Sleep. It’s one of the things parents think about, talk about and sometimes stress about most. As children get older, they will start to need less and less sleep. Babies drop naps as they get older, bedtimes get pushed back and eventually, sometime during toddler-hood, your child will stop napping completely. But, how do you know when they are ready to stop napping?
Biologically speaking, most kids are ready to drop naps around age three. This can vary greatly from child to child, though. Some are ready to stop napping closer to 2 1/2 and others are not ready until they are well over 3 years old.
SIGNS TO LOOK FOR:
YOUR CHILD STARTS TO FIGHT NAPS
Whether he physically won’t stay in bed, or verbally tells you he doesn’t want to take a nap, your child is making it known that he doesn’t want to nap anymore.
ON DAYS WHEN THEY DO NAP, IT TAKES THEM A VERY LONG TIME TO FALL ASLEEP
If your child is in the bed for a long time before falling asleep, your child may not actually need to sleep. Instead, think about starting a daily rest time (more information on that below).
YOUR CHILD HAS GOOD ENERGY AND A GENERALLY CONSISTENT MOOD ALL DAY LONG
In other words, your child can make it from morning till bedtime without becoming overly cranky, fussy or disagreeable they may no longer need a daily nap. However, all toddlers have their moments, so this one is relative. Think about what is normal behavior for your child, and use that as a gauge.
YOUR CHILD SLEEPS WELL AT NIGHT EVEN WITHOUT A NAP
Remember that old saying “sleep begets sleep?” Well it is true. If your child doesn’t nap, he or she may actually sleep worse at night, not better. However, if you notice that your child still sleeps well at night (approximately 12 hours a night, without frequent, middle of the night wake-ups, and doesn’t get up much earlier the next day) then he or she may be ready to drop the nap.
WHEN THE CHILD DOES TAKE A NAP, BEDTIME BECOMES MORE DIFFICULT
Maybe bedtime becomes much later or the bedtime routine takes much longer. Maybe your child lays in bed for a long period of time before falling asleep, and thus calls you in several times. Maybe he or she wakes up much earlier in the morning. All of these are signs that the nap may not be working for your child anymore.
SO, YOU’VE DETERMINED YOUR CHILD IS LIKELY READY TO STOP NAPPING. BUT NOW WHAT?
Experts agree that it’s not a great idea to quit naps cold turkey and instead suggest weaning from the daily nap. Over a period of a few weeks, or even months, you can slowly begin to shorten the nap, until the child no longer sleeps.
During the transition time your child will probably still benefit from a daily rest period. This is a great way for everyone to relax and recharge, including Mommy!
IDEAS FOR DAILY REST TIME:
- Create a daily routine that leads up to daily rest time. Much like bedtime routines, daily rest time routines are key to getting your child into the habit of taking a mid-day break. After lunch, have your child get ready for rest time by getting a favorite pillow or stuffed animal and using the potty. No junk food or sugary drinks right before rest time!
- Set up a special place for rest time. Ideally, this should be someplace quiet, dimly light, cool, with no enticing toys around. Make sure your child thinks it’s a cozy, special place to be. For this reason sleeping bags or play tents can work well!
- Consider using white noise, like the ocean or rain, to help your child relax.
- For older children, consider playing a book on tape or allowing the child to read a stack of books, play with puzzles or do some other quiet, calm activity. It helps to have special books or quiet toys only for rest time.
- Set a beginning and end so your child knows rest time is a definite period of time. Keep it the same length of time every day. If you put on a calming iPod playlist or a book on tape, when it’s over, tell the child he or she can get up.
Lastly, be prepared to move bedtime earlier by 30 minutes to an hour after naps stop completely. Many children are okay without naps but will require more sleep at night in order to be happy throughout the day.