There will come a point that I am sure you will feel has come around oh so fast when your child needs to say goodbye to that lovely lunch time nap they are having. Your peaceful couple of hours you had to catch up on your “to do list”, house admin or even just sit down and enjoy a quiet cup of hot tea and some lunch is gone and your toddler sleeps no more!
So when does this happen and how do we manage this?
This typically is around the age of 2.5-3 years. But, remember this is typical, not standard across the board. Some children drop this lunch nap earlier and some later. It will very much be driven by your child’s sleep needs. My son Leo dropped his nap around the age of 2.5 years however my daughter Chloe was very happy to hang on to hers until close to 3 years and even a little past. Some days now she would be very happy to have a couple of hours nap in the middle of the day and she is nearly 4! The Signs So, now we have figured out the age range when this nap starts to go we need to recognise the signs that it is the time for your child to drop this nap. Well there may be a few so I shall explain them here one by one in no particular order. 1. They start to refuse the nap. You have had a busy morning, perhaps your child has been at nursery or you have spent the morning running around in the park, lunch is all eaten and now you are heading to the bedroom for that wonderful nap, peace and quiet, you know they must be tired, you play out the nap routine, all is calm and happy, like it has been every other day, BUT, your child is refusing to either go in the crib/bed or they just don’t fall asleep. Perhaps they are quite happy in their sleep space but they are just not falling asleep. Perhaps it is nearing the 2 hour mark and yup, still no sleep. 2. They may not fall asleep until at least 40-60 minutes into this nap time. You toddler may again be very happy and calm in their sleep space, chatting away and only just fall asleep after a while of being there or just before it is time to get them up 3. Your toddler is having a hard time staying calm and happy in their sleep space. Perhaps you are experiencing tears, tantrums or they are calling you. They just don’t want to be there and perhaps you are finding ways to encourage them to stay put and lie down, be quiet and fall asleep. 4. Bedtime of an evening is becoming a battle. Perhaps they are not falling asleep for an hour or more after lights out or they are finding excuses to stay up, play and they are looking for your attention. They may be full of beans and you just think, nope, this little monkey is just not going to fall asleep when I leave this room! 5. You may find they wake in the night for a period of time or wake early the following morning. Of course if they are up with the larks at 5am you may think, quite rightly so, they need to have that lunch time nap and so this vicious circle continues.
So how do you drop this nap? So now we have established the when and the signs but HOW do you drop this nap? This is when you need to tread carefully and be very clever. Every child is different when it comes to dropping naps, we get the cold turkey children and you can just drop that nap like it never happened and they are cool with that. They carry on as normal and life continues on and then we get the children who are a little more sensitive to dropping naps and sleep needs and going cold turkey can play havoc on the rest of the day and/or the night time. So you, the expert in your child will know which path to take here. I shall explain some possible ways how to drop this nap gentle and carefully for you. 1. Now if your child is still falling asleep at nap time but you are finding bedtime hard or they are waking in the night or early morning I suggest they still need some sleep at nap time but you can start to reduce the AMOUNT of sleep they have. So for example, if your child is sleeping 2 hours, I would start to reduce it by half an hour. Wake them up. Then after 3-5 days of this shorter nap if you are still finding bedtime and night waking’s occurring you can cut the nap even shorter. Perhaps to just 1 hour. Again take note of bedtime and any wakes they may be having. You can continue to cap this lunch time nap down until you find what works for your child. 2. Now if you have dropped this nap entirely you will HAVE to bring bedtime forward and this can be as much as an hour earlier than they previously went to bed. That may be at 6pm. Don’t be afraid to do this. Remember your child’s total sleep needs are still going to be around 11-14 hours, some may still need a little more and when you take away that sleep in the day it will need to be tagged onto the night time or you will have one very overtired cranky toddler around you! They may just need 30 minute nap in the day and sleep for 12 hours at night! You will find an earlier bedtime will really help that melt down at the end of the day and they will wake more rested the following day. 3. If you are going all out and cold turkey you will find that having an early bedtime will help so do offer dinner and bath a little earlier and get your toddler all snuggled up for the night at least an hour earlier. 4. If your toddler is the one taking ages to fall asleep at nap time but you want to take this slowly and gently, I would suggest popping them down perhaps later than normal at lunch time but still get them up at the same time. So for example if they were going down to bed at 1pm and not falling asleep until 2pm and you always woke them at 3pm I would suggest popping them down at 1.45 and get them up at 3pm. Don’t forget to take diary of this transition and you will see the pattern emerging and be able to work out what is best.
Now The Nap Is Gone, What Do You Do? So now this nap has gone! What are you meant to do in this time? Well, this time now is ideal for quite time. Your child will still need some quite, down time until they really adjust to a full 12 hour awake day! It is a great time for them to start to learn independent play in their bedroom, playroom or even on the sofa! You can perhaps make up a “quiet time box” and pop in some games and toys you KNOW they do not need your help with or need your guidance. This way YOU still get some time to catch up on your to do list and have that cup of tea! If your toddler is very happy to hang out in their room then that is great, perhaps they have a little desk in there they can do a puzzle at or some coloring. If they need some sofa time then offer some books or an audio story /podcast to listen to. You are not looking to have them do anything to energetic at this time of day or they will burn out and boom, toddler tantrum is on the loose! Rotate the books/toys every week, you could build a little story tent and pop a torch in there, fairy lights even and this can be a calm place to listen to that audio tape. I don’t recommend screen time. Looking at screens can still be over stimulating. They may still feel tired or even sleepier when you peel them off the sofa after that movie and equally it may become a habit you don’t want to start. Save that screen time for when you REALLY need it. Perhaps when you are prepping dinner or you get home from the supermarket and today you just don’t want those offerings of help to put the eggs away and the requests for the biscuits you just bought as a treat! Day Care and Napping This can be a tricky one because often children are dropping this nap at different stages as I have already mentioned and at day care a room of say 12 children 10 may still be napping so the staff still lay your child down and this sleep is just not helping with the rest of their routine. So, have a chat with the staff, explain what is happening and ASK them if it is possible to keep your toddler up. Not able to offer that time to lie down, perhaps they can stay in the story corner with a few puzzles or books or join another room.
Ok so now you have dropped this nap or found the sweet time and length for your toddlers nap BUT you are in the car on the school run for the older kids or perhaps on the way home from an errand or playdate and BOOM, they are asleep! Well if you can find a safe place to stop and wake them up the by all means do so. Try not to let them sleep more than 10-15 minutes. This may push bedtime slightly later by 15 minutes or so but let’s be realistic here, it will happen, your toddler is not a robot and this will be an adjustment to their circadian rhythm. It will take time for them to adjust so go with it and it may only be a few weeks until their body gets used to al this sleep change.
So How Long Will This Nap Transition Take?
Again, we have to be realistic, your child is still young and for all their life they have taken naps. Day to day life is busy whether they are at daycare or not, hey are soaking in so much information and new experiences every day so don’t expect miracles and this to be easy from day 1. You may find this can take up to 6 weeks and you may find some days your toddler passes out at 5.30 or they have a meltdown at 6pm. You, the expert in your child will find their happy sweet spot for timing this nap transition and the right way to go about it.
Go slow and gentle, you will get there!
Please share this blog with a friend you know who may find this helpful, and as ever,
Your Paediatric Sleep Consultant