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??
I promise you, you’ll make it. It’s not an easy transition, but once you’re on the other side, it’s really freeing! And you don’t have to lost that mid-afternoon rest time, you can replace their nap with a quiet time!
In this blog post, I will walk you through:
- When/at what age most toddlers/preschoolers are ready to stop napping
- Signs it’s time for your child to stop taking a nap
- How to go about dropping your child’s final nap
- Tips to help your child adjust to not taking a nap anymore
- How to navigate dropping the final nap with daycare
What age do toddlers/preschoolers usually stop taking a nap?
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 bit longer.
And 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.
This is embarrassing to admit, but I always had some notion that my child would surely keep napping until at least the age of 3, because I was a sleep consultant and I was obviously 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 about dropping a toddler or preschooler’s final nap from both my professional training and personal experience.
Signs It’s Time for Your Child to Stop Napping
1. 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, until it’s just too late. And I really don’t want to see bedtime get later than 8:30 pm at this age, because we want to ensure kids can get a full 10-12 hours of overnight sleep.
Not to mention that our youngest was in bed by 7 pm, so having another kiddo awake until 8:30 pm was just too late for us…my hubby and I needed down time!
2. Night wakings or early morning wakings creep in
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 may be maxing out on how much sleep they need in a 24-hour period and simply can’t sleep any longer.
You can start by first capping their nap and waking them up earlier than usual, but if you’ve already capped their nap at 45-60 minutes and it’s still not making a difference, it’s time for them to stop napping altogether.
Similarly, that nap may cause night wakings that haven’t existed in a long time! And that’s due to a lack of sleep pressure – they just don’t have enough of it to both fall and stay asleep all night long.
And once they stop napping, they will have enough sleep pressure to make it through the night and to a decent time in the morning!
3. Your toddler/preschooler simply stops napping!
This one might seem a bit more obvious, but this can happen, as well! Sometimes toddlers or preschoolers simply stop napping – they’re just not tired enough in the afternoon to actually fall asleep!
They may contentedly not nap (i.e. chat, sing, and play in their crib the whole time) or they may protest the nap (i.e. crying and yelling), but they simply won’t nap anymore.
And ideally nap time won’t start much later than 1 pm – they may be ready for a nap come 3-4 pm, but that is getting way too close to bedtime and will absolutely impact how your child falls asleep and/or stays asleep through the night.
How to tell the difference between a temporary sleep regression versus needing to stop napping altogether?
Developmental changes can often cause sleep regressions, and as most kids go through a huge language burst around 2 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.
So, when your child’s nap is interfering with their nighttime sleep and this has been going on for about two weeks, you have two choices.
Option 1- Drop the nap
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 later and later just wasn’t an option (it would have been around 9 pm!), so we dropped her nap altogether! And the best way to do this is to just cut it cold turkey.
How to adjust the schedule when your child stops napping
The most important part of this transition is an EARLY BEDTIME! Your little one will be TIRED come even 5 pm, and trying to push them to even a 7 pm bedtime is going to be rough at the beginning.
So when your child first stops napping, aim to have them in bed, lights out, kissing them goodnight, around 6/6:15 pm (this is based on the classic “7-7 schedule” being your end goal). I know that sounds crazy early, and it is, but it’s necessary! Then after a week or so, if things are going well, push their bedtime 15 minutes later. Then after another week or so, 15 minutes later again, and before you know it, you’ll be at 7 pm.
If at any time you push bedtime back a bit later (i.e. from 6:30 to 6:45 pm) and your little one has a harder time falling asleep, or stirs more in the night, or wakes earlier in the morning, go back to that previous time (6:30, in this example) for another week or so to help them further adjust and avoid more overtiredness.
Many parents get nervous about this early bedtime because they’re worried their child will now wake up extra early in the morning, but hear me when I say, that will very likely not be the case! Your little one will essentially “tag on” the sleep they didn’t get that afternoon and still wake up at their usual wake up time – or potentially even sleep in a bit later. And if you haven’t starting using a toddler clock yet, this is a great time to introduce one so there is some sort of boundary around when it’s actually morning time.
A few extra tips when your child stops napping:
- Establish a quiet time in place of nap time. This is helpful both for your little one to still have a rest period during the day, and for you!
- If your child happens to doze during quiet time (this happened to us a few times!), wake them up after 20-30 minutes so it doesn’t throw off the new norm you’re establishing at bedtime.
- Have another rest and snack time around 3/4 pm. This tends to be when kiddos who are still adjusting to no longer taking a nap 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.
- Try to avoid any longer car trips in that late afternoon/pre-dinner window so your child doesn’t catch a quick snooze!
- Note that it usually takes around 4-6 weeks for a child to fully adjust to any nap transition, and that is absolutely the case when your little one stops napping altogether. You may find that your toddler or preschooler still really hits a wall come 3 pm, or it may take a solid month+ before their bedtime actually sits at a consistent 7 pm, and that’s all very normal!
Option 2- Keep the nap and push bedtime later
Some kids still nap at daycare or preschool (read below for more tips here!) or some parents just really aren’t ready to lose that midday nap time, and I get it! You can hang on to that nap even longer if it’s working for your child and family.
If this is you, this will likely look like an afternoon nap, a later bedtime, and less overnight sleep. Your child will still be getting the same amount of sleep over 24 hours, but it will be broken up instead of altogether.
For example, your little one may nap from 12:30-2:30, then go to bed around 8:30, and wake up for the day at 6:30. Rather than getting a full 11-12 hours of overnight sleep, they’ll get more like 9-10 hours of overnight sleep, plus a 1-2 hour nap in the afternoon. And toddlers need between 11-14 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period, so that would work out just fine!
I will be honest, however, 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 or stay 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 to 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! But 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, at some point you’ll likely see some bedtime challenges emerge. 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. Realistically, this may look like an 8:30 or 9 pm bedtime during the week and a 6:30/7 pm bedtime on the weekends, and sometimes that’s just the way it has to be for the time being!
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 their 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.
If you’re having trouble determining if your child is ready for this transition, or you’d like help navigating dropping the nap, don’t hesitate to book a discovery call and I’d love to chat with you about how I can support you in this process!