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Toddlers & Naps: 5 Helpful Tips to Get Kids to Sleep

by Vannessa Rhoades 02 Mar 2023
Toddlers & Naps: 5 Helpful Tips to Get Kids to Sleep

Toddlers are energetic, inquisitive, spirited little beings, so it makes sense that napping helps rejuvenate them after a morning or afternoon of play and exploration. However, despite needing a break to rest and recharge, many toddlers fight lying down for a mid-day snooze. They’ll draw out the process, ask for snacks or drinks, and want to keep playing or reading – whatever it takes to avoid going to sleep. If your little one is starting to give you pushback on naptime, you may be wondering what your options are. Let’s take a look at what you should know about nap time for toddlers and how to respond to resistance.

How Much Sleep Does a Toddler Need? 

Toddlers don’t require as much sleep as infants do, but they still need to catch a few daylight ZZZs to thrive. Because very few toddlers can sleep for 12- to 14-hour stretches during the night, naps help them get the sleep they need for their brains and bodies to grow and develop. Between the ages of 1 and 2, children still need about 11 to 14 hours of sleep per 24-hour period. Younger toddlers may still take two naps, but most drop down to a single daily nap by 18 months. By the ages of 3 to 5 years, children need about 10 to 13 hours of sleep per 24-hour period. Most children in this range get enough sleep at night and give up their afternoon nap during this time.

Each individual child has unique sleep requirements, but on average, younger toddlers will nap about 2 to 3 hours each day split between a morning and afternoon nap. Older toddlers need about the same amount of daytime sleep but combine it into a single afternoon nap. These naps are essential to growing toddlers because it gives their bodies a chance to rest and recharge. It can also help them be less hyperactive, less cranky, and fall asleep more easily at night.

What Time Should Toddlers Nap?

Around 10 months to one year of age, your child will probably phase out their morning nap. During this transition, experts recommend moving up their nap time and bedtime by a half-hour to help them adjust. Most children continue taking an afternoon nap of one to two hours in length until about age 3. For example, after lunch around 1:00 pm or 1:30 pm is a common toddler naptime in many households. 

After this age, nap length tends to shorten. It is important to recognize that every child is different. When trying to determine what’s a good nap time for toddlers, start by observing your child's cues and body rhythms. You’ll also want to consider your family's schedule when developing a nap schedule that works for your household.

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What Should I Do If My Toddler Resists Naps? 

Refusing to take a nap is par for the course among toddlers. They’re experimenting with their newfound independence and testing boundaries with adults. Nap time is another opportunity for them to do that. Before stressing too much about naps, try first to determine how much total sleep your child is getting each day. Don’t expect them to sleep as much as they did when they were a baby. They’ll also need more wake time before bed (around 5 to 6 hours). If you’re struggling with getting your toddler to settle for a nap, here are a few strategies to help the process go more smoothly:

1. Establish a consistent routine

Toddlers thrive on predictability and repetition. Try to put your little one down for a nap around the same time each day. Keep their sleep environment and nap rituals as consistent as possible so that they know what to anticipate and what’s expected.

2. Encourage sleep

Do activities that encourage rest and relaxation. Try reading nap-time stories for toddlers to help them settle down for sleep. Keep their sleeping space cool and dark like a cave so that their body knows it’s time for rest. Use room-darkening curtains and a white noise machine to create a quiet, sleep-inducing environment.

3. Offer options

To honor your toddler’s budding need for autonomy, consider giving them options around certain parts of the nap process. This helps them feel like they have a little control while still allowing them to get the sleep they need. For example, allow them to choose their favorite nap time story for toddlers or let them select which pair of pajamas they want. Providing choices gives toddlers the chance to exercise their autonomy in a safe, healthy way. 

4. Accept that they may not be tired

In some cases, your toddler just might not be tired. Perhaps the timing was off for an afternoon nap or they had too much excitement after lunch. Maybe they are on the verge of dropping naps completely. Under these circumstances, you might want to offer quiet time as an alternative. Remember, you can’t force a kid to sleep. 

5. Designate a quiet time

As your toddler gets older and begins to eliminate napping, try to substitute it with quiet time. Quiet activities for toddlers during nap time will still allow them to settle down and recharge a bit (and possibly even fall asleep). You may want to start with shorter periods of time and use a clock to help them keep track of it. Some parents also offer rewards when their toddler stays in their room the entire time. If your toddler does come out of their room, remind them that it’s “quiet time” and gently return them to their room. Avoid engaging with them or rewarding them with attention. Consider checking in on them periodically during quiet time to reassure them that you’re there.

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When Can My Toddler Stop Taking Naps?

Most children stop taking naps sometime during the preschool years, between 4 and 6 years of age. Others may stop napping entirely by 3 years old and simply sleep an extra hour during the night. Toddlers typically transition from two daily naps to a single early afternoon nap by the time they’re a year and a half old. Remember, eliminating a toddler’s nap before they’re ready won’t help them sleep better at night and can actually cause them to have more trouble falling asleep in the evening.

The Takeaway

Naptime resistance and struggles are common with toddlers. If you’ve already tried every nap trick and technique in the book are and still struggling to get your toddler to nap, consider talking to your pediatrician, a behavioral psychologist, or perhaps a certified sleep consultant. These professionals can assist you in identifying the source of your little one’s nap opposition and help you figure out the best ways to help your toddler get the sleep they need.

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