Updated: Jul 25
Your once beautiful sleeper has turned into an anti-nap soldier with regular meltdowns by 4:30pm. Sound like your toddler? If so, know that you’re not alone. Many parents struggle with knowing when the right time is to drop the nap and how to help their toddler through the return of the witching hour when a nap is no longer an option!
The twists and turns of the toddler years seem manageable as long as you have those precious hours in the middle of the day to recoup…until your toddler suddenly refuses to take their nap all together. Nap time refusal can happen for a multitude of reasons but here are the top 2 culprits:
Time to adjust their schedule. As your toddler ages, so do their sleep needs. Oftentimes nap refusal happens because the timing isn’t right! For most kids the sweet spot for naps tends to be between 12:30-1:00pm, pending their wakeup time. We want to avoid your toddler kicking into the overtired phase, as this is when battles occur and difficulty falling asleep happens. Naps also decrease in length, going from around 3 hours at 18 months down to around 1 hour for toddlers 3.5-4 years old. You must evaluate your child, their needs and how much overall sleep is required at this age. For instance, if you have a 4 year old child who requires 10-12 hours of total sleep and they are getting a 3 hour nap daily. You are left with only 7-9 hours of sleep to work with overnight. Therefore, your child may not fall asleep until 9 pm and waking at 5 am unable to go back to sleep. It’s all a balancing act in order to make sure your toddler has the right balance of daytime and nighttime sleep.
Not the ideal sleep environment. It happens to all of us, the toys slowly start to creep into your toddler’s room until it is overflowing. Current research shows that a healthy sleep environment is important for adults, children, toddlers, and babies alike. When we think about a #healthysleepenvironment we need to consider room temperature, sounds, lights, and anything else that could wake up and stimulate your child’s brain, as we want their room to be a calming environment. Having lots of toys in a toddler's sleep environment can send mixed signals to your child, especially as their desire to play and roam around the room increases, as well as overstimulating to their brains resulting in the poor ability to fall asleep. A simple way to help your toddler's room and sleep is simply to store away toys during sleep times to help decrease the desire to play and help promote a calming environment that drives the desire to sleep.
Dropping the nap too early can lead to more frustration, increased tantrums, negative moods, and decreased ability to cope in toddler's who still need to nap. If you notice any of these signs on a regular basis, your child either isn’t ready to stop napping and/or isn’t getting enough sleep during the night. (Psst...we have a pediatric occupational therapist who specializes in helping parents understand their child's developmental needs to make it easier to navigate those tough toddler behaviors!)
Here’s a very simple checklist to see if your toddler is ready to drop their nap:
1. Your child is nearing 3.5-4 years old. Remember, every child is different so focus on your child’s sleep patterns and following their lead, not what they “supposed” be doing.
2. Your child is not sleepy during the day by either resisting the nap and/or taking too long to fall asleep, OR sleep for a very short period
3. Your child is having a hard time falling asleep at night and bedtime has become a battle. This includes pushing bedtime back later and later because they aren’t tired or taking an extreme amount of time to fall asleep (30+ minutes).
4. Nighttime wake-ups and early morning rising can also indicate that there is an imbalance between nighttime and daytime sleep.
And honestly, it depends on your child; however, most little ones continue to need a daily nap until the age of 4-5, and even then rest (or quiet) time does a world of good for our quickly growing little ones.
How To Drop The Nap:
We know this is often a scary, and sad, process for many parents when it is officially time to drop their toddler's nap but rest assured, you can still catch an hour or two of quiet time during the day to save your sanity.
Don't Act Too Fast: It is important that parents take their time when deciding if it is the right time to cut out their little ones naps, typically evaluating for 7-10 days. What is their age, how much total sleep do they require in a 24 hour period, break down how much of the total sleep is going into naps and into their overnight sleep.We often recommend 𝐬𝐡𝐨𝐫𝐭𝐞𝐧𝐢𝐧𝐠 the nap prior to dropping the nap, especially when your toddler is younger than 4 years old. Again, keeping a sleep log for 7-10 days will help you make the decision of when to drop the nap more clear.
This Process Does Not Happen In A Day: There will be days when your child still needs a nap, i.e. a busy morning with a fun playdate at the park. If you think they will sleep, put them down for a nap and see how it goes. Allowing that quiet, calm time will often still do wonders for a toddler even if they choose not to sleep.
1. Don't force the issue because you can't force a child that isn't tired to sleep. This will only cause more frustration for both you and your toddler.
2. Offer them quiet time in their room. This will be an adjustment to learn how to remain in their room awake and play quietly but setting a goal, be it 30 minutes, and slowly building up to your desired length of quiet time.
Remember there is no universal age or timing when all children will remove naps from their daily schedule. Taking the time to document and evaluate how your child handles the transition is most important. Implementing a 'quiet time' is a great way to give your child, and you, rest without actually sleeping when naps end.
If your baby or toddler isn’t sleeping, we’re here to help! Life runs smoother when you are getting the sleep you need and deserve, especially on this journey through parenthood. We love helping tired Moms and Dads find excellent resources and support, as well as providing 1-1 customized sleep programs for better sleep. Having a baby or child does not equal sleep deprivation for everyone. It is possible to set healthy sleep foundations and education at any age!