What parent doesn't appreciate nap time? It's that blissful hour (or two!) when you get to take a shower, fold laundry, start tonight's dinner and maybe even watch an episode of your favorite show.
Sadly, nap time isn't forever. While some children as young as three are ready to give up the nap, others keep catching those daytime zzz's right up to kindergarten. If you're wondering how much longer your little one should be settling down for a snooze, read on.
When do toddlers stop napping?
When they are babies and toddlers, naps give little ones time to rest and regroup, resulting in a less fussy baby or child. Naps allow most babies to sleep longer at night, and important physical and mental development happens while your babe is sleeping.
While some toddlers are big nappers, others simply don't need as much daytime sleep. Some signs that your toddler is ready to give up the nap include having a harder time going down for a nap, feeling generally ok by late afternoon if the nap is missed and having trouble going down to sleep at night when the child does nap.
"There are multiple ways a toddler may show they are ready to drop the nap," Nicole Cannon, a certified infant and child sleep consultant and founder of Sleepy Mama told TODAY. "The most common sign is refusing the nap altogether without a change in personality, eating habits or nighttime sleep patterns. However, some lesser known signs that a toddler is ready to drop the nap may include an onset of early rising, a drastic delay of the nap’s starting time or a very late bedtime."
If your child still willingly goes down for a nap, but then sleeps fewer hours at night, that may be a sign that the nap is no longer needed.
"I like to see on average about 12-13 hours of sleep for children in the age range of 2-3 years, so if a child is taking less than 10 or 11 hours at night in exchange for a longer nap, then it may be a sign that they are ready to work towards dropping the nap," says Cannon.
How to help kids stop napping
It's a sad day in most households when the nap is no longer part of the daily schedule, but that doesn't mean you need to make your child quit napping cold turkey. Cannon advises parents to begin shortening the nap before cutting it out completely.
"When children first drop to one nap, many toddlers are taking a nap around two hours," explains Cannon. "Then by age two and a half, these children may need a nap of one to one and a half hours in order to sleep more at night. By age three, if a child is still napping, they may be down to an hour max."
Since all children are different, watch for signs that your little one is needing less sleep at night and use that as a guide to decrease nap time until the child is no longer napping.
How to know if you dropped the nap too soon
One pitfall parents face is stopping the naps too soon. Just because your toddler is protesting the nap it's not necessarily a sign that he or she doesn't need that mid-day recharge.
"A very big issue I see with those that cut the nap too soon is early rising that results from either a very early bedtime because they are so exhausted without the nap or conversely a bedtime that is too late without the nap and the child becomes overtired causing an early morning wakeup," says Cannon.
One solution is to push the nap time back slightly — maybe from 12pm to 1pm — and to put a cap on how long the toddler naps so he or she can still go to sleep at a regular bedtime.
"When my clients keep a limited nap, the issue actually resolves and in time they drop the nap with less disruption,' says Cannon.
Rest time is the best time
Just because your toddler has dropped the nap doesn't mean that she (and you!) don't still need some downtime.
"Some children still need a restorative break in the middle of the day to make it through until bedtime," says Cannon. "The rest time will not only allow their body to recuperate some energy during the day, but during this transition, some toddlers nap some days and not others. So if the rest is enforced, the newly nap-dropping toddler may decide to skip the nap some days but then nap others to play catch up."