Nap Time Revisited: Schedules, Routines, and When It Ends

toddler nap
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Plan carefully

If a nap is too close to bedtime, your child will have difficulty falling asleep at night. In fact, when your toddler is on a two-nap schedule and starts staying up late, it's probably time to reduce to one nap. Given that most toddlers nap for one to three hours, it's a good idea to aim for a naptime somewhere between 12 and 12:30 p.m. following lunch. The best bedtime to ensure a good night's sleep is somewhere between 7 and 8 p.m. If your toddler is napping until 5 p.m., that's not likely to happen. Plan accordingly.

Quiet sleep space

Have you ever tried to nap in a really bright room with the TV blaring in the next room? It's no easy task. Try to create a relaxing sleep space for your child. A cool, dark room with a white-noise machine or continuous (relaxing) music makes for a very relaxing nap. Even if you're out of town, a pack-and-play in a cool, dark room should do the trick. Try to avoid napping in strollers and car seats as much as possible. This can be difficult when older siblings are involved, but the youngest still needs quality sleep. 

{ MORE: Living in an Era of Disrespect: Are We Raising Our Kids the Right Way? }

Rely on cues  

When you have your first baby, you're attuned to every cue. You know when the diaper is wet or when the baby is hungry before the cry even escapes his mouth. But then come the second, third, and maybe even fourth, and the cues aren't quite as noticeable. The best way to know when your toddler is ready for a nap is to pay close attention to your toddler's cues: eye rubbing, yawning, crankiness, and even tears are all signs that you need to head to the crib before the meltdown occurs! 

{ MORE: Real Moms Speak: No More Naps }

Routine

You probably have a fairly consistent bedtime routine in place, regardless of how many kids you have, but do you have a consistent naptime routine as well? Toddlers ease into naptime better when they follow a consistent routine and are able to predict what comes next. 

{ MORE: Do You Sing Your Baby to Sleep? New Research Says You Probably Should }

Keep busy

An inactive toddler is a toddler who has trouble napping. Make sure your toddler gets plenty of physical exercise during the morning and following the nap. You don't need to enroll your child in every toddler class available to achieve adequate exercise. Playing at the park and long walks are just as good and just as fun. 

Quiet time

They don't nap forever. Somewhere,  between ages 3 and 5, your little one will stop napping, but that doesn't mean that he doesn't need rest. Have a mandatory quiet time of at least 45 minutes per day, preferably during the former naptime. Make a special quiet-time box with books and quiet play toys that your child uses only during this time. Growing up is hard work. It can be exhausting.  Even when they no longer need the sleep, it's still best to slow down midday and take a little break. It gives them a chance to regroup and play quietly while they process things learned during the first half of the day. 

{ MORE: Utah Becomes the First in the Nation to Legalize Free-Range Parenting }

Have you mastered the art of the nap? Which of these tips do you think helps you the most? 

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Nap Time Revisited: Schedules, Routines, and When It Ends

Katie Hurley, LCSW is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" and "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World". She earned her BA in Psychology and Women's Studies from Boston College and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. She divides her time between her family, her private practice and her writing. Passionate about he ... More

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5 comments

  1. Leanna says:

    My eldest daughters were hit and miss nappers from just over a year old (when they learned to walk), quiet time was instituted for my sanity… They’d be sent up to there room for an hour where there would be a comfortable spot to sleep if they did but they could just go play quietly… However there bedtime was 7 and they’d sleep till 7:30… My youngest is 4 months and already doing mostly cat naps but we also have a set routine, at 6 she gets a bottle, I turn off the lights, turn down the TV and she sleeps till 11 at which time we go to bed, feed her and she’ll sleep till 7/8 in the morning… Quiet time is the best thing to do if even with a routine they want to give up naps because if you create a safe place you can have your much needed down time too…

  2. Stanley says:

    Growing up I always slept better with a radio on soft rock. Now that I have a smart phone I play Pandora instead of the radio. No ads and I get the music I like. The music helps me relax and sleep believe it or not. Soft rock I find best for sleeping and safe the fast stuff for when I am awake. But yea, music playing on a low level just loud enough to hear has helped me sleep for years. Can give it a try with your child and see if it helps. They even have some crib rail toys these days that plays CD’s. But they seem to eat batteries like crazy so I would go with keeping a small boom box on a table near the crib or bed. Can’t hurt to give it a try and see if it works for you too. 🙂

  3. Dianah says:

    By the time my daughter was two she was hit or miss if she would nap or not. I tried believe me but she was never a good napper no matter what we did. she kept learning just fine and at 3 1/2 she is already reading so we never worried too much. Just frustrated when we needed a break! lol

  4. kirshanna says:

    My son is very active sometimes he skips naps and stays up all night but wajes up vrry early what should I do ?

    • Megan Klay says:

      Hi Kirshanna – Is your son getting plenty to eat, to full his energy and help wear him out in a healthy way? Is his nap environment peaceful; dark, maybe with a noise machine? Have you tried to create a bedtime routine with a bath, sleepy time tea, reading stories? Best wishes!

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