Have you experienced the 11am nap trap? If your child has just transitioned from 2 naps to 1 nap (usually between 14-18 months old) you may have noticed this phase we call the ’11am Nap Trap’. This phase happens when you have a child who is so tired mid-morning that they can’t even make it to the afternoon nap time! Now that they have dropped that morning nap, you may be finding that by 11am they need a nap so badly! Your child may be falling asleep during lunch time or falling asleep as you walk or drive back from your morning activities! We will share some tips on how you can break this cycle and why you should.
When we work with families who are struggling with sleep, one of the first things that we often ask is for them to give us a little more information about their child’s daily schedule. We like to hear about the timing of naps and bedtime. We want to make sure that the children we work with are going to bed at the right times so that it makes working on other aspects of sleep a little easier on them.
Why you should break the 11am nap trap cycle:
Going to bed overtired at night can cause many sleep disruptions such as bedtime battles, multiple night wakings and early rising and it will cause your child to just be unable to settle. Sleep disruptions are the reason we recommend getting out of that 11:00 am nap trap!
While an 11:00 am nap might be acceptable during the beginning phases of the transition to 1 nap, it is not ideal to maintain that early nap in the longer term. Your goal is to get them closer to 12:30pm/1:00pm for that one nap time.
Why does that ‘too early nap time’ matter so much?
If your little one goes for a nap at 11:00 am, chances are they are only sleeping until 1:00pm or 1:30pm at most. That now means that they will be awake for a longer period before they can go to bed for the night. (Or you may find your child so completely exhausted in the evenings, bedtime will be long before dinner time!)
The result of that overly long wake period will be an overtired child causing restless night sleep and frequent wakings. An overtired child will also be an irritable and irrational child (ie: often at the ‘Witching Hour’) or a child having a ‘second wind’- wired, fidgety and hyperactive.
As well, too long of an awake time from nap to bed can also cause early rising. (Waking before 6:00 am-nobody wants that!)
When a child becomes overtired, a stress hormone called cortisol goes through their bodies making it very hard for them to settle to sleep and have a restful sleep. An overtired child will have a harder time falling asleep and staying asleep!
So for that one-nap-a-day child, going down for a nap too early in the day creates a vicious cycle! The earlier nap is needed because of the early rising or night wakings, but the early nap is what is perpetuating the early mornings and frequent night wakings.
How to get out of the 11am nap trap cycle?
1. Keep your child up later. We know that we have spent so much time talking about the overtired state and that means that they will have a harder time settling, so why the heck would we tell you to keep your child up later than they can manage for nap? This is the exception of the overtired rule. It will be a temporary overtired state and the reason that you want to push them longer is to help their overall sleep.
So in this case, the need to have a good night sleep trumps the overtired rule! It won’t last long so we are not overly concerned.
2. Push your child slowly to that desired time of 12:30/1:00. You can do this by making nap later by 20 minute increments every few days until you are there!
3. Avoid long car rides mid morning. Or be prepared to try and keep your little one awake so that they do not sleep at 11:00 am for 15 minutes and refuse nap all together. Check out our video below on dealing with short cat naps before scheduled naps:
4. Bedtime may need to be a little earlier while you are working on pushing the nap later. It can be as early as 6:00 pm. If your child is used to a later bedtime however, make it earlier slowly to avoid too drastic of a change.
We know that pushing your tired child to stay awake for longer until nap might seem counter-intuitive or downright impossible but it really is necessary for your child’s overall healthy sleep, especially if you are already seeing the sleep challenges we mentioned above!
Your child’s sleep schedule is only one part of the equation. Teaching your little one how to fall asleep on their own is an even bigger part of that puzzle! If you need help teaching your child to fall asleep on their own or establishing a sleep schedule, check out our services page to see how we can help.
If my child wakes up at 6am, is 11am still too early for his one nap?
Hello, my soon to e 2 years old naps in the late morning and this schedule works really well for him. He wakes up around 7:30am, then naps around 11:00am, until around 1:00pm. At night, he falls asleep around 8:00pm. So his morning window is super short, but his afternoon window is quite long, up to 7 hours. At night, he will wake up once or twice to nurse and go straight back to sleep, I find this unusual schedule to work really well with him, so I can’t see any reason to change it. What are your thoughts on this?