Naps are a very important part of a healthy sleep for infants and toddlers.
As we all know, quality sleep is necessary for healthy growth and development for children. However, at some point naps are no longer necessary for your little one, and while it's exciting to see them grow and mature, it’s a sad day for parents when it is time to say “bye bye” to nap time!
Knowing when and how to say goodbye to nap time can be confusing to some parents, leaving questions on when and how unanswered. Keep reading for the top tips to guide you through the transition to no more naps!
Signs your toddler is ready to stop napping
If your toddler is between the age of 3 to 4, then it's likely a good time to consider dropping their nap. Most kids around age 3 can handle a full day without the need for a nap if they are sleeping through the night 10-12 hours. Children who experience frequent night wakings may hold on to their nap a bit longer.
The average signs that your toddler is ready to drop his or her nap are:
Taking longer to fall asleep for naps or refusing a nap all together for a period of 1-2 weeks. It’s important to remember that sometimes kids naturally refuse naps depending on their sleep situation and it doesn't always mean there is a need to drop the nap.
It is important to consider age, sleep situation (how they are falling asleep), and timing of naps before making the call. But if you’ve checked all the boxes, you can confidently go forward with the steps to drop the nap.
Nap time is fine if your toddler falls asleep easily but when bedtime rolls around they fight to go to sleep, or lay quietly but can take 30-45 minutes to fall asleep and may even wake early in the morning.
If your toddler isn't getting enough wake time between nap and bedtime then it can cause disruptions in their overall sleep patterns and potentially cause bedtime battles because they simply are not tired yet!
The average toddler has about 12 hours of day and 12 hours of night (give or take 1-2 hours). This means that if they are napping, they require 6-8 hours of “wake time” between morning wake up and nap, and again between nap and bedtime.
While there is always a range, and every child’s sleep needs are different, once your child reaches age 3 to 4, a midday nap is no longer necessary and for some can wreak havoc for night time sleep.
How to know if you dropped the nap too soon
Children between the age of 2-3 years should not consider dropping naps as they are still an integral part of maintaining healthy sleep habits. However, it is normal during this age range to experience nap regressions or refusals, which are often associated with developmental milestones or the need for schedule adjustments.
So if your child is between 2-3 years of age and is showing some of the signs mentioned above, like refusing to nap or taking a long time to fall asleep, don’t drop that nap just yet! It may just require a tweak to his or her schedule.
If you fall in this category then consider “capping” nap time to one hour to 1.5 hours before cutting the nap altogether. You may also want to consider pushing bedtime back slightly as well. If a nap gets dropped too soon you will know it!
Constant meltdowns, night wakings, early morning wakings are all signs that your child is severely overtired and still needs that nap, so go through your checklist before making the call. If you tried to pull nap time too soon and it didn't work then just go back to napping but give your child some time to adjust.
How to transition your toddler away from naps
Unlike other nap transitions, this change is considered to be one of the easiest if made at the right time. Once you’ve seen the signs mentioned above and taken into consideration your child’s age, you can begin eliminating the nap.
Now that you’re sure it is the right time to cut that nap there is really only one simple step: Eliminate nap time! Instead of napping, introduce your child to “quiet time” in place of a nap.
Quiet time can begin with 15-20 minutes of alone time in his or her room and they can engage in calm activities such as reading books, coloring, or doing puzzles. You can even set a timer to let them know that when the timer goes off you will come get them.
As they become comfortable you can increase the time until you reach 45 minutes of quiet alone time for at least 6 weeks to help your toddler (and you!) cope with late afternoon meltdowns.
During the process of transitioning your child away from taking a nap it is important to understand that it can be a process! Some days will be busier than others and they may seem more tired some days.
If your child falls asleep during quiet time it’s ok! However, you will need to wake them after sleeping no longer than an hour or wake them by 3:00 pm if they have a later bedtime of 8:00-8:30 pm.
While the occasional snooze may happen for a while, it is important to try to remain on a consistent routine and schedule to help your child adjust to their new sleep times. Consistency is key when making any changes to sleep and is crucial for overall sleep health.
How to adjust bedtime when toddlers drop their naps
Dropping a nap can sometimes confuse parents because even though a child shows signs of needing to drop a nap, they seem tired at their usual nap time or get a little cranky if nap time is skipped.
This is all very normal and the reason you may experience one or both of these scenarios is because your child’s circadian rhythm is at work! When children (and adults) routinely sleep at the same times, their internal clock is set to this rhythm and regulates the sleep-wake patterns.
During the process of transitioning away from naps, your child will adapt to his or her new schedule and the extended wake time during the day. To help adjust to the extra wake time your child will have, shifting bedtime is a key component to help ensure your child doesn't become too overtired. In the first 4 to 6 weeks of adapting to no nap, bedtime may need to be moved up by 1-2 hours.
Sample schedule to help explain the shift in bedtime:
With A Nap: Wake 7:00 am
Without Nap: Wake 7:00 am
Quiet time 1:00pm-2:00pm
Once your child is adjusted to their new “schedule” and enough time has passed, you can choose to keep quiet time or do away with it. Most kids adapt well to no nap, considering it means extra play time!
And as sad as it is to say goodbye to that nice long break in the day (for everyone) It is nice to get the extra time together to play or go on adventures and not have to worry about rushing home for nap time.
Danielle Daly is a Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant and the owner of Bedtime Bliss Sleep Consulting. She believes that well-rested children are happy, energetic and eager to learn. Danielle works one-on-one with families to help them create a custom sleep plan that suits the needs of their children, from newborns to toddlers. She works with families from Louisiana and across the U.S. to share her knowledge and passion for building a solid foundation for healthy sleep.