What to Do When Your Toddler Refuses to Nap

You’ve reached a stalemate: You know your child needs to nap, and he or she isn’t having it. Here’s how to deal.

This content was created by the National Sleep Foundation

Naps can be the ultimate sanity saver for worn-out caregivers and toddlers alike. But for many parents, there comes a time when despite all the signs of sleepiness, your little one flat out refuses to close his or her eyes. There are plenty of reasons toddlers may fight sleep, from not wanting to miss out on all the fun to simply exerting some independence. Of course, none of that matters in the heat of the naptime battle. When you know your youngster needs more shut-eye than just nighttime sleep, follow these strategies for smooth sailing straight into the next afternoon nap.

Revisit the Schedule
For young toddlers who still take two or more naps a day, fighting sleep may be a signal that it’s time to drop a nap. For most children that transition will happen at around 15 to 18 months old, and one hallmark of readiness is struggling to fall asleep or stay asleep when naptime arrives. If that’s the case, try keeping your toddler up through the normal morning nap period, and putting her down for a single nap in the middle of the day (a little earlier than his or her usual second session). While it can take time to settle into the new schedule, ideally you’ll end up swapping two lackluster naps for one all-star one.

Focus on the Routine
When it comes to naptime, aim for consistency. Have your child sleep at the same hour, in same spot, with the same stuffed animal or blanket. While it might be tempting to let your little one sleep on the couch or in your bed, your toddler’s own crib or bed is a better choice, as it helps create a consistent association between this spot and sleep.

Set the Stage
Just like an evening routine (a bath, book, and song or two) helps your child to wind down and prepare for bedtime, an abbreviated version can be an important part of the naptime ritual, too. For example, after lunch and a diaper change or potty trip, you might read a short book and play some relaxing music, then have your child get in bed. Not only do quiet activities help instill a feeling of calm (a napping must!), but simply knowing what to expect is relaxing for your child, and may help with the naptime transition.

Compromise With Quiet Time
Frustrating but true: You can put toddlers to bed, but you can’t force them to sleep. The good news is that even children who are ready to forgo naps altogether can benefit from some quiet time to recharge in the afternoon. Dim the lights and leave your child in bed with some books or toys for an hour or two. If sleep beckons, you may find that she conks out on her own. If not, a little restful solo play is better than nothing.