In the months after your baby's first birthday, he will probably still take two naps a day to meet all of his sleep needs. During these months, he will clearly reach his limit after a stretch of four to five hours of wakefulness. If he stays up longer than this, your child will become whiny, belligerent, and generally miserable. So if your toddler wakes at six, you'll probably need to put him down for his morning nap between ten and eleven.
By around 18 months, however, your toddler will probably begin to phase out one of the naps. Your child will no longer seem ready to settle down for a morning nap at, say, ten o'clock. But he certainly won't make it all the way to his usual afternoon nap at, say, three o'clock either. Nor will your toddler make it all the way from the end of his morning nap until bedtime.
By your child's second birthday, he will probably have completely adjusted his nap schedule. At two, he will likely take just one nap a day, either in the late morning or the early afternoon.
When One Nap Is Not Enough (But Two Naps Is Too Much)
Parents think that when their toddler gets overtired, she will slow down. Some toddlers do crash, but others continue humming along just as fast as usual, so if you're looking at the level of your child's activity, you may miss the signs of fatigue. Look at the proficiency of your child's activity. If tasks like running become difficult for your child or her tolerance for frustration falls, then she needs to rest.
The transition from two naps a day down to one does not usually proceed smoothly. Throughout these months, your child will need one and a half naps a day—but of course, she can't take one and a half. She's stuck with one or two. So as the morning drags on—and again later in the evening—your toddler will become increasingly tired, whiny, miserable, and nearly unbearable.
Not only that, but because your child's body will no longer respond as well to her brain signals, she will become less and less physically coordinated—and more and more frustrated. In her overtired state, your toddler will have to work twice as hard (and thus tire herself out even more) to do anything physical: walking, climbing, or playing.
Not only will physical coordination become more difficult, but in her overtired state, your toddler will have little tolerance for such frustrations. Being overtired may make your toddler increasingly tense. So the more tired your child gets, the harder it may become for her to relax.
You (who else?) will have to deal with your toddler's tiredness, crankiness, frustration, and irritability during these difficult months. Watch your child carefully for signs of tiredness—especially in the hour or two after the time when she used to take her naps. The signs are fairly clear—if you know what to look for.
For the child caught between one and two naps, rest does not necessarily mean sleep (though if it does, welcome it). You might have better luck trying to engage your child in restful "quiet-time" activities: reading, listening to music, drawing with crayons. Anything that gets your toddler to sit down and get some physical rest, some calm and quiet, will help restore your child's energy, strength, and skills. Even if your toddler resists naptime, she may nonetheless welcome rest time or quiet time. Indeed, she may even fall asleep in spite of herself.
How Long Should My Child Nap?
Another problem during this transitional period between one and two naps is how long to let your toddler nap. If you don't care when your child goes to sleep at night, then let him sleep as long as he wants. But if you want to preserve his bedtime as much as you can, on certain days you will probably need to wake your child from his nap prematurely. A four-hour nap may be a welcome break for you in the middle of the day. But rest assured—actually, rest not assured—you will pay for it when bedtime comes around that night.
Chances are, your toddler will not welcome the interruption of his slumber. So if you need to wake your child early, try to ease his passage gently and gradually back into the waking world. For example, very few toddlers will willingly go straight from waking to their midday meal. They just won't eat right away. Your toddler might consent to lying down on the changing table for a new diaper, but if changing his diaper right away after a nap tends to upset him, then don't even bother unless it's soiled or dripping. Just spend the first half-hour or hour in more quiet-time activities: cuddling, talking, and singing softly, or perhaps listening to some music or reading some picture books.