I’ve spoken with a lot of mom groups recently, and when we broach the topic of dropping naps altogether, I get some faces.
It’s scary to think about your little one no longer taking a nap! One, how are you going to survive without that midday rest, and two, won’t they be so tired??
Let’s chat about why dropping your child’s nap can actually be a positive thing. But first…
At What Age Do Most Kids Stop Napping?
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.
Yes, I’ve heard of the 4 and 5 year olds who are still napping every day and still sleeping well at night, but I will tell you that’s rare!
If an older child is still napping at that age, there’s a good chance bedtime is a struggle and/0r they aren’t able to get a full night of sleep. And by full night of sleep, I’m talking 10-12 hours.
I’ll be honest, 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.
Signs It’s Time for Your Child to Stop Napping
Bedtime becomes a battle or gets really late
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 an issue of not knowing how to sleep.
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! And this is the most common sign it’s time for a child to stop napping – in order to be tired enough to sleep, bedtime needs to get later and later.
Early Morning Wakings
Another common sign it’s time for your child to stop taking naps is that they’re waking up really early in the morning.
Your child may still be taking a great nap during the day and falling asleep well at bedtime, but if they’re regularly starting their day before 6:00 am, they’re likely maxing out on how much sleep they need in a 24-hour period and simply can’t sleep any longer.
Once they stop napping, they will have enough sleep pressure to make it through the night.
How Sleep Regression Impact This Transition
Developmental changes can often cause sleep regressions, and as most kids go through a huge language burst around 2.5 years old, try to hang tight before making any drastic changes to your child’s sleep simply because you’ve had a few off days or nights.
My general rule of thumb is to wait about two weeks before making a big nap transition like this, so when Olivia started struggling at bedtime, we did just that – we waited. We made small tweaks here and there, like capping her nap and pushing bedtime back later, but we did not simply stop offering her a nap after a few off days.
But when nothing changed over those two weeks, we knew it was time to make a bigger change.
When your child’s nap is interfering with their nighttime sleep, you have two choices:
Option 1- Drop the nap and bring bedtime earlier
This is 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 for when your child no longer takes a nap:
- 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.”]
What should you do if your child still naps at daycare/preschool but not at home?
If your child is around the age of 3 and still naps at daycare but not at home, I know it’s frustrating, but it’s not because you’re doing anything wrong. Your little one just doesn’t need that nap anymore!
At daycare, kids have what we call a “herd mentality” – everyone else is sleeping, so that’s just what I do!
However, if your child naps every day at daycare and not at home, you’ll likely see some bedtime challenges. Bedtime may be especially challenging during the week, as your little one just isn’t tired enough. And then you aren’t sure what kind of schedule to follow on the weekend.
If this is the case, talk to your daycare/preschool! Ask them if there’s any way your child can go to another room during nap time and play with kids who no longer nap.
Or ask if you can send in some quiet activities for your child to play with, so while the other kids nap they can still rest but not sleep!
If your daycare has some sort of napping requirement, ask them to wake your child as soon as they are able, so you can still put them to bed at a reasonable time.
Remember, you are your child’s greatest advocate and your childcare providers want what’s best for your little one!
While it can seem overwhelming to think about your child not taking a nap anymore, it’s worth it for her sleep! And yours.
And I strongly recommend you replace that previous nap time with a quiet time so you can all still enjoy a mid-day rest.