Toddler’s Nap – Tips And Facts On Smooth Transitions

Written by K. Masthoff • 
Image: Shutterstock

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Your toddler is a bundle of energy, never getting tired of exploring the world around him. In fact, his mind will never tell his body that it is exhausted. He will expend a lot of energy during his adventures, and this will deplete his energy levels. Hence, a timely nap is essential to recharge his batteries. Not napping will make him and everyone in the house tired and cranky.

Healthcare experts and psychologists agree that toddler naptime is important, and under no circumstances should toddlers be encouraged to forgo their afternoon naps, unless they are ready to give it up. Besides letting your little one get over his tiredness after non-stop running, playing and wreaking havoc around the house, naps facilitate proper growth and development and lay the foundation for proper emotional growth and development.

Naptime Routines:

Naptime routines are necessary. You would need to create a routine based on active your child is during the day, his feeding time, and when does he go to bed at night. If your child enjoys a late afternoon nap, it makes sense to wake your kid up a little earlier in the morning, so he sleeps early at night. On the other hand, if you think your kid requires more activity before going to bed, wake him up earlier than usual.

Most toddlers require about a 90-minute nap. An afternoon nap, unlike a late afternoon one, will not interfere with your child’s bedtime. Remember a well-rested toddler will settle down quicker for bedtime than one who is tired and fatigued.

[ Read: Best Bedtime Routines For Toddlers ]

Understand Your Child’s Changing Sleep Needs:

When your kid is an infant, he will require five to six naps a day. However, as he transitions to toddlerhood, the number of nap sessions decrease to two, usually one in the morning and another in the afternoon.

To understand the changing sleep needs of your child, you would have to consider the following:

1. Feeding Time:

Usually, the baby is sleepy an hour after feeding time. So if you give your little one a bottle at 9 am, the first naptime will be around 10 am.

2. Child’s Behavior:

Keep an eye on your child. You will know when he needs to have a nap. Rubbing the eyes, yawning, zoning out and fussing are some of the signals you will get. Usually, they appear all of a sudden and then you need to act quickly.

3. Age:

By the time your toddler is about 15 to 18 months, he will no longer require his morning nap. You will notice that your kid takes longer to sleep during the mornings or may wake up earlier than scheduled. Once this becomes a pattern, and you are certain your kid gets about 10 to 12 hours of sleep each night, you can change the morning naptime [1].

Once your child is five years old, he wouldn’t need the morning naps.

[ Read: Symptoms Of Insomnia In Toddlers ]

Sleep Needs By Age:

1. Birth To Six Months:

Infants need anywhere from 16 to 20 hours of sleep every day. Many young infants tend to sleep all day long, just waking up every two to three hours to feed. However, once these babies become about four months old, their circadian clock and rhythm get established.

2. Six To 12 Months:

By this time, your baby’s sleep pattern is more or less established. He will sleep about 11 hours each night and enjoy two naps of three to four hours during the day. He may not wake up for feeding, but, he may wake up crying as he may suffer from separation anxiety.

[ Read: Separation Anxiety in Babies ]

3. One To Three Years:

Toddlers usually need 10 to 13 hours of sleep, which includes an afternoon nap for one to three hours. If younger toddlers still require two naps, just make sure the afternoon nap doesn’t occur too close to bedtime.

4. Three To Five Years:

This is the age of preschoolers, who require 10 to 12 hours of sleep each night. They will also need one nap in the afternoon. A typical preschooler will give up the afternoon nap by the time he reaches the age of five.

5. Five To 12 Years:

School-going kids require around 10 to 12 hours of sleep at night. A five-year-old may need an afternoon nap, but if the school schedule doesn’t allow it, get your kid to bed early [2].

What To Do To Ease Nap Transitions?

Do not panic as different kids have different transitions time in that some might have a smoother transition and some might go days without sleeping. Here are some tips to ease nap transitions that you can use as your little one begins protesting.

1. Rest Time:

If your child doesn’t appear tired at naptime, don’t force him to sleep. Instead, insist on rest time where he has to stay in bed with some books and small toys. Tell him he has to play quietly for an hour. This will let your child get some rest while keeping himself entertained, and you will get a much-deserved break.

[ Read: Signs That Your Baby Is Tired ]

2. Adjust The Bedtime:

Since your toddler is no longer sleeping in the afternoon, it is important you adjust the bedtime so that he gets enough hours of sleep. A two-year-old requires 12 to 14 hours of sleep each day, a three-year-old about 11 to 13 hours, and four-year-olds and above require about 12 hours of sleep each day. So adjust the bedtime to ensure your kid sleeps the necessary number of hours every night. Make the bedtime early if your toddler is not taking an afternoon nap.

Why Does My Toddler Refuse To Nap?

There is a reason why toddlers protest about an afternoon nap, whether they need one or not. This is the child’s way of asserting himself. “Children this age are dealing with issues of autonomy and power,” says Karen Berberian, Ph.D. and a child psychologist associated with St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children in Philadelphia.

“They’re trying to establish themselves as independent people. This often means doing the opposite of what mommy and daddy want him to do,” explains Dr. Berberian.

When your kid is having a whale of a time, playing, running, and exploring his surroundings, he wouldn’t want it to come to an end. He doesn’t understand the concept of resting and relaxing in the midst of fun.

It is a huge transition for a child to go from a crib to a proper bed. He may feel lost and may resent giving up his crib. Do not force him into a bed and give it only when he asks for it.

When Will A Toddler Stop Needing A Nap?

When a kid stops needing a nap varies from child to child. Again, you need to look at the cues you get from your child. If your little one regularly wakes up early from an afternoon nap, he is getting ready to stop sleeping during the day.

Usually, by the time your child is ready for the nursery, he will stop daytime sleeping. He may sleep in the afternoon just on weekends. Don’t deny him this pleasure, as there are so many changes taking place in his life which are sapping his energy. So he will need to re-energize.

Signs Your Toddler Is Ready To Stop Napping:

“A toddler is ready to begin giving up naps when he remains consistently awake and alert at the usual sleep time,” explains Ms. Deborah Givan, Director of the Children’s Sleep Disorder Center, Riley Children’s Hospital, Indianapolis.

If you still have doubts, here are the signs you should keep an eye out for:

1. Fights Naps:

The sign of fighting naps is not staying in bed or telling you that he doesn’t want to take a nap. It is okay to replace this with quiet time.

2. Takes Long To Fall Asleep:

If your child is taking longer than usual to fall asleep, then he doesn’t need the sleep afternoon nap anymore.

3. Energetic Even Without A Nap:

If you aren’t dealing with a fussy, cranky child, and your child appears to be energetic and in a good mood, naptime days are over. However, remember on days when he has been over-active, he may still require a nap.

4. Sleeps Well At Nights:

If your child sleeps well at nights without a nap, he is ready to stop napping. Your toddler should get about 12 hours of sleep without waking up frequently at nights. If your child goes to bed and sleeps through the night, he may be ready to stop daytime naps.

5. Bedtime Is Becoming An Ordeal:

If your kid takes a long time to fall asleep at nights and calls you frequently, he may be ready to give up his afternoon nap. You may also notice your child waking up earlier than his usual time in the morning.

Signs Of Insufficient Sleep:

It is prudent to explain to your child that the bedtime you have fixed is right and healthy for him, as he may compare his nap times with other kids [3].

If your child doesn’t get sufficient sleep, he will have an issue controlling his feelings and emotions. As a result, your once-sweet and adorable toddler may have behavioral problems, attention issues, and poor performance at school. He may wake up earlier than usual, too!

How To Help Your Toddler Nap?

1. Create A Sleep Schedule:

Create a sleep schedule for your child. This schedule should have the time he should nap, wake up from a nap, bedtime, and wake up in the morning. Children enjoy consistency and routines, and once your toddler gets into a routine, his body clock will start functioning.

2. Keep Your Kid Away From Carbs And Sugar:

Between lunchtime and naptime, keep your kid away from sugar and carbohydrates. This will give him a burst of energy that he will need to expend. So nap will be the last thing on his mind.

3. Keep The Room Pleasant:

Do not make the room too cold or hot, and maintain an optimum temperature. Turn off the lights and the TV, to avoid distractions.

4. Give Your Child A Comfort Item:

Children have their favorite toys, such as a doll or stuffed animal. Let them take it to bed. It is a comfort item and will help them fall asleep as they hold on to it. Many children feel insecure when they are shifted from a crib to a bed. Holding a favorite toy would make them feel safe and secure, helping them sleep easily.

5. Back Rubs May Help:

If your toddler seems restless, give him a gentle back rub. Don’t speak to him, though. It will distract him and keep him away from sleeping.

Tips For A Good Nap:

1. Let Naps Play Out Naturally:

Your child’s naptime schedule will be set during infancy, and will occur around feeding time. It is best to stick to this plan, as it is a natural one. As an infant, your child will sleep anywhere from 16 to 20 hours. However, once he becomes a toddler, his need for sleep will reduce. Be prepared to put your little one in bed after the morning bottle and again after the midday bottle. In case your kid is in daycare, you will want to replicate the naptime that the daycare center has to avoid problems and hassles.

[ Read: Ways To Make Your Toddler Sleep Well ]

2. Don’t Let Your Toddler Nap In The Stroller:

It is so convenient to let your little one take the afternoon nap in the stroller. However, you should refrain from this practice as there is a risk of strangulation, entanglement in the straps and buckles, or suffocation. These are accidental, but stroller napping without being supervised is a big no-no. The same goes for car seats and bouncy seats.

3. Let The Morning Nap Drop Naturally:

do not depend on other children or parents and are them to change nap times. Look for cues in your little ones to know when they do not want to sleep in the noons.

4. Be Careful Of Dropping A Nap Too Soon:

The Internet has become a source of research for parents. You will find a lot of conflicting information. This can overwhelm you wondering what is right or wrong. Toddlers are filled with energy and need their nap time to rejuvenate themselves. So let them give you cues to show you they are ready to stop napping. Otherwise, you are going to have tired and sleep deprived kids on your hands.

5. Keep Naps Short:

Learn to keep the nap short, around 90 minutes at the most, as it would not hinder with sleep at night. After the time is up, gently wake up your child. Be around till he is wide awake and aware of his surroundings.

What If Your Child Won’t Nap?

Don’t let your child’s naptime slip. You may think it is not that important, but a study by the University of Colorado Boulder says otherwise. Researchers have found that toddlers between the ages of two and a half and three may be more anxious, less joyful, demonstrate less interest, and have a poor understanding of solving problems if they do not enjoy a daily nap [4].

Assistant Professor Monique LeBourgeois, who led the study, says, “Many young children today are not getting enough sleep, and for toddlers, daytime naps are one way of making sure their ‘sleep tanks’ are set to full each day.

“This study shows insufficient sleep in the form of missing a nap taxes the way toddlers express different feelings, and, over time, may shape their developing emotional brains and put them at risk for lifelong, mood-related problems.”

So if your child doesn’t nap, it will be bad for him and you. That’s why we, at MomJunction, have compiled a few tips to ensure your little angel get the nap his body needs.

1. Fresh Air:

Fresh air can work wonders, especially with tired and fussy toddlers. Take your little one in a stroller to a nearby park. The fresh air will relax him, and he may end up snoozing in the stroller. But do not leave him there.

[ Read: Tips To Inculcate Good Sleep Habits In Babies ]

2. Read A Story:

Put your toddler in bed and read him a story. Read a relaxed story that doesn’t get him excited. Make sure while you read your kid lies down. Getting rest for even 30 minutes will help him get over fatigue.

3. Lie With Teddy:

If your kid has a favorite stuffed toy, let him take the toy to bed. Ask him to cuddle the toy while lying down for about 30 minutes. Insist conversations between him and the toy should be soft and muted. This should keep him quiet and in bed to get over his tiredness.

Lastly, if after your best efforts, your toddler refuses to sleep or sleeps too much, you may want to consult a pediatrician. Your little one could be having an underlying health condition. With an accurate diagnosis and the right treatment, your bundle of joy will be hale and hearty, ready to nap or fight over his naptime.

Tell us if your kid sleeps well or if you have some secret tips to help their napping!

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