When to Drop Your Toddler’s Nap?
Trying to figure out if your toddler is ready to drop their nap?
Most kids are ready to drop their afternoon nap between 3 and 5 years old.
So many families try to drop the nap earlier than they should in an attempt to improve bedtime and overnight sleep. But dropping the nap could actually be causing the problems at night!
So, how do you know when it’s finally time to drop the nap? Let me show you 3 ways to know for sure.
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Let’s start with a cautionary tale from a family that I worked with recently. Their 3 year old son, Andrew, started acting up at bedtime. He wouldn’t stay in bed – he was running out of the room, suddenly asking for a million things after lights out - sometimes lasting until 9pm or later – it was taking an hour or more to get him to settle down and go to bed each night.
They assumed that he wasn’t tired enough at bedtime so they asked his daycare to stop letting him nap during the day. He had been napping for 60-90 minutes a day and they thought that cutting this out would help him be more tired at night so he would settle down and go to bed more easily.
But once the nap was gone, the evenings just got worse. He was crabbier earlier in the evenings, all the stalling was still happening, there was lots of crying and then he started waking up in the middle of the night. And instead of getting up for the day at 6:15, he was waking up at 5:15. This is when they reached out to me for help.
Toddler Nap Transitions
Believe it or not, dropping the nap actually caused things to get worse, not better. Why? Because sleep begets sleep.
Meaning, when kids are well-rested it’s easier for them to fall asleep.
And bad sleep begets bad sleep.
Meaning when kids don’t get enough sleep each day, it makes it more difficult for them to fall asleep.
This is what happened with Andrew.
He needed that nap. Once that nap was gone, his sleep really went downhill. It wasn’t the nap that was the problem, there were behavioral issues going on at bedtime that the parents didn’t know how to combat. It wasn’t an issue of too much daytime sleep.
In my experience, most kids are ready to drop the nap between 3.5 and 4.5 years old.
When to Actually Drop Your Toddlers Nap
So, how do you know when it really is time to drop the nap so you don’t make the same mistake as Andrew’s parents? There’s 3 signs to look out for.
1. Refuses sleep for 14 days straight
One sign is that when you put your child down for a nap, they don’t sleep. Maybe they goof off, play in their room or just roll around in their bed but they don’t actually sleep. If this goes on for 2 weeks straight, you know it’s time to officially drop the nap. If they sleep every few days, then keep putting them down to give them a chance to get the sleep they need.
Here’s a tip… I like to start calling nap time “quiet time” around the time kids are 3 years old. This subtle rebranding sets you up to still put them in their room for quiet time even once they stop sleeping. Kids (and parents) can still use a break midday.
2. Starts falling asleep later – after 2:00
Another sign that your child may be ready to drop the nap is when you put them down around 12:30 or 1 and they don’t fall asleep until after 2:00. Kids should be up from their nap by 3:00 at the latest and when kids are falling asleep after 2:00 they’re not getting enough sleep for it to be a beneficial nap because naps should be at least an hour long. Once kids start falling asleep later in the afternoon it will start “stealing” from their night sleep.
3. Is over 3.5 years old, has great bedtime sleep habits and is unable to fall asleep before 8pm when they nap
The third sign that your child may be ready to drop the nap is if they sleep well during the day and they have great sleep habits at bedtime but are not able to fall asleep before 8pm. This was the case with another family that I worked with. Angela was almost 4 years old, was a great napper and had great sleep habits at bedtime. When I say “great sleep habits” at bedtime, I mean that her parents said goodnight and left her alone in her room. Angela stayed in bed but they could see her on the monitor rolling around, talking to herself, kicking her legs around, and not falling asleep until close to 9:00pm. In this case, the nap was “stealing” from Angela’s night sleep. This is a classic example of a child who no longer needs a nap.
So, don’t be so quick to drop the nap.
Before dropping it totally, you can always try limiting it from 2 hours or 90-minutes down to only 1 hour.
Another common situation with kids who are 3 and 4 years old is that they nap well at school or daycare but naps become a struggle at home on the weekends. If this is the case and your child is still sleeping well through the night, it’s fine to stay in this cycle for a while. But, your child likely needs an earlier bedtime on the weekends when they’re not napping during the day.
So, preserve that nap for as long as you can. Doing so will actually encourage your child to sleep better at night.
If your nap schedule looks right and bedtime is still a struggle like Andrew's was, it's time for my free Toddler Sleep Masterclass where I teach you the proven method to get your child comfortable falling asleep alone - so they can sleep through the night. You can fix your family’s sleep problems for good!
And even if you are still not 100% sure what is disrupting your child’s sleep, this free class can only help you get more clarity. >>Click Here<<