As your baby grows and develops, their sleep patterns change and evolve. Over time, the amount of day time sleeps your child needs will decrease until eventually, they will stop napping altogether. Each child and family will be different in this respect. However, there will be signs that your toddler is ready to drop their nap that you can look out for. Let's face it, naps are life. It's time for parents to have a break, drink a hot cup of coffee, or catch up on Netflix! To ensure you don’t lose that timeout completely, consider swapping nap time for ‘quiet time’, allowing yourself and your child some downtime.
By now, you will be used to nap transitions, which are the phases a baby goes through from newborn until napping drops off totally. For the first year to 18 months, a baby will transition rather quickly through naps, going from up to six naps a day to just one. From 14 months to toddler age, your child will transition from two to one and then, eventually none.
The older your toddler gets, the more you’ll find yourself questioning whether they need a nap or not and, if so, how long for. Nap times will vary depending on the child, their environment, their sleep need, as well as how long they tend to sleep at night.
The age that toddlers stop napping will also vary for a whole range of reasons – which isn’t a huge help in answering parents' questions. Although, more often than not, you will just know when your child is ready. As a guide, the average age to stop napping is said to be between 2 and a half and 3 and a half years.
If you’re struggling to work out how often your child should be asleep throughout the day and what time they should go to bed, try consulting a Bedtime or Sleep Chart. Bedtime Charts outline the average number of hours a child should be asleep for depending on their age, as well as a recommended bedtime by age. A bedtime chart will allow you to plan ahead for the next nap transition.
One of the first, most obvious signs to indicate that your child isn’t ready to nap or doesn't need to nap, is that they take a long time to fall asleep at nap time. Previously you may have found they’ve gotten comfy and nodded off, but now if nap time is feeling too forced and they’re fighting it, it may be time to adjust the time of the nap or stop completely. As your child grows, their need for daytime sleep drops off naturally, and often retaining napping at that point will start to negatively impact their night's sleep.
Similar to this, if your toddler is skipping naps entirely without showing any negative repercussions, then that’s a sure sign that they’re ready to stop. However, if they don’t go down at naptime but are super sleepy or irritable for the rest of the day, then you will need to put them to bed to compensate. How early? As early as 6 pm if necessary. By putting them to bed earlier you will allow them to replace the sleep that they have lost napping with overnight, restorative sleep. This will help them avoid overtiredness which could result in further sleep issues or the dreaded early morning waking, which is a common problem in toddler sleep.
Another sign to look out for is your toddler taking too long to fall asleep at bedtime. This suggests they’ve had too many hours of sleep throughout the day and aren’t ready for bed. As the number of naps, or the hours of daytime sleep decreases, bring their bedtime earlier as detailed above.
It’s important to remember that this process won’t necessarily be instant. It will take time and consistency for your child to transition to no naps. Some toddlers stop napping straight away, and others will transition over an extended period. You may find that one day your child needs a nap, but the next day they appear ready to stop napping, just to fall asleep at nap time again the following day. If their nights are remaining settled then follow their lead somewhat.
As with most areas of parenting, and life in general, you will need to be flexible with each phase and simply wait for the day to come when your toddler is ready to stop napping. It might help to note down what days your child naps, how long for and what their bedtime was like. By keeping track, you’ll be able to monitor trends and sleep patterns and begin to form a new routine.
On the days that your child isn’t tired enough for naptime or any daytime sleep at all, consider introducing some quiet time to ease the transition. If kids suddenly go from a daily nap to nothing at all, you may find they’re incredibly worn out by the end of the day, or even fall asleep when they shouldn’t. We have all experienced that sneaky couch nap at 5 pm that results in a super late bedtime! Quiet time will allow them to transition past the napping stage but stay reasonably rested and still being able to get to sleep at night.
Erica Hargaden is a certified Child Sleep Consultant with her private practice Babogue. She is the creator of The Sleep Series, which is an online sleep program that brings families closer to their sleep goals through her 7 Steps to Better Sleep. She also works with families 1:1 via her Virtual Sleep Solution. To learn more check out www.babogue.com, @babogue_sleep or email email@example.com