Toddlers are full of curiosity, high spirited, and of course, energetic. So as much as you might love spending every moment with them and experiencing the world through their eyes, you may also love the break you get during their nap time.
Nap time is an opportunity for you and your toddler to recharge. So when your toddler shows early signs of weaning themselves off naps, you might approach this change with a little resistance. But it’s actually a milestone to be celebrated.
Fewer naps mean that your little one is growing into a big kid. Plus, they’re more likely to sleep through the night and less likely to wake you up at 4 a.m. — meaning more sleep for you.
But how do you know if your toddler is ready to drop their nap? And what can you do to help ease the transition?
Here’s what you can expect when your child stops napping.
There are no hard or fast rules regarding when a child drops their nap. Each kid is different. So your child may stop napping sooner than a friend’s child, or sooner than their siblings.
It really depends on the kid, their energy level, how much sleep they’re getting at night, and how active they are during the day. But most kids won't drop their nap until well into their preschool years. The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) estimates that only about 50 percent of children still nap by age 4, and only 30 percent still nap by age 5.
For the most part, toddlers need about 12 hours of sleep a day. One difference between napping and non-napping toddlers is that the latter group gets most of their sleep at night.
Most toddlers transition from two naps to one nap a day by 18 months. Naps then gradually taper off over the next couple of years. By age 5, most children no longer take a regular nap.
When some toddlers hit a certain age, daytime naps become the enemy. You might feel this is your child’s way of letting you know that they’re ready to stop napping.
But before you close the book on this chapter in their life, look for signs that indicate whether your child is really ready to stop napping — emphasis on the “really.”
The truth is, your child’s actions may speak much louder than their words. Even if they resist, naps may still be necessary if:
- Your child is sticking with their daytime nap routine. Falling asleep on their own means your child needs the rest. Ending their nap too early might be met with resistance and a lot of fussing
- Your child’s attitude changes due to lack of sleep. A sleepy child can become irritable, hyperactive, or downright mean. Lack of sleep
can affectemotional responses. A significant attitude shift in the evenings can indicate that your child still needs shuteye during the day.
- Your child shows signs of sleepiness. Even if your child doesn’t pass out in the afternoon, they may have signs of sleepiness like persistent yawning, rubbing their eyes, or becoming less active.
But your child might be ready to skip naps if they’re not sleepy during the day, or if naps (even those earlier in the day) make is harder for them to fall asleep at night. A telltale sign that your child is ready to drop naps is the ability to skip a nap without signs of crankiness or exhaustion.
Dropping naps is a gradual process that starts with your toddler going from two naps to one nap, and then, sometimes years after the shift from two to one nap, slowly decreasing the length of their one nap.
Children who no longer need a nap typically fall asleep faster at night and sleep through the night, making the bedtime routine a little easier on you.
But although some kids eventually wean themselves off naps, you can give your child a small nudge.
While you shouldn’t eliminate naps cold turkey unless you want a cranky, grumpy little person on your hands, you can shave minutes off your child’s naps and wake them up sooner. You can also try drop one nap a week to get their body used to less daytime sleep.
Your child will slowly adjust to less sleep. But keep in mind that less sleep during the day means they may need more sleep earlier at night. They likely will fall asleep earlier or may sleep later in the morning if allowed. So be prepared to move up the bedtime routine or adjust the morning schedule.
You can also help your child drop naps by avoiding afternoon activities that could cause drowsiness — at least until they break the habit. This includes long car rides and long periods of inactivity.
Keeping your toddler moving can keep them stimulated and awake. Be mindful that heavy lunches might also make your child lethargic and sleepy. So opt for healthier lighter lunches with plenty of vegetables and fresh fruit.
Even though your child may no longer need naps, they can still benefit from a little downtime each day.
Rest periods give your child’s body and mind an opportunity to relax and recharge. A "quiet time" routine also comes in handy if they’re in a school or day care where naps are still part of the schedule.
Your child might not be required to fall asleep, but they might be required to lie on their cot quietly and not disturb other children. To assist your child’s school or day care, incorporate quiet time into your schedule at home, where your child lies down or sits with a picture book, or a small stuffed animal or lovey.
The length of quiet time is up to your discretion and depends on your child. Just know that when they’re at school or day care, the facility determines the rest time and they’ll expect your child to comply.
Although children stop napping at different ages, you might have concerns about an older child who still needs a nap or a young child who is resisting a nap but still clearly needs the midday snooze.
When it comes to older children who are still napping, you probably have nothing to worry about, but it doesn’t hurt to talk with your pediatrician for peace of mind.
Different reasons might explain why an older child still naps. It can be as simple as going to bed too late and waking up too early. Or it could be due to:
- too much inactivity
- a sleep disorder
- a medical condition that causes fatigue
Either way, your doctor will work with you and your child to find answers.
If your child is resisting naps but still needs the sleep, your doctor may be able to provide suggestions for what you can do to help them get more shut-eye. Or you may consider working with a sleep consultant, though their services can be expensive and unrealistic for many parents.
Your child may be resisting naps if they are concerned about missing out on something fun, are overtired, or even if they are having nightmares. Here are somethings you can do to try to help get naps back on track:
- Create a calm environment in the 15 to 30 minutes before nap time.
- Avoid talking loudly near your child's rest area. And if you have older children who are no longer napping, set them up with a quiet activity in another room, if possible. This can help keep your younger child from feeling like they are missing out on something.
- Look for signs that they're ready for nap time. You may be missing their sleep window if their nap is too late. Alternatively, you may trying to put them to bed too early, which can lead to resistance.
- Consider adjusting their bedtime routine, too. The time your child goes to bed at night can affect when they wake up in the morning. It can also affect their quality of sleep. If they are waking up really early, they may need a nap earlier than you think. And if they aren't getting good quality sleep at night, they may also be overly tired when nap time arrives.
- Feed them a healthy, balanced lunch, and avoid or reduce the sugar. Hunger can affect a child's ability to take a nap.
Nap times can recharge parent and child, but eventually, your child will need fewer and fewer naps. The transition might be rougher on you than your child, but it only indicates that your baby is becoming a big kid.