You’ve heard it all before. Every kid is different. Yours will be different from your friend’s, and yours will even be different than each other. Many times, there’s no rhyme or reason to the answers to your questions, because there’s more than one right answer.
So the question at hand is when do kids stop napping? Well, there are some telltale signs that may indicate your child is ready to stop napping, but you’ll want to continue to pursue the nap until you’re absolutely sure they’re ready to give it up.
Why Naps are Important
Sleep is important for your child’s growth. The number of hours they sleep doesn’t change much as they grow, but when they sleep does. There’s plenty of research to suggest that both physical and mental development happens when your child is sleeping.
Spoiler alert: you may not have a teenager yet, but gear up, because sleep is just as important for them as it is for your toddler. They may give up a nap, but they still need lots of rest.
Kids who nap well are less fussy and have longer attention spans than children who don’t. Sleep tends to promote sleep, so when your child naps during the day, they’ll likely sleep better at night, too.
Creating Great Nappers
It can be tough to reprogram your child to nap well, especially if their genetic disposition is to be more active and restless. Have you noticed that some adults function perfectly fine on only 4 hours of sleep a night while others need a lot more?
Kids are the same way. While kids need more sleep than adults, every kid is different. Your child may be a naturally short or restless napper. In fact, studies have found that children (even twins), raised in the same environment with the same routine will have drastically different sleep patterns.
If your child only naps for an hour, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to get them to sleep for three hours a day consistently. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t create a naptime environment that helps them sleep better, regardless of length.
Keep a schedule, encourage quiet activities during naptime, and don’t wait too late in the day to start the nap.
Keeping a Schedule
It can be hard to run errands, make plans, or get things done during the day when you have to work around a nap schedule. But it is helpful to stick to a schedule as much as you can. If you keep your child’s sleeping times consistent, it’s likely their internal clock will sync to this schedule.
This makes it easier for you to promote good sleep naturally and make sure your child gets good, restful sleep. Naptime and bedtime will go much more smoothly when you’re consistent, much like discipline.
That doesn’t mean you can’t take a break from this schedule if you need to. You can make special plans, take family vacations, and schedule doctor’s appointments. Most kids will adjust and resume their nap schedule when you return.
When to Take Naps
Infants sleep a lot, and up to one year of age, they typically take multiple naps a day. When these naps happen varies by child, but you should let your very young children take the lead. They will fall asleep when they need to, or they will give you very clear signs that it’s time to lie down for a nap.
As your child transitions to one nap during the day, they will still show you signs that they need some sleep.The best time for these single naps are early in the afternoon. It allows them to eat breakfast, play, eat lunch, and exert some energy before going to sleep again.
It also ensures they don’t sleep too late in the day, which could conflict with bedtime. If your child stays up too late and wakes up tired in the morning, they may take a morning nap and skip the afternoon nap. If that’s the case, your child needs to go to bed earlier.
Where Your Child Naps
Infants will fall asleep wherever they are. Once your child reaches a few months of age, they may need more restful sleep. The car, the mall, or your arms may no longer be the best place for them to get some shut eye.
Older babies and toddlers should start getting used to a sleep schedule, which will include a designated place for napping. Their crib is a great place to start, because they should already associate that with sleeping at night.
However, some children respond better to a special napping spot that’s different from their bed. It should be quiet and dim, but you can provide them with some quiet activities to soothe them and offer gentle music or white noise if you like.
Naps Affecting Bedtime
Some parents worry that an afternoon nap will affect a child’s bedtime, but this is unlikely. The opposite will actually occur. If your child skips their nap before they’re ready, this will result in overstimulation, causing them to have a hard time settling down for bed.
From 2 Naps to 1
At some point, your child will transition from two naps a day down to one. This is one of those significant changes in schedule that may throw you for a loop. Between 18 and 24 months, most kids will be able to stay awake longer in the morning and only take a nap at midday.
Because every child is different, some will take a nap right after lunch while others may wait until mid afternoon to get sleepy. If your child doesn’t yet show signs that they’re ready to transition to one nap a day, don’t fret. They still need the sleep, and that’s just fine.
Either way, you’ll start to notice a more energetic little one through the morning. They may resist a nap if you try to make them, or it may happen naturally over the course of a couple of days and you’ll realize that no one started to get fussy when they normally do.
No matter how it happens, when your child transitions from two naps to one, they will probably take a longer nap than usual when they make the change. Resist the urge to wake them up until you spend a few days feeling out how the afternoon naps go.
Another sign your child may be ready to ditch the nap is when they start skipping naps, whether by chance or by choice. Maybe you’ve had a few busy days of running errands, forcing your child to skip. Or maybe you decided to try skipping a few naps to see how it goes.
Either way, if your child skips a few days worth of naps and seems to be handling it well, it may be time.
Trouble Falling Asleep
If your toddler starts having some trouble falling asleep at naptime or bedtime, it may be a sign that they simply don’t need that much rest anymore. This happens at a different age for every child.
Some kids will be ready to give up their nap at 3 or 4 years old while others may still need a nap even after they start kindergarten. Kids who aren’t ready to give up a nap when they start school can sometimes struggle with being too tired during the week.
It’s important that if that’s the case, you spend the summer before they start school gradually getting rid of the nap. Teaching them to cope without a nap will be important for their behavior in school.
That doesn’t mean they can’t ever take a nap again. Weekends and days off of school are great times to catch up on some much needed sleep. By first grade, your child should be ready to go all day without any more naps.
Signs You Shouldn’t Give Up the Nap
Around age 3 or 4, our child may start to show signs that they’re ready to give up their nap. These signs can give you a clue that it’s time to try a few days without a nap and see what happens.
But it’s up to you to determine whether they’re really ready or not. Don’t give up the nap just yet if your child still shows signs they need it.
If your child still shows signs of sleepiness later in the day, they probably should have had a nap. If they start to slow down, yawn excessively, rub their eyes, or get cranky. You may spend a few days skipping the nap and notice that your child is still tired.
Falls asleep too early
If you skip the nap and your child falls asleep way before bedtime, it may mean they still need those extra z’s to get through the day. Falling asleep too early at bedtime could result in:
- waking up too early in the morning
- not sleeping through the night
- waking up after a two hour nap at 6 or 7pm and then staying up way too late
If your child still naps well, it’s likely not time to give up the nap at all. You may not even want to try it. If they go down at naptime without a fuss, sleep for a couple of hours, have a good afternoon attitude, and still fall asleep fine at bedtime, give it a few more months before you try it.
Change of attitude
It’s definitely not time to give up the nap if your child is excessively grumpy in the afternoon. Many children have an emotional response to lack of sleep, but this emotional response is different for everyone.
This can manifest is grumpiness, behavior issues like defiance, fussiness, crying for no reason, or any other change in attitude that’s not normal for your child.
Tips to Stop Napping
It’s hard to force a transition away from napping, especially if you feel like your child still needs it. However, sometimes you need to help them along. This looks different for everyone. Some toddlers will handle the transition well while others may need to switch over more gradually.
To nap or not to nap
If you have a child that will sometimes nap and sometimes not, it can be quite easy to transition away from a nap. Some children will start skipping naps on their own. It may start as an every other day type of thing and gradually work its way up to several days at a time without a nap.
While it may seem aggravating to you at first, it’s a blessing that your child is learning how to get by without a nap on their own. It’s normal and healthy for them to do it this way.
Sometimes navigating no-nap territory requires adjusting the bedtime routine just a bit to make it easier. When your child first starts skipping the nap, they may get tired earlier in the evening.
Overall sleep amounts may need to stay roughly the same for a while until your child can make it from the alarm in the morning to their normal bedtime at night. Bring bedtime up by about an hour to compensate for the nap they’re losing in the afternoon.
If your child normally sleeps for more than an hour in the afternoon, they may not be ready to give it up just yet, or you may have to adjust bedtime even more to make up for it.
If your child doesn’t seem tired at their normal naptime, don’t force it. This can help you transition away from it pretty easily. Especially if they start fighting you to take a nap, that can be an easy clue that you need to pick your battles.
Don’t make your toddler sleep at naptime if they don’t seem like they need to. Not only will it make it easier to get away from the midday nap, but it will also save you some frustration.
At our house, there are four kids. The two youngest were still napping while the oldest had already grown out of that stage and number two was beginning to transition away. That meant we still have to make time for naps, even though not everyone was taking them.
We implemented what we called “quiet time.” The great thing about calling it quiet time was that the ones who were resisting sleep would comply a whole lot easier. Mostly because they knew sleeping was no longer required if they didn’t want to. There was no fighting about naptime, because it wasn’t naptime anymore.
It’s important that as you transition away from naptime, you still give your child a chance to rest during the day. We gave our kids a choice of several quiet activities they could do on their own.
Coloring, reading, doing a puzzle, or playing with another quiet toy allowed the younger ones to fall asleep without any distractions while the older ones could get some rest, re-energize for the afternoon, and still take a snooze on days when they needed it.
Seeing a Doctor
There are times when your child is resistant to give up a nap when you think they should be ready or your child simply will. not. nap. even though they still should. While either of these things could be perfectly normal, you can certainly talk to your pediatrician if you’re worried about it.
Reasons why your older child still naps could include:
- boredom throughout the day
- a change in diet
- a medical condition
- a sleep disorder
Don’t jump to any conclusions just yet. Keep a sleep log and a food journal, then talk to your doctor.
If your child is resisting naps but still desperately needs the sleep, your doctor can help you with some suggestions to get them some more rest or you can work with a sleep consultant, which seems to work for some parents.
There may be nothing wrong other than your child’s FOMO (fear of missing out). Nightmares could result in a fear of falling asleep, too. You can attempt to get your child’s naps back on track by yourself in a variety of ways:
- help them calm down 15-20 minutes before naptime
- create a quiet rest area void of any loud talking or activities
- look for signs they’re ready to lie down so you don’t miss their sleep window
- adjust naptime or bedtime accordingly to promote better rest
- improve their diet by removing candy, soda, and other excess sugars while increasing their amount of healthy, balanced foods
Giving Up the Nap
The moral of the story is there’s no one right answer. You need to pay attention to your child’s needs and do what’s right for them. After all, you know them better than anyone. Don’t give up the nap before they’re ready, but don’t force them to nap if they seem fine without it.
This can happen anywhere between 24 months and 6 years old, so don’t stress too much about how your child differs from anyone else. Your children may even be vastly different from each other.
Remember how important sleep is to your child, but be flexible when attempting to navigate away from the nap because they will likely need some time to adjust.