I’ve spoken with a lot of mom groups recently, and when we broach the topic of dropping naps altogether, I get some faces. I tell moms that it’s generally time to drop that final nap around age 3, although for some it comes as early as 2.5, and others might still be able to hang on a few months past 3. Whenever I shared that, I always had some notion that my child would surely keep napping until age 3, because I was just going to get lucky.
Well, I’m writing this after dropping my not-yet-three-year-old’s nap…HA! Now that we’ve reached this milestone with Olivia, I’m sharing from both my professional training and personal experience.
Olivia’s sleep has surely had it’s ups and downs, but since we sleep trained her at 10 months, she’s been a pretty great sleeper overall. I’m so thankful I became a sleep consultant when I did, because her language burst in her early toddler days gave us a run for our money, and several moves and transitions over a short period of time rocked her sleep again. Most recently, we had some trouble with her naps, but I was thankfully able to put my sleep consultant hat on and problem solve, and we were back to normal.
Our most recent “hiccup” was with Olivia’s night time sleep, and no matter what we did, she protested. She still fell asleep at nap time easily, happily singing and talking to herself, so I knew it wasn’t a sleep skills issue. But whether we let her nap as long as she wanted, woke her up after just an hour, pushed her bedtime later, etc, she would protest at bedtime. Sometimes it would only last a few minutes, but more often than not, her protest would last 30-60 minutes, and she wouldn’t fall asleep until 8:30 or 9:00 pm.
Did you catch that? Her nap was NOT the problem; it all came out at bedtime! I know that developmental changes can often cause sleep regressions, so we held on tight for two weeks, making tweeks here and there and hoping it would pass. But after two weeks, it didn’t, so we had to make a choice.
Option 1- Drop the nap and bring bedtime earlier (and the one I suggest!)
For Jason and me, our evenings are our time. That’s when we eat cookies and watch our favorite TV show. Or we catch up on work. Or he hangs with his dudes, or I hang with a girlfriend. I might paint, he might play video games. After a long day of work and parenting, that time is for US! Pushing Olivia’s bedtime back just wasn’t an option, so we dropped her nap altogether! And the best way to do this is to just cut it cold turkey. If we offered her a nap some days but not others, it would confuse her and also throw off her body clock. It’s not hard while being quarantined, but we make sure not to have any longer car trips in that late afternoon/pre-dinner window, because a car nap would relieve enough sleep pressure to bring us right back to that bedtime protesting!
A few extra tips:
- Establish a quiet time in place of nap time (blog post to come once we’re fully on the other side!). Start small and make sure your child understands what’s expected.
- Have another rest time around 4:00 pm; this tends to be when kiddos who are still transitioning tend to crash. This is a good time to allow your child to watch a little TV, or have a snuggle and read time with mom or dad; this extra down time will help your child unwind and reset before dinner.
- Set an earlier bedtime while transitioning! Olivia has been going to bed by 6:15 or 6:30 pm every night as she adjusts. She’s still sleeping until 7:15/7:30 am, so she clearly needs it! And as she keeps adjusting, we’ll push her bedtime back until it lands on 7:00 pm.
Option 2- Keep the nap and push bedtime later
Before we dropped her nap, Olivia was still sleeping through the night until 7:30 am, and like I said, she easily took a 1.5 hour nap, sometimes 2 hours if we let her; so she was still getting 12+ hours of sleep in a 24 hour period. So if we really didn’t want to lose that nap time in the afternoon, we could have pushed bedtime back to 8:30 or 9:00 pm so she had enough sleep pressure to fall asleep. She very likely would have still woken up around 7:00 or 7:30 every morning, because her body clock is so set, only giving her about 10 hours of night time sleep, so the nap would be really important (toddlers need 11-14 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period).
[I will be honest and say that this option doesn’t always work! One, that nap may still release too much sleep pressure for your child to be able to fall asleep well. Two, kids’ body clocks are often set and connected around the rising and setting of the sun, as that natural light is a big cue for our bodies. So even with the right amount of sleep pressure, a later bedtime could cause for more moodiness around bedtime because it’s against your child’s “nature.”]