For many parents, naptime equals free time. You’ve wiped noses and bottoms countless times, dished out enough Goldfish crackers to fill an ocean, and endured hours of “Baby Shark” on repeat. IT’S TIME FOR A BREAK!
I feel your pain. Two of my kids have outgrown naps, but I still have one toddler who sleeps for two precious hours in the afternoon. I love my little man, but I also love naptime. Like his two older siblings, I know there will come a day when he’ll no longer nap, and I know that the “right” time when toddlers stop napping is different for every child.
Keep reading for some signs that your tot may be ready and some tips on gradually weaning naps.
When Do Kids Usually Stop Napping?
The short answer is when they’re ready. Lots of factors dictate whether your little one still needs to snooze in the afternoon. Development, nighttime sleep, activity level, medical conditions, and daily learning can all influence the need for rest in the day.
Sleep needs are high over the first year of life, but as that shuteye becomes more consolidated to nighttime hours, napping gradually decreases from six to seven times a day to just two—typically one in the morning and one in the afternoon. By 18 months, the morning snooze is the next to go.
The afternoon nap is the last to ditch, although the exact age when this happens can differ greatly.
According to a study by Marc Weissbluth, pediatric sleep specialist and author of Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, 60 percent of four-year-olds continue to nap. A year later at age 5, only 1 in 3 are napping, and only 1 in 10 by age 6.
How Long Does it Take for Them to Drop Naps?
The process can take weeks or even months in some cases. It usually starts with the afternoon snooze gradually becoming shorter and more infrequent. Most kids will eventually transition to an afternoon “quiet time,” which continues to give them a chance to rest (and you a break).
Tips to Help Your Child Adjust to Less Sleep During the Day
As you are shifting schedules, it will be important to develop a new routine. On the days your child still sleeps in the afternoon, make sure there is enough space between waking up and bedtime to prevent what I call bouncing toddler syndrome (when your tiny tot bounces back out of bed over and over again).
Days your child forgoes a snooze, you’ll want to have an earlier dinner and get them to bed an hour sooner than usual. DO NOT allow your toddler to know that bedtime is earlier. Little ones can’t tell time, so by moving the entire routine up, it will help to signal that bedtime is coming (without the battles).
If your child has just given up their nap and you’re trying to keep it that way, try not to schedule any car trips during the time they would normally be sleeping. Even school-aged kids (and adults) are prone to falling asleep in the car, so it’s best to avoid driving during that time. Instead, plan some outdoor activities to keep them alert and engaged.
Switching From Nap to Quiet Time
Even if they aren’t sleeping, an afternoon quiet time can still help your toddler to recharge. Quiet time can happen in their room with an audiobook or a favorite toy, or you can set up a comfy spot next to where you’re working if your little one has separation anxiety.
Signs That Your Toddler Is Ready to Stop Taking Naps
- Sleeps the total recommended amount of hours for their age overnight
- Wakes up in the morning naturally and in a good mood
- Is healthy and doesn’t suffer from frequent colds or flu
- Takes a long time to fall asleep for naps and/or only sleeps for a short period
- Can stay awake during car rides without a nap
- Learning new things daily and at a developmentally appropriate rate
- Has a normal attention span for age
- Has a consistent personality throughout the day
- Doesn’t show signs of being sleepy during the day
- Doesn’t “crash” in the evening hours
Indications That Children Should Continue Napping
While some parents love naptime, others can’t wait for the day when they can enjoy afternoons at the beach or spend the whole day out without having to rush home by noon.
Unfortunately, trying to drop naptime before your little one is ready can be a frustrating experience for everyone—think toddler tantrums, falling asleep at the dinner table (delaying bedtime), and worse nighttime sleep.
Some other signs your child isn’t ready include:
- Sleepiness in the afternoon, yawning, rubbing their eyes, cuddling their lovey, and sucking on a pacifier or thumb
- Hyperactivity, irritability, and crankiness in the afternoon
- Evening meltdowns before bedtime
- Falling asleep easily at naptime
- Falling asleep watching a movie or in the car
- Sleeping an hour or longer in the afternoon
- Sleeping fewer than the recommended hours at night
- Early bedtime isn’t possible because of family circumstances
If your child shows signs from both lists, it may mean that they’re moving away from naptime but aren’t ready to fully let go just yet. If they’re okay without a rest one day but not the next, it’s time to think about a gradual weaning process.
How to Gradually Wean Your Toddler From Naps
When your child is showing signs of readiness, you can gradually wean them off of their final nap. This starts with dropping one afternoon siesta at a time. If your toddler can handle one day a week without it, try dropping a second day (but not two consecutive days yet).
Eventually, you’ll decrease to every other day, then just the occasional day when your little one is extra sleepy. By taking the process slowly, your child’s body will have time to adjust. Remember to pay attention to mood and behavior to help guide the process.
Keep in mind that once your child has given up napping, they’ll need to extend their nighttime sleep by a couple of hours. This means going to bed earlier and sleeping in a little later. Having a predictable bedtime routine before starting this process will help to make the shift to an earlier bedtime easier.
Benefits of Home and School Naptime
While a few precious minutes of time to yourself may seem like the biggest naptime benefit, there are plenty of others worth mentioning too. Sleep gives the body and brain a chance to rest and recuperate, and it’s also when children grow. When your child is sleeping, growth hormones are released, muscles are repaired, and bones are lengthened and strengthened.
Toddlers are learning at a rapid rate. Their little minds are like sponges, soaking up tons of information as they go about their day. During toddlerhood, the vocabulary expands exponentially with children learning up to 10 new words a day.
All of this new information needs somewhere to go, and just like sponges can only hold so much, the developing brain has a maximum threshold too. Sleep allows the brain to move short term memories into long-term storage, making room for new learning to take place. Research has found that preschoolers napping regularly have better memory retention and overall learning.
When Should You Consult a Doctor?
If your two-year-old suddenly stops napping, don’t panic. It may just be a phase when your tot is testing out his willpower or a temporary regression due to development. While it’s rare, some little ones are ready to forgo afternoon siestas sooner than others—and as long as they’re getting their full rest overnight, that’s okay.
Likewise, some children continue napping well beyond toddlerhood, and that’s okay too. The transition to school can be ultra exhausting and some kids start snoozing at rest time or resume napping on the weekends.
If your child is sleeping well beyond the recommended hours for their age and still seems always tired and lethargic, it may be worth talking to your pediatrician. While some kids truly do need more sleep than others, excess amounts could also be a sign of a medical condition like sleep apnea or something else. Your doctor is the best person to speak to about your questions and concerns.
If you’re part of the former group and are wondering how to convince your tiny tot that sleepy time is non-negotiable, a consult with a trained sleep expert may help.
Love them or hate them, naps are essential for growth and development. But there comes a time when every child gives up their final nap. The key is knowing when they’re ready—too soon and you’ll have a wired-tired child on your hands; too late and you’ll be facing bedtime battles daily.
It’s also important that parents are ready too—after all, that tiny break can really make a world of difference in making it through until bedtime. When the time comes, gradually weaning naptime is the best way to keep everyone happy and sane. Just be patient with the process (and your little one), and enjoy those afternoon outings as a family.