Ever heard the expression ‘all good things must come to an end’? It proves true in many cases, doesn’t it? Good books, beach vacations, chocolate cake…sooner or later, good things end.
We can add something else to this list – naps. It’s true! The naps that were (or perhaps are) a regular part of your baby’s life will gradually decrease, and at some point in your little one’s young life, they will stop altogether.
But how do you know when your toddler is ready to drop the last nap and to stop napping completely? We are answering that question in today’s article.
Today we’ll outline signs that your toddler is ready to stop napping, as well as share tips for how to handle this transition.
Nap Transitions: A Quick Glance
In the first 12 months of your baby’s life, nap transitions tend to happen fairly quickly; your baby will transition from 5 or 6 naps each day to just 2 naps in their first year! Then, at some point between 15-18 months, your toddler will transition from 2 naps to just 1.
The age to drop the last nap varies greatly; some toddlers are completely done with naps by age 2-3, while other kids will continue to need naps past age 5! However, the average age for toddlers to stop napping is sometime between age 3 and 4.
3 Signs Your Toddler is Done Napping
Obviously, the window of time in which that transition from one nap to no naps can happen is a BIG window. So even though you know the averages, how can you be sure that your toddler is really ready to drop that last nap? What signs should you look for?
- Your toddler takes a long time to fall asleep at naptime, and generally does not seem tired when naptime rolls around. This is a classic sign that your toddler may be starting to transition away from her afternoon nap. Remember, as your toddler grows, she can gradually handle more and more awake time during the day. For example, let’s say your toddler normally wakes up at 7 a.m. While it may be true that, just a few weeks ago, she was tired and ready for a nap by 12:30 or 1, as she grows, she will be able to stay awake longer and longer.
- Your toddler takes a long time to fall asleep at bedtime, and generally does not seem tired when bedtime rolls around. This sign often goes hand-in-hand with the previous one. Let’s say that lately, your toddler has been resisting his afternoon nap, and instead of falling asleep when you lay him down at 1:30 p.m., he does not actually drift off to sleep until 2:30 p.m. This could mean that, instead of waking up at 3:00, he wakes up at 4:00 (or perhaps even later). The problem here is that this later wake-up time will almost surely translate into problems at bedtime. Of course, even toddlers who nap at their normal times may go on to put up a fight at bedtime. Why? Again, now that your toddler is older, he can handle more awake time. So even his normal nap will eventually be too much afternoon sleep, and it will begin to impact bedtime.
- Your toddler skips the afternoon nap entirely, but does not show any negative side effects. If your toddler sometimes skips her nap altogether, but seems fine (no crankiness, does not seem exhausted by early evening, can go to bed at a reasonable time, etc.), this is a good sign that she is ready to transition away from her afternoon nap.
“When my eldest was 2 1/2 years old, he would take his normal nap, which had grown to a glorious 2 1/2 hours, but then he began to need 7 hours of awake time before bed! You can imagine that a 10pm bedtime was practically past my bedtime! It pained me to cut his nap down and then cut it out completely. His brother, on the other hand, took naps on some days and not others for over a year, yet never reached a 10pm bedtime (he got pretty close with 9:30, though). Keep in mind, though, that skipping a nap one day here or there is one thing, but every day is quite another.”
Here is something to keep in mind: the signs listed above can seem like problems that we parents need to solve. While this can certainly be true (especially for toddlers who have a history of nap issues, or problems sleeping through the night), these ‘issues’ can also be a sign that it’s time to cut out the afternoon nap. Sometimes, all parents need to do is phase the afternoon nap out of the schedule, and their toddlers’ sleep problems resolve themselves.
Handling the Transition from One Nap to No Nap
Nap transitions can be tricky. How do you handle the transition from one nap to none? Well, for starters, keep in mind that it will look different from toddler to toddler. Some toddlers may be able to stop napping from day one, and will almost never need another afternoon nap. Other toddlers may make the transition more gradually. For instance, your toddler might go 3 days without an afternoon nap, but on day 4, he may need that nap. Believe it or not, my middle son did this for over a year! It started out as an every other day thing, when he was about 3; he’d nap one day but not the next. Then, over time, he had more and more no-nap days, until we were down to napping once a week, or once every 10 days. It wasn’t until he was about 4.5 years old that he was able to go weeks at a time without a nap.
As you work through this transition, use your toddler’s cues as a guide. If your toddler genuinely does not seem tired at naptime, then don’t try to force a nap. Instead, have ‘rest time’ – put your toddler in bed with some books and small toys, and have her play quietly for an hour. This is a win for everyone: it gives you a break, it allows your toddler to entertain herself and rest, and, if your little one is tired, she has the quiet and relaxed environment she needs to lie down and sleep.
Keep in mind, too, that in the early stages of this nap transition, you may need to adjust bedtime a bit. Remember, overall sleep amounts tend to stay consistent for babies and toddlers. 2 year olds need 12-14 hours of sleep each day, while 3 years olds need more like 11-13 hours. So if your toddler is no longer napping, he may need to go to bed a bit earlier (and he may wake a bit later in the morning) in order to compensate for that missing daytime sleep. This is normal. Or, if your toddler is like my middle son, on the days when he does nap, you may have to wake him from sleep (to be sure he doesn’t sleep too late into the evening).
No Nap, Rest Time Toy Ideas
PRO TIP: Have several items that will live in a special “rest time only” box or closet. Before rest time, allow your toddler to choose one or two for that day. After rest time is over, have him or her put them back in place. These toys are only available for rest time, which will make rest time more appealing and fun and avoid your toddler from getting tired of them. Win, win!
Here are a few of our favorite rest time toys: