in the younger group a bit longer? Could they return to the younger room just for naps? Can your child have a nap even if others don't? Remind your child's caregivers that this will be a temporary solution for a few weeks or months until your child is ready for the more mature schedule.
Flexible Scheduling: If daycare arrangements can't be made, consider adapting your child's drop-off or pick-up schedule. Some parents will be able to do a later drop-off to allow for a quick morning nap before school. For example, if your child wakes up at 6 am, then you might be able to squeeze in a morning nap from 8:00-9:00 before drop off. Alternatively, if you can manage an early pick up a few days a week, then you might be able to offer your child a short catnap in the late afternoon (just know that this might lead to a need for a later bedtime). For example, if you can pick your child up at 3 pm a few days a week, then you could allow a 30-45-minute nap at that time.
Strategic Early Bedtime: If all else fails, strategically use early bedtimes on selected days. Remember, your child's circadian rhythm will adapt to an early schedule if you offer an early bedtime every day (meaning your child will probably start to wake up early every day). A child's circadian rhythm won't shift as drastically if you only offer early bedtimes a few times a week on non-consecutive days. This means that you can help your child catch up on lost sleep, while minimizing early waking or split nights. For example, you might put your child down 1-2 hours early for bed on Tuesday and Thursdays, but maintain your normal bedtime on the other days of the week.
🌈 What about Weekends?
Remember, weekends offer a chance to recalibrate. Maintain the schedule that works best for your child during these days, even if it contrasts with daycare.
💡 Closing Thoughts:
Daycare transitions are challenging, but not insurmountable. Open communication, creativity, and flexibility can help minimize sleep disturbances. If sleep struggles persist, check out our other blogs, our sleep training class, or book a one-on-one consultation with us.
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