Your toddler’s nap time is a battle you can’t win? You’ve tried everything, but nothing seems to work. Well, we’re here to tell you that there are ways to get your little one to sleep without much fuss.
There are many ideas for helping a child take a nap, but the best view in the world may not work for you if the solution doesn’t address why your child won’t nap.
There is not just one reason babies and young children refuse to nap—there are hundreds of different reasons. Online baby product directory at My Baby Nursery.
Does Your Toddler Need a Nap?
Most children don’t begin dropping their final Nap until the age of 3. There are a few signs that your older toddler might be letting go of nap time.
First and foremost, if you find that you’re constantly pushing back bedtime or your toddler is having a hard time getting to sleep or staying asleep at night, their mid-day nap could be the problem.
Try experimenting before you give up your child’s Nap altogether. Scheduling a nap a little earlier in the day will give your toddler more time to wear themselves out before bedtime.
Another sign that nap time is on the way out is that your toddler doesn’t act tired midday. They are still happy and content by late afternoon—not fussy, cranky, or otherwise showing signs that they needed that missed Nap.
When Do Kids Stop 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 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 per cent of children still nap by age 4, and only 30 per cent 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.
Signs Your Child Is Ready to Stop Napping
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 ready to stop napping — emphasis on the “.”
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 affect trusted Source emotional 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 symptoms of tiredness 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 it 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 rest without signs of crankiness or exhaustion.
Why Do Toddlers Fight Sleep?
Your little cave-kid may struggle so much with naps that his room starts to feel to you like an Ultimate Fighting ring. The main reasons your toddler won’t nap during the day are:
- They are overtired.
- They are distracted and overstimulated (by noise, light, the TV, roughhousing, foods, caffeine or medications).
Here’s a quick look at each problem and how to solve it.
Your Toddler Is Overtired and Can’t Sleep.
The ultimate sign of whether your toddler is napping enough is how tired she gets during the day. Is she: Falling asleep in the car? Slumping over well before naptime arrives? Cranky and bleary-eyed at dinnertime?
If so, try putting her down 20 minutes earlier for the Nap. Many kids do better if they’re put down after 2 or 3 hours of play, even if they don’t seem sleepy.
Think of this as like eating lunch before you’re starving. Often when you sit down to eat, you realise, “Hmm…I didn’t know it, but I guess I am hungry!” Similarly, anticipating your tot’s need for sleep can keep her a happy napper.
An overstimulated toddler won’t sleep. “Say what? You want me to nap with all this excitement?” Sometimes, even dedicated nappers get too overstimulated to sleep.
If your sweetie just played “tickle my tummy” with her dad or had a shot of caffeine from your breast milk (or a piece of chocolate), she may have a hard time noticing that she’s tuckered out.
And your swashbuckling little explorer may fight to nap because he’s having so much fun discovering the world, he doesn’t want to miss a thing.
So how do you get your toddler to nap?
Getting Your Toddler to Nap
Enjoy some fun, quiet play with your child in his bedroom a couple of times a day. (Some kids resist going into their rooms because this means they’ll have to stop playing and go to sleep.) That way, he won’t only associate his room with “un-fun” naps.
Thirty minutes before naptime, engage in some quiet play and put on soft white noise in the background as a subconscious clue that sleeps time is coming.
Then, for the Nap, darken the room—as well as you can—and crank up a more substantial, rough rumbly white noise—if your house is active, you may even need to start it a little louder than a shower.
(Remember that whooshy fans, air filters and wave sounds may fail because they’re just too mild to screen out disturbances.)
Try “Quiet Time” Instead.
Older toddlers are becoming more aware of their independence and want to assert themselves whenever possible.
Making a stand about nap time could be your little one’s way of showing their autonomy—whether or not they are genuinely ready to give up the Nap.
Try to meet your toddler halfway. Instead of demanding nap time, try calling it “quiet time” or designating it as a particular time when your toddler can relax on their own in the room.
While quiet time might not be all that enticing to a busy toddler, not calling it “nap time” might help you sidestep tantrums.
Invest in a few fun and safe toys that can be put in a unique basket and only brought out for quiet time. Please make sure they are safe for your toddler’s bed or crib.
If your child is exhausted, they might play for a while before falling asleep. Either way, you’ll get some “quiet time.”
Have Active Mornings
Keeping your toddler busy and active in the mornings can help ensure that they need a nap in the afternoon.
If you’re finding your toddler doesn’t want to sleep midday, the key might be making sure they get their energy out earlier in the day.
Try signing them up for an activity, like toddler tumbling or soccer.
The extra physical movement might encourage them to keep napping for a few more months (or years if you’re lucky).
Your Toddler May Fight Naps Because They’re Napping Too Much or at the Wrong Time
While too little naptime sleep is the biggest complaint we hear, some kids sleep too long during the day, and others sleep at oddball hours that don’t work with their parents’ schedules.
Some Typical Reasons Kids Won’t Nap.
Here are some typical reasons kids won’t nap—and suggestions to solve each problem:
Problem: Has Outgrown the Current Nap Schedule
Solution: Think about any changes in your child’s life, growth or development. Has he learned to crawl, begun to eat solid food or started daycare?
Any change can also affect sleep patterns. Watch your child for signs of tiredness between naps and adjust your schedule to meet his new needs.
Problem: Nap Schedule Doesn’t Match Your Child’s Biological Clock
Solution: Nap time, bedtime, mealtime, exposure to light and darkness, and activity can all affect your child’s biological clock.
Look at your child’s schedule to be sure these things occur at reasonable times every day. The improper order of things (such as active, brightly lit playtime just before bed) can affect your child’s rhythm.
Problem: Nap Schedule Isn’t Consistent from Day to Day
Solution: If on weekdays, nap times, bedtime and wakeup time are specific, but on weekends they’re hit and miss, then your child will be functioning with a constant bout of jetlag.
Other inconsistencies can also affect this, such as when your child naps at a particular time at daycare but a different time at home, or if he takes a nice long snooze on days when you are at home but takes a short one in the car (or skips a nap entirely) when you are on the go.
Set up a possible nap schedule for your child and do your best to stay within a half-hour of the nap times that you have set up.
Problem: Child Is Overtired and Over-Wired by Nap Time
Solution: If you miss your child’s signs of fatigue, he can quickly move past his tired spell, past overtired, and into a second wind—that state of artificial energy that often brings with it more crying, fussing, whining and tantrums.
When you miss your child’s tired signs, it also means he won’t be able to fall asleep when you do finally put him to bed.
To learn your child’s sleepy signs, it can help to watch him in the hour after he first wakes up in the morning when he is well-rested. Compare this to his behaviour from dinner to bedtime, when most children show signs of fatigue.
As his usual bedtime draws near, please note how his behaviour and body language differ from when he is alert and refreshed.
Aim to put your child for a nap as soon as he shows signs of fatigue. A tired child will fall asleep quickly and sleep longer and better.
Problem: Reliance on a Specific Sleep Aid
Solution: A child accustomed to falling asleep in one particular way can quickly become so used to this one method that if you try to have him nap under any other condition, he would be physically unable to do so.
The best way to understand a child’s association needs is to examine them from your viewpoint. You may sleep well in your bed but struggle to sleep at a hotel or someone else’s home.
Some children’s sleep associations are so strong it can only be compared to asking you to sleep on a roller coaster!
The most common nap-preventing associations are breastfeeding or bottle-feeding to sleep, being held by loving arms or sleeping in a swing, bouncer or car seat.
These are wonderfully comforting places for a child to nap, but when they become necessary for sleep, it’s likely to cause a problem for the parent who must provide nap time services.
These associations are usually so necessary to your child’s sleep that they override every other reason or solution.
Problem: Sneaky Micro-Naps
Solution: The very first stage of sleep can last as little as five minutes and can reduce feelings of sleepiness—it lifts the lid and lets the steam out just enough.
If your child hits a tired zone and is lying on the sofa, sitting in a swing, or going for a ride in the car, he may nod off for five or ten minutes.
This micro-nap doesn’t give your child the full benefit of a real nap but can be just enough to rejuvenate him and prevent him from being able to sleep when you put him in bed later for a nap.
To circumvent this problem, avoid putting your child in a nap-inducing environment, like a ride in the car, or time in his swing, at a time when he’s likely to need a nap unless you can leave him for a whole long rest.
Problem: Health Troubles
Solutions: If any health issue is bothering your child, it can affect his sleep. Allergies and asthma are two of the most common childhood diseases.
Both of these conditions can make it difficult for your child to breathe comfortably when lying down.
Colic, reflux, ear infections and brutal bouts of teething are other conditions that can prevent a child from napping well.
If your child suffers from any medical issues, good naps are crucial for his health. If this is the case with your child, it will be helpful if you are very flexible and open to finding any solution that helps him sleep.
Put aside any notion that your child must sleep in a particular place or a certain way, and open yourself to the concept that any nap is better than no nap at all.
At the same time, talk with various medical experts about your child’s health matters and look to find the best solutions for your child.
How Long Should Your Toddler Nap?
Typically, kids nap for 1 or 2 hours at each naptime.
Suppose your child is napping longer but still sleeping well at night; congratulations! You’ve hit the parent jackpot. But more often, kids who nap a lot end up needing a later bedtime or waking more often at night.
That’s fine if it suits your life schedule—but if you’d like to shift some of that day’s sleep to the nighttime, it’s pretty easy to do.
For example, say your child naps a lot and her bedtime is 8 p.m., but she’s awake and chatty then and never falls asleep before 9:30 p.m. Try shortening her afternoon nap by 15 minutes (so she’s a bit more tired at night) and starting her bedtime routine at 9 p.m.
Then, if that goes well, shorten her Nap again and slide bedtime another 15 minutes earlier.
That should nestle her into the schedule you want. (You’ll know you’re shrinking her Nap too much if she gets cranky in the early evening).
Tips for Encouraging Nap Time
No matter why your child won’t nap, there are a few specifics that can be helpful as you encourage any child to take regular naps. Keep these basic principles in mind:
- Maintain a consistent daily schedule that works with your child’s natural body clock. Create a predictable pattern to the day—with meals and nap time happening at reliable times.
- Modify your schedule according to your child’s sleepy signs. No matter what the clock says, it’s nap time when your child becomes quieter, loses interest in toys or playtime, fusses, stares off into the distance, rubs his eyes or ears, and of course: if he begins to yawn.
- Have a relaxing pre-nap routine to cue your child that nap time is here and help him wind down and relax.
- Set up a sleeping place that is cozy and that sets the stage for sleep. Dress your child comfortably for rest.
- Keep mornings bright and active and the half-hour before each nap session quiet, dimly lit and calm.
- Keep in mind that you cannot force a child to sleep, but you can follow the basic rules of biology, gauge your child’s sleepy signals and create a setting that is inductive to rest and relaxation.
Of course, if none of the above seems to make a difference for your little one and you have concerns that your child is not sleeping enough, consult their pediatrician. Remember that every child is different. We have the best range of baby nursery blankets to keep your baby just right day and night.
What’s most important is that you know your toddler. Try to be patient, and don’t forget that your little sleep needs are constantly transitioning.