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Toddler Napping: How To Transition Your Child From Routine Naps

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.

toddler playing with a puzzle

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
Nap 1:00pm-2:30pm
Bedtime  8:00pm 

Without Nap: Wake 7:00 am
Quiet time 1:00pm-2:00pm
Bedtime 7:00/7:30pm

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. 

Is it normal for a 2 year old to stop napping?

Most children that are 2 still need a nap in the afternoon, usually for at least an hour. This may actually help your child fall asleep more easily at night. 

If, however, you can't get your 2-year-old down for a nap but you sense he or she is tired, one solution is to set aside "quiet time" in the afternoon during which your toddler can relax in his or her bedroom. 

The age that kids stop napping tends to vary. Children that are 3 still usually nap once a day,  60% of 4-year-olds still nap and just 30% of 5-year-olds still nap.

Don’t force your child to nap unless he or she is clearly overtired or irritated from a lack of sleep.

Can a 2.5 year old stop napping?

Chances are that a child that is 2 1/2 still needs some kind of nap in the afternoon. Try to put him or her down for at least an hour. 

Also, keep in mind that there’s usually a sleep regression at this age, which can occur when your child is between 2 and 2 1/2 years old. During this regression, kids might wake up earlier than usual, wake up more often during the night, or have trouble falling asleep when it’s bedtime. 

Even if your child really resists naptime, it doesn’t mean that he or she is ready; this could simply be typical, defiant toddler behaviour. 

That being said, you can always skip the nap if you think your child is ready and see how it goes. If, after about three days, your toddler does not seem overtired and in need of a midday sleep break, it could be a sign that he or she is ready to drop the nap.

Signs that you dropped the nap too early include not sleeping well during the night or having trouble falling asleep, as he or she could be overtired from not napping in the afternoon.

How do you know when your toddler is done with naps?

Most children stop napping naturally when they're ready, but there are a few signs to look out for to know that your child is ready to drop his or her nap. If your child:

  • Doesn't appear to be sleepy on days that he or she doesn't take a nap, and if your child doesn't yawn or struggle to stay awake and isn't cranky in the evening
  • Continues to play during naptime and does not appear to be sleepy when it's naptime
  • Has trouble falling asleep at night
  • Has trouble falling asleep at naptime 
  • Wakes up early,

it could be time for your child to stop napping.

You might also find that you simply need to adjust the timing of your child’s nap or shorten it instead of eliminating it completely.

How long should a 2-year-old nap during the day?

The length of your toddler's nap will vary depending on the child, but it's not uncommon for a 2-year-old to sleep for anywhere between 1 and 3 hours in the afternoon.

Make sure the nap is not too close to bedtime or it will be harder for your child to fall asleep at night, and try to keep naps before 4 pm as a general rule of thumb. You'll need at least 3 hours between your child's nap and his or her bedtime. 

Also keep in mind that children this age need 12 and 14 hours of sleep per night, in general. 

Does a 3-year-old need a nap?

According to the National Sleep Foundation, children between the ages of 3 and 5 need between 10 and 13 hours of sleep at night. 

If your child is resisting but you suspect that he or she still needs that midday break,  try to be consistent, stay calm and ensure that your child gets at least 11 hours of sleep between night time sleep, napping, and downtime. 

Also, remember that your child's sleep needs will shift as they grow and if you phase out the nap, they will need to sleep longer at night, so bedtime will have to be adjusted.

How long should you let a 3-year-old nap?

Remember that every child is different, and what works for another preschooler might not work for your preschooler. As children this age need between 10 to 13 hours of sleep at night, you’ll want to adjust your naptime and bedtime schedule to make sure your child gets the recommended amount of sleep.

In general, your 3-year-old will still probably need a nap lasting 1 to 2 hours in the middle of the day. 

Your child is probably well-rested if he or she can go about their daily routines and activities; however, he or she is probably not getting enough sleep if they’re irritable, fussy, rubbing their eyes or yawning excessively. In that case, you may need to extend the nap, make bedtime earlier, or make another adjustment.

Is it OK if my 3 year old doesn't nap?

Most 3-year-olds will need a midday nap; however, if you think your child is ready to drop it, you can certainly give it a try.

Remember that getting pushback on naptime from your preschooler does not necessarily mean that he or she is ready to skip it; it may just be typical challenging behaviour from a child this age.

If your child is truly ready to drop the nap, he or she will be able to play and go through the day without being irritable or  fussy. If you do decide to eliminate the nap, you should know whether or not your child is ready after about 3 days. If you note that he or she is overtired, you’ll want to reincorporate the midday nap.

You can also incorporate quiet time into your child’s schedule. Instead of a nap, let them play quietly in their room, doing puzzles, reading or coloring. 

What is the best bedtime for a 3-year-old?

It is recommended that children between 3 and 6 years old go to bed between 6 and 8 pm.

That being said, the right bedtime for your child will depend on many factors, such as your family’s schedule and wake-up times, among others. The time they go to bed is important though, and being consistent with bedtime (and wake time) is an essential part of good sleep hygiene

Keep in mind that you will need at least 3 or 4 hours in between naptime (if your child is still napping) and bedtime.

Your child may be going to bed too late if he or she wakes up often at night, wakes up very early in the morning, or has trouble falling asleep. 

Why is my toddler fighting naps?

There are many reasons why your child could be fighting naps. This may include the following:

  1. He’s overtired
  2. He’s not tired
  3. He’s overstimulated by food, medication, too much light, TV or screen time, noise, or playing rough 
  4. He’s sick or has allergies
  5. He’s having teething pains
  6. His nap schedule isn’t consistent

It’s important to determine why your child is resisting naps and make adjustments accordingly. 

Danielle Daly

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.

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