Children have different sleep needs as they grow. The younger they are, the more sleep they need, but this is broken up between nighttime sleeping and daytime napping.
This is true for most children until a certain age when eventually, they will no longer need to nap. Of course, the exact timing of this transition is different for every child, but there are certain signs you can look for to tell whether or not your child is ready to stop napping. In this article, we’ll go over those signs, as well as the importance of napping in the first place, when the transition away from napping typically occurs, how long it may last, and how to best support your child – and yourself – during this time.
When Do Kids Usually Stop Napping?
According to Harvard Health1, most children naturally start to give up naps between the ages of three and five. However, this will depend on the child and their developmental level, how well they’re sleeping at night, and daily learning2.
Sleep needs are highest during the first year of life. For example, babies (four to 12 months old) need 12 to 16 hours3, including naps. By the time your child is in preschool, they should only need about 10 to 13 hours.3 As they get older, the hours that children spend asleep become more consolidated to nighttime, and naps become less frequent and less lengthy.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, babies sleep about six to eight hours during the night, plus one shorter chunk of sleep, and then the rest of their sleep needs will be spent in naps during the day.3 A child between the ages of three to five, though, will mostly sleep at night and will start naturally phasing out naps.3
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 five, only 1 in 3 are napping, and only 1 in 10 by age six.2
Learn more: How Much Sleep Do Kids Need? Recommendations by Age
How Long Does it Take for Them to Drop Naps?
The process can take weeks or even months in some cases. Remember, this is a natural process on their end. Parents should not try to force their child to drop naps4 before they are ready. Forcing your child to drop naps before they are ready could negatively impact their development.4
It may also be that your child is done napping for now, but in a month, they need naps again, usually because of rapid periods of growth.2 This is why the transition from naps to no naps is not always straightforward and may take some time.
Tips to Help Your Child Adjust to Less Sleep During the Day
As you shift your schedule to accommodate your child’s sleep needs, it will be important to develop a new routine. On the days your child still sleeps in the afternoon, make sure it is not so late in the day that they are not tired at bedtime. If your child only seems to get sleepy late in the afternoon, try waking them up earlier in the morning to move their nap earlier in the day.1
On the days your child forgoes a nap, you can help this transition by having an earlier dinner and putting them to bed earlier5. Remember, your preschool-aged child will still need 10 to 13 hours of total sleep, so without a nap, they’ll need an earlier bedtime.3
Some experts recommend bedtime fading6, which is when trying to move your child’s bedtime earlier in the day. With this method, you’ll incrementally move their bedtime 15 minutes earlier for several nights, until you reach their desired new bedtime. Remember to keep up any bedtime routines you have established, as this will let them know it’s time to start getting sleepy.6
If your child has just given up their nap and you’re trying to keep it that way, try to avoid things that might make them sleepy during their usual naptime. For example, many children tend to fall asleep in the car7 because it can be warm, dark, insulated, comforting, and not all that stimulating. If you’re trying to prevent napping, you may want to avoid long car rides with your child during previous naptime hours. Instead, plan some outdoor activities to keep them alert and engaged.
Switching From Nap to Quiet Time
Whether your child has stopped napping altogether or is in the phase of transitioning to fewer naps, it is still a good idea to have them take some quiet time in the afternoon to relax and recharge.3 This should also help ease the transition to not napping.1
You can let them look at books or play quietly. If they are able to stay awake, this is a sign they may be ready to stop taking naps. If they fall asleep during quiet time but then stay awake late at night, it’s also a sign they may be done with naps.1
Signs That Your Child Is Ready to Stop Taking Naps
Children will typically let you know when they are ready to stop taking naps, not with verbal cues, but with energetic and behavioral ones. If your child is starting to exhibit some of these behaviors, it may be a sign that they are ready to stop napping.
- They experience difficulty falling asleep8 during naptime
- They have trouble falling asleep at bedtime after having had an afternoon nap8
- They don’t appear sleepy on the days without naptime8
- They don’t fall asleep at all during naptime8
- They remain awake, pleasant, and engaged throughout the afternoon1
- They wake up earlier than usual after an afternoon nap the day before8
- Their time spent sleeping at night increases9
- They make it through the day with minimal behavioral changes or meltdowns9
- They’re in an all-day school program without scheduled naps9
- They don’t have energy “crashes” in the afternoon or evening hours9
Nicole Johnson, pediatric sleep specialist at The Baby Sleep Site shares, “Your child might show a few of these signs or all of them. In addition, your child may show some signs on some days while not on others. It’s important to look at two or more weeks of sleep patterns before you decide to drop their nap. While a child can skip a nap a day or two, they often can’t skip it every day. Once they are skipping a nap more than four times a week, it might be time to seriously consider whether they are ready for the transition.”
Indications That Children Should Continue Napping
Just as your child can communicate when they are ready to stop napping they will also subtly (or not so subtly) let you know if they aren’t quite ready. Trying to stop naptime before your child is ready can lead to tantrums, worse nighttime sleep, and even developmental problems.4 As such, you’ll want to listen to the signs that your child isn’t ready to stop taking naps.
Some of those signs can include:
- Sleepiness in the afternoon, yawning, or rubbing their eyes5
- Cranky, whiny, or moody late in the day5
- Difficult to get out of bed in the mornings5
- Major meltdowns10 – especially late in the day
- Inattentive, hyperactive, impatient, or aggressive5
- Falling asleep during a car ride11
- Sleeping fewer than the recommended hours at night9
- Easily falling asleep during naptime or having energy “crashes” in the afternoon9
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 nap one day but not the next, it’s time to think about a gradual weaning process.
“Consider that if your child is almost always skipping their nap at home, but falls asleep in the car. This doesn’t mean they need to continue napping. You shouldn’t have to drive your child around every day just to get them to nap. Instead, again, avoid car rides around naptime instead.” – Nicole Johnson
How to Gradually Wean Your Child From Naps
When your child is showing signs of readiness, you can gradually wean them off of their regular naptime. This starts with reducing the amount of time they’re napping12. For example, if they normally take a 90-minute afternoon nap, you can bump it down to 75 minutes one week, then 60 the next, and so on. Once your child is napping for only 15 or 20 minutes a day, you can try eliminating naps entirely. If they react negatively to this (they become cranky, moody, lose sleep at night, etc.), you can keep the 20-minute nap every other day until they are ready to stop napping regularly.12
Of course, there may still be occasional naps if your child is extra sleepy. Just remember to take the process slowly so that their body will have time to adjust. Parents may also need time to adjust to this new schedule. 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 in order to still get their recommended amount of sleep.3 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
During the years children still naturally feel inclined to nap, these naps are vital for their development and learning.2 This is especially important for children who are learning at such a rapid rate. During toddlerhood, children are soaking up information around them like sponges – new words, experiences, emotions, and ideas.
Sleep allows the brain to move short-term memories into long-term storage13, making room for new learning to take place, and naps in particular seem to be helpful in this process. Research has found14 that preschoolers who nap regularly have better memory retention and overall learning than those who don’t.
When Should You Consult a Doctor?
If your two-year-old suddenly stops napping, don’t panic. It may just be a phase in which your child is testing out their willpower or a temporary sleep regression due to development. While it’s not the norm, some little ones are ready to forgo afternoon naps earlier than three years of age – and as long as they’re getting enough sleep overnight, that’s okay.3
Likewise, some children continue napping well beyond the age of five or six, and that’s okay too. The transition to school can be uniquely exhausting for kids, and some will need to start napping again during rest times or on weekends.
However, if your child is sleeping the recommended number of hours for their age but remains sleepy during the day, fears going to sleep, has frequent and unexplained nighttime awakenings, or experiences bedwetting after the age of seven, it may be worth talking to your pediatrician15. Symptoms like excessive sleepiness and frequent nighttime awakenings may be nothing to worry about, but they could also point to an underlying condition like sleep apnea.15 Your doctor is the best person to speak to about your questions and concerns.
Learn more: Sleep Apnea in Children
If it seems your child just needs help learning better sleep habits (rather than an underlying medical condition), consider consulting with a trained sleep expert.
Children will eventually grow out of needing naps, but the key is knowing when they’re ready — too soon and you’ll have a tired and cranky child on your hands; too late and going to bed on time might become a challenge.
We’ve talked a lot about the transition for children here, but it’s also important to remember that this is a transition for parents too. Naptime can be an important time of rest, relaxation, and solitude for parents, and when naps decrease or cease altogether, it can be difficult to not have this time anymore.
This is why gradually weaning naptime is so important – not just so your child can get used to the new schedule, but so you can too. Remember to be patient with the process, expect some bumps in the road, and if you are worried, contact your pediatrician.
Jill Zwarensteyn is the Editor for Sleep Advisor and a Certified Sleep Science Coach. She is enthusiastic about providing helpful and engaging information on all things sleep and wellness.
- McCarthy MD, Claire. “Naps: Make the most of them and know when to stop them”. Harvard Health Publishing. 2021.
- Sparks, Sarah D. “Nap Time Boosts Learning, Studies Say”. EducationWeek. 2018.
- “How Much Sleep Your Kids Need: Recommendations by Age”. Cleveland Clinic. 2022.
- “Young Child’s Brain, Not Age, Determines Nap Transitions, Research Suggests”. University of Massachusetts Amherst. 2022.
- Gavin, Mary L. “Naps”. Nemours KidsHealth. Last modified June 2020.
- “Bedtime fading: earlier bedtimes for babies and toddlers”. RaisingChildren.Net.Au. Last modified October 25, 2022.
- Gambelin, Anne-Marie. “It’s science: This is why your baby always falls asleep in the car”. Motherly. 2020.
- “When Do Kids Stop Taking Naps?”. Pampers. Last modified July 14, 2021.
- Gorton, Rachel. “The surefire signs your toddler is ready to give up their nap”. Motherly. 2017.
- Savacool, Julia. “Is Your Child Getting Enough Sleep?”. Scholastic. Webpage accessed August 21, 2024.
- Irvine, Stacy. “Is your child ready to stop naptime?”. Today’s Parent. 2021.
- “Weaning Your Child Off Their Nap”. Children’s Healthcare Associates. 2022.
- Budson MD, Andrew E. “Want to improve your memory? Get a good night’s sleep!”. Harvard Health Publishing. 2021.
- Kurdziel, Laura., Duclos, Kasey., Spencer, Rebecca M. “Sleep spindles in midday naps enhance learning in preschool children”. National Library of Medicine. 2013.
- “Signs Your Child Is Exhausted: Spotting Sleepiness, From Babies to Teens”. Cleveland Clinic. 2022.