how we survived: the two-to-one nap transition
Sometimes it feels like the first two years of parenthood consist of 90 percent scheduling sleep and about 10 percent cleaning poop blowouts from carseats.
And you wonder why some people don't want kids, right?!
Newborns, as we know, are kind of hot garbage fires. And nothing about those early days, in my opinion, is harder than trying to figure out how to get them to sleep on a schedule that kind of resembles a normal human's. When I finally managed to shoehorn Avvie into a decent two-a-day nap routine, it was better than a thousand massages. So much of my stress over whether or not she was getting quality sleep (oh god, the REM cycles!) just evaporated. I knew she'd consistently take about an hour in the morning, two in the afternoon, and sleep for a solid 12 hours at night. [Yes yes, I know not every kid can do this, but that 2-3-4 method really did work wonders for us. And I am firm believer that even the trickiest sleepers can and will benefit from sleep training, if you're down to try it.]
And like nearly every other major parenting hurdle, just when I felt like we had a good thing going, the whole paradigm shifted. What's especially annoying with this two-to-one nap transition is that it's not the morning nap that generally drops first, it's the afternoon. So your kid is still falling asleep about two hours after she wakes up, but then it's just this interminable stretch from late morning until bedtime. Nothing like an all-evening meltdown to really inspire that parent-child bonding (or contemplation of becoming a lady of the night to I can afford a live-in nanny).
I am pleased to say we are finally over this hump and I'm here to share my (very limited) wisdom with you:
1 This Too Shall Pass (Slowly)
Eventually, your toddler will shift to one nap, and ideally, it'll actually be longer than what she was doing before (some kids routinely go three hours in the afternoon). But, and this is a big but, it might take months to get there and it's not a linear progression. Avvie was able to make it through the occasional one-nap day around 16 months, but it wasn't until around 20 months that she fully shifted to only one nap. There were many, many days when I was shifting around her schedule, trying to discover that magic window when she'd fall asleep instantly and stay asleep. The truth is, there is no magic. Their prime nap time shifts from day to day. There will be days when you nail it and days when you fail miserably, but eventually a rhythm will emerge.
2. Don't Try to Micromanage It
In retrospect, I wasted so many hours stressed about how much she was sleeping, her quality of sleep, and what I could be doing differently to get her to sleep more. And one day, Mike simply said, "Is she happy right now even if she didn't have a great nap? Is there really anything to worry about?" And of course, he was right. I had worked myself up into such a tizzy, but the truth was, even on days when I put her down and she never fell asleep, she was still pretty much fine for the rest of the day. Granted, she's a toddler and they all have their moments, but it's important to remember to not freak out if your kid is not freaking out. There is only so much you can control about this.
3. Try a Simple Schedule
Depending on your childcare arrangement, daycare or a nanny share may dictate what your kid's sleep schedule will look like. But if they're at home with you, it can be a little trickier to find that sweet spot of awake vs. sleep. What has worked the best for us is five hours of awake time before nap and then five hours after until bed. This is assuming a two-hour afternoon nap and 12 hours in the crib at night (which might not be all asleep-time, but it's a good goal to shoot for). Are there days when she never falls asleep? Are there days when she's up an hour-and-a-half earlier than what I'd like? Duh. But part of parenting (a big part!) is learning to be flexible. Just like adults, their schedule is not fixed.
4. Watch for Signals
Remember when you learned all the signs of sleepiness for your newborn? That 40-yard-stare and the eye-rubbing and the head turning around 360 degrees? Things change a bit with a toddler, but one signal is certainly still the same: crankiness. Even if you don't think they could possibly be tired, sometimes they are. On days when Avvie should otherwise be in a totally rad mood (healthy, slept well, great breakfast, a super sick outfit on) and is melting down by around 11, I sometimes just plop her straight into the crib and most of the time, she'll fall asleep instantly. At this age, even if she is talking up a storm, she still can't tell me when she's tired. And that's when your super sleuthing comes in handy.
How was your experience with this transition?