This is the ultimate guide to toddler naps based on current sleep research.
In this guide we will show you:
- What age toddlers stop napping
- How much sleep toddlers need
- How to help toddlers drop afternoon nap
- How to introduce quiet time to toddlers
- Current toddler sleep research
- Lots more
TODDLER NAP BASICS
In this section, we will cover the basics of toddler naps.
Beginning with at what age children considered toddlers.
We then look at how much sleep toddlers need and at what age they typically drop their naps.
How Old Are Toddlers?
TODDLER: The word toddler is derived from “to toddle’, which means to walk unsteadily like how a small child moves when learning to walk.
Interestingly, ‘what age is a toddler’ is not an easy answer. Many define a toddler as a child 12 to 36 months old. The end of the toddler years being when a child is ready to transition to preschool and is then considered a Preschooler. Others like to consider a toddler any child between 1 year to 5 years with the end of the toddler age being when the child transitions to elementary school.
For purposes of this guide we consider toddlers to be between 1 and 5 years, but we will refer to toddlers between 1 and 3 as younger and toddlers between 3 and 5 to be older. As there is no formal definition of a toddler this just allows this guide to be more complete for a larger age group.
How Long Should a Toddler Nap?
In order to answer how long a toddler should nap it is best to ask how much sleep should a toddler get. Toddlers will start to fight naps or shorten their night sleep if they are getting too much sleep in a 24-hour period.
The National Sleep Foundation estimates the following sleep amounts for toddlers
1-3 year olds need 12-14 hours of sleep and 3-6 year olds need 11-13 hours of sleep daily.
Naps and nighttime sleep can be adjusted based on total hours during a day. For example, if a toddler is currently fighting her afternoon nap it might be that she now needs less total sleep and it is only natural for her to sleep less during the day. If you force the nap the consequence could be that she will now sleep less at night.
When Do Toddlers Stop Taking Naps?
Every child is different and will follow her own natural rhythm, but there are basic statistics that can help guide parents.
- By 18 months all or most young toddlers have dropped their morning naps.
- By 4 years old 50% of older toddlers will have dropped their afternoon naps.
- By 5 years old 70% will stop napping, with 3 in 10 still napping past this age.
When we talk about naps in this guide we define a nap as when the child is actually sleeping as opposed to quiet time, which we will talk about later in this guide.
TODDLER NAP RESEARCH
In this section, we will show you what the experts are saying about toddler naps.
More research must still be done on the area of toddlers and napping, but there are a few that shed some new light on whether older toddlers need to nap or not.
Importance Of The Afternoon Nap
Sleep is hugely important for growing children and is a major requirement for good health and emotional wellbeing. Previously it was believed that the afternoon nap was necessary for a toddler’s brain to recharge from the activity during the day, but more current research suggests that after 2 years old nighttime sleep is best and naps are only to supplement.
After the age of two, some toddlers begin to fight the nap and parents find themselves in a situation where naptime becomes a struggle. These parents are in luck as toddlers over 2 years old may be better off without daily naps. Karen Thorpe, a developmental psychologist at Queensland University of Technology in Australia, and her colleagues Simon Smith and Sally Staton concluded after analyzing 26 studies on napping in a systematic review that naps are only beneficial if they are needed. What is more important is nighttime sleep.
Nighttime Sleep And Naps
What most of the research has seen is that after 2 years old the afternoon nap starts to interfere with the quality and duration of night sleep. This is actually a problem because toddlers “need to have an adequate amount of slow-wave sleep for brain restoration to happen,” according to Mark Mahone, child neuropsychologist at Kennedy Krieger Institute. The best time for this slow-wave sleep is not during the afternoon nap but during the longer nighttime sleep. Mahone states that older toddlers use sleep to regulate their emotions and reinforce concepts learned during the day and this is why nighttime sleep is more regenerative than the daytime nap.
Janet Lam from the Kennedy Krieger Institute actually found in a pilot study with preschoolers that when preschool children who typically take naps were put on a 5-day period of nap restriction their nighttime sleep increased. These same children also had better attention compared to when they napped during the day.
Naps are still important for toddlers, but when their brains no longer need the afternoon nap or do not need as long of a nap it is best not to force it. The length and quality of nighttime sleep are the most important.
HOW LONG TO LET YOUR TODDLER CRY IT OUT?
Is it necessary to have your toddler cry it out at naptime?
We look at why your toddler is fighting naps and what it means for your toddler.
First let us look at why your toddler might be fighting the nap. Is she overtired? Is she sick? Overstimulated? These are some possibilities for why your child is fighting the nap.
If you suspect overtiredness, try moving the naptime up 15 to 30 minutes earlier to see if this solves any of the naptime struggles. A sick child will not sleep for many reasons. Coughs and a stuffy nose are only some of the reasons that your child may not be sleeping well. A trip to the Pediatrician is recommended. As for overstimulation try to start quiet playtime 20-30 minutes before naptime. This is a great way to calm your toddler down and prepare him for naptime.
Many parents resort to the popular cry it out method for nighttime sleeping, but according to Dr. Harvey Karp, a baby and toddler sleep expert, this is not for naps. Some kids can cry for the entire nap, making the method ineffective. Dr. Karp suggests other methods for dealing with naptime struggles. These methods work well for young toddlers who still need their naps.
The difficult part for a parent is discovering whether your child still needs their nap or if she is ready to drop their nap. As we mentioned above, two-year-olds typically still need a nap in the afternoon. If your child is not napping and is getting cranky and overtired in the late afternoon, this is a pretty good indicator that she still needs her nap. Look to Dr. Karp’s methods for some other methods for maintaining the afternoon nap.
Between three and four many toddlers decide to drop their afternoon nap and the fight for the nap will end. We talk about when to drop this nap next.
IS YOUR TODDLER READY TO DROP NAP?
Let’s dive into whether your toddler is ready to drop her nap.
We provide some signs to look for when your toddler is ready to drop her nap.
Let’s get started.
So you have read the research and you think your toddler is ready to drop their nap, but how do you know for sure? As with everything when it comes to children, you just try and see what happens.
Some clear signs that your toddler is ready for the transition:
1) Regularly fighting the nap or bedtime.
2) Jumping in and out of their bed at night or at naptime.
3) Laughing, singing, playing more than an hour at night.
Sometimes it is the bedtime that the toddler is fighting, not naptime. This is a big indicator that your child is ready to drop or reduce their nap. As we mentioned earlier, nighttime sleep is more important than sleep that happens during naptime. Therefore if a toddler is taking a long time to fall asleep at night this usually means that the nap is too long or too close to bedtime.
If your child is sleeping well at night and seems to want/need their naps then go ahead and keep the nap.
Sleep is beneficial to a growing child, but if they are definitely fighting the nap or bedtime there are some ways to ease into dropping the nap.
Before getting rid of the nap completely, try starting the nap earlier. Naptime and bedtime might be too close together. Another way to determine whether your toddler is ready is to skip the nap for a couple of days and see how your child does. This may mean that you move bedtime up a bit.
For the days that you will be skipping the nap try quiet time during the regular naptime. We will explain what quiet time is in the next Chapter.
DROPPING AFTERNOON NAP: QUIET TIME
Let’s dive in and talk about how to go about dropping the nap.
We are going to end this guide with the best tactic for winning the toddler nap fight: quiet time.
We will be talking about the benefits and how to introduce quiet time to toddlers.
You will thank us after you realize how great quiet time is.
What Is Quiet Time?
So, your toddler is ready to drop her nap. Now begins the fun part of introducing daily quiet time for kids.
One of the biggest reasons that parents fight dropping the afternoon nap is because naptime is parent time. It is time to catch up on sleep, prep dinner and recoup.
Quiet time is a way to preserve this special time for yourself but is one of the best things you can do for your child’s development. Ashley Soderlund, PH.D. stresses that quiet time has long term benefits for all children, not just toddlers. This unstructured time promotes creativity, increases autonomy and provides a chance to recenter and recharge.
How Long Is Quiet Time?
The best way to introduce quiet time is to treat this time as you did naptime. This can be anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours depending on your child. It is good to start slow. Tell your toddler to play quietly in their room and then check on them every ten minutes praising how well they are playing quietly.
In the beginning, they may not be able to go for very long and you will need to give them suggestions for what to do during this time. Eventually, they will let their creativity lead the way. Research shows that boredom leads to creativity, so do not worry if your child screams that they are bored. This is a good thing.
What To Do During Quiet Time?
Some suggestions for what your toddler can do during quiet time are reading books, coloring, playing with blocks, legos, dolls, trains, puzzles or stuffed animals. Papap Pony is a great toy to introduce for quiet time as she has her own book that toddlers can look at while cuddling with her.
Many parents create quiet time boxes that contain quiet activities kids can play with only during this time. They then rotate the activities so as to keep things interesting.
Quiet Time Space
The perfect space for quiet time is the bedroom where your child used to take their naps. This is the easiest transition. As mentioned above, treat quiet time just as you did naptime. Perform all the pre-nap preparations that you normally do. This way if the child chooses to take a nap on a certain day, they can. Be sure to remove any loud or dangerous toys from the room. These would be toys that play music or need parent supervision.
It should be noted that the room should be safe for a toddler to play in on their own. The outlets should be covered, cords tied up and out of reach and all furniture latched to the wall. A baby monitor is recommended.
Quiet Time Rules
It is great to give kids freedom, but with guardrails. It is best to set up a few rules to help quiet time go smoothly. Here are some suggestions to start with.
- Toddler must stay in their room during quiet time.
- Only quiet toys and no loud music.
- Decide on whether you allow food or not. Many parents schedule quiet time after lunch or provide a snack after as a reward.
- Determine the best way to handle if your child needs you during quiet time. This can quickly turn into a way to manipulate you into playing, so choose how you handle this carefully. The idea is to create a situation where your child does not need your help during this time. All toys should be able to be played with, opened and closed without your assistance.
- Think about how you will deal with the potty if they need to use it. Do they need your help? How can they ask you to help them? Do you give them access to the potty during this time or make sure they use the bathroom before quiet time.
As a parent of a toddler, it is helpful to prepare for the situations that you know will occur and be ready with an easy rule or answer.
Now It’s Your Turn
We would love to hear any nap techniques or stories that you may have and incorporate them into this guide.
Once you start dropping your toddler’s nap, let us know how it went by emailing or messaging us @papappony. This guide is constantly being updated. Your suggestions and comments will help other parents of toddlers go through this tough transition.