The process of dropping naps can be an exhausting, frustrating and lengthy one for some parents – taking anywhere between a few weeks to a month (or more). Variables will include your child’s age, activity levels, developmental stage and temperament (among others). It is not uncommon at these times to experience sleep regression such as; bedtime resistance, increased night waking and early rising as a result of too much or too little sleep during the day.
Indications that your child may be ready to drop their day nap:
- They begin resisting their nap.
- They can make it through the day (at least until 6:00 pm without a nap, and without becoming overtired and grumpy!).
- They fall asleep easily at their scheduled nap time but consistently sleep for only short periods (e.g. less than one hour).
- They begin resisting their usual bedtime because they are not tired enough.
- They start waking more frequently overnight.
- They begin rising early in the morning (between 4:00 am and 6:00 am) when previously they slept longer.
* With respect to the above, ensure that these are consistent patterns over three to seven days. Day and overnight sleep can naturally regress at times of developmental change, teething or illness – and this may not necessarily indicate that your child is ready to drop their nap! Use your discretion.
General tips to help with this transition
- Ideally, your child will be on one nap until two and a half to three years, although realistically, many begin the process of dropping their day nap from two years of age.
- If your child is still napping, ensure that they do not nap for any longer than two hours (for children under two-and-a-half years) and one to two hours (for children two-and-a-half-years and over). Napping for any longer than this can compromise overnight sleep duration and/or result in a later bedtime, bedtime resistance, overtiredness and hence, more frequent night waking.
- An example of nap times may be: 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm (i.e. two hours) for a two-year-old, 1:30 pm to 3:00 pm for a two-and-a-half-year-old (i.e 1.5 hours) and 1:30 pm to 2:30 pm (i.e. one hour) for a three-year-old.
- Don’t let your child’s nap extend any later than 3:00 pm if you plan for a 7:00 pm bedtime. Most children will need at least four hours between waking from their day nap and bedtime – some five to six.
- Scheduling your child’s nap too early in the day can contribute to early rising – 12:30 pm should be the earliest consistent nap time for children two years and over.
- Avoid car trips after 3:30 pm. Children are likely to fall asleep in the car when they are in the process of dropping naps. If your child falls asleep later than 3:30 pm (even just for a 15-minute car ride), bedtime resistance is almost inevitable (think 8:30 pm or 9:00 pm!).
- Your child may still need one nap on some days, whilst on others, they can make it through without one at all. Variables to this include; activity levels, quality of overnight sleep, routine, stimulation, nutrition, developmental stage, and health. When a child is teething or unwell, an earlier naptime and longer day nap may be necessary to aid recovery. Tune into your intuition and remain responsive to your child’s needs.
- When dropping the afternoon nap, incorporate some relax/wind-down time in the place of their afternoon nap such as quiet play in their bedroom, building blocks, reading books or lying down.
- At the beginning of this transition, plan for an earlier bedtime to avoid overtiredness – between 6:00 pm and 6:30 pm may be necessary temporarily.
- Trial and error may be necessary to identify your child’s optimal sleep windows and nap timing and length if applicable. If your child starts resisting bedtime when they have a day nap (e.g. not falling asleep until 8:30 pm or 9:00 pm), I would first experiment with capping the day nap (e.g. from two hours to 1.5 or one hour) before dropping completely. This is most sustainable when it is a gradual process!
- As always, connection tools such as quality one-on-one time and listening to tears and tantrums (as opposed to scolding, shaming or punishments) can help you and your child transition with greater ease.
If you have any other tried and tested tips, I would love to hear your feedback….