It is always a dilemma when it comes to daytime sleeps.
Just when you think you have got things sorted with your toddler, and you can actually get some work done during that time, someone might point out that it is time to drop the nap, that, or your toddler isn’t sleeping well at night.
How frustrating! And it is!
When children hit age 2 to 3 years, most toddlers still need that afternoon nap. Some nap for 30 minutes, others for up to three hours. It seems that easygoing children tend to sleep longer, and highly strung kids that never stop seem to nap shorter.
But after a few months of this, you’ve noticed other problems — Your child is restless and won’t go straight to sleep anymore. They fool around or play or are just plain cranky! So what can you do?
What Age is a Good Age to Drop the Daytime Nap?
This really depends on the child, in my experience. At the very low end of the scale is age 2 – at the very top, is age 5. Some kids just need more sleep than others. Most toddlers aged 12 to 24 months old are still having at least two naps a day, one morning nap, and one mid-afternoon nap. But it is about age 2 that they drop the morning nap. Giving up the morning nap is usually painless, it is the afternoon sleep most people have the trouble with.
How Do I Know They are Ready to Drop the Daytime Nap?
There are many ways to know you have to start getting rid the daytime sleep. If your toddler is:
- Not sleeping well at night
- Waking up too early
- They are very restless when putting them down for a sleep during the day.
- They just play in their room rather than sleep (and are then grumpy for the rest of the day!)
- Your toddler isn’t tired at bedtime.
If your toddler is showing a few of these things, it is time to try and give that afternoon sleep a miss. Of course, he or she might go a few days without one, then will want to have a nap in the afternoon, and this is fine. If they need the sleep and want to go to bed, let them. They will soon enough start fighting it before it will be gone forever.
In saying that, once you have made the decision to actually drop that afternoon nap (or they have made the decision for you), there will be a transition period between giving up that sleep, and having a cranky toddler that is so tired they tend to fall asleep early at night or are just crankier than usual. This transition period can last up to six months, and is usually extremely difficult on parents during the classic time ‘arsenic hour’ (usually between 4pm and 7pm).
Like learning to sleep, a toddler will take time to get used to being awake for 12 hours straight like the rest of us, and just like us, they get tired.
A good transition is to cut the naps short if they happen to fall asleep. So if it is before 3pm and your child has fallen asleep, let them have 30 minutes before waking them up (if you dare!). Anytime after then will just affect how they fall asleep at night.
Is Your Child at Daycare?
Most daycare centres make young children have a nap in the afternoon. And they KNOW when your child is ready to give it up – because they fool. Keep your child’s teacher informed of when you are giving up the afternoon sleep so they can be on board. Instead, they usually offer your child some quiet time with books etc so the other kids can sleep peacefully.
What To Do About the Crankiness?
Get your toddler bathed and fed early in the evening. As they will be tired, have a nice quiet time with the family. All sit together quietly and watch the television or put a movie on. Keeping things calm and cool will limit the outbursts to some degree.
Once they start getting fidgety in the afternoon, try distracting them with some physical play activities so they are genuinely tired before bed.