By: Juliann Scholl
Updated March 23, 2021
Naps are an integral part of children's overall sleep time. According to expert guidelines, 1-year-olds and 2-year-olds need 11 to 14 hours of sleep including naps, and 3-to-5-year-olds need 10 to 13 hours (1) of sleep including naps. Most toddlers start out with two naps a day (2) and quickly drop down to one between the ages of 1 to 2 years (3). During the preschool years, children may drop the last nap altogether, though many children continue to nap until they are 5 years old (4).
It's exciting to see your toddler continue to grow and explore their world, but sometimes it would be nice if toddlers were a little less feisty when it comes to naptime.
How to Get Your Toddler to Nap
As a parent, it can be frustrating to have a toddler who won’t nap. If your toddler is refusing to nap, you may be able to help them sleep better by re-assessing certain variables of their nap routine.
Set a Consistent Nap Schedule
Keeping naptime at the same time every day (5) as part of a structured daily routine (6) can help your child fall asleep. Toddlers benefit from structure (7), and the habits they learn in childhood can help foster positive bedroom associations well into the future.
If your toddler's daycare center provides naptime, try to to keep your toddler on the same schedule even on days they don't go to daycare. Talk to their teacher if your toddler is having trouble with nap schedules. Your toddler might be able to enjoy quiet time instead of a nap.
Offer a Soothing Nap Environment
To maintain an association between bed and sleep, it's best to put your toddler down for a nap in their own bed. However, it may require a little extra planning to create a dark, quiet (8), and relaxing environment for a daytime nap.
On bright days, consider blocking out sunlight with blackout blinds. If other family members are still awake in the rest of the house, consider toning down activity levels or masking the noise with calming music or a white noise machine.
Create a Relaxing Pre-Nap Routine
Following a consistent pre-nap routine (9) helps your toddler understand when it's time to sleep. Start by giving your toddler a warning that it's time to start getting ready for naptime. At this point, you can accompany them to the bedroom and dim the lights. The pre-nap routine can be a shorter version of the full bedtime routine, perhaps reading a book together or cuddling. You should aim to perform the same activities in the same order every day.
Give your toddler another heads-up about five minutes before you turn out the lights. Just like at bedtime, you should leave your child's room when they are drowsy, but not quite asleep, so they learn to feel comfortable falling asleep on their own.
Adjust Their Sleep Schedule
If your toddler just doesn't seem sleepy at naptime, it's possible that their naptime is too early. Likewise, if they're bouncing off the walls by the time naptime rolls around, they might be so tired they can't settle down. Adjusting the timing of your toddler's nap might be an easy solution to your problems.
Nap timing and sleep timing are closely related, and later naps or naps that are too long tend to push bedtime back. For most toddlers, the best time to nap is in the early afternoon. This gives them time to burn off steam and get tired enough to nap, but it's not so close to bedtime so as to interfere with nighttime sleep.
Address Separation Anxiety
It's common for young toddlers to experience separation anxiety (10), but it's important to teach your child to fall asleep on their own. At naptime, consider providing them with a special comfort object to help them feel more secure. They may wish to bring the same comfort object to daycare for naptime as well.
If your toddler wanders out to find you during naptime, calmly (11) lead them back to bed and explain that they can come out when naptime is over. By showing them plenty of love (12) during waking hours, you can give them the emotional tools to deal with the separation at naptime. Reinforce good habits by praising them when they adhere to naptime routines.
Toddlers need to understand that you're in charge, but they also appreciate having an element of control. Make it clear that naptime is not optional, but let them choose their pajamas or select a book to read together.
Tire Them Out During the Day (But Not Too Much)
Kids sleep better when they eat well (13), avoid caffeine (14), and get plenty of exercise and stimulation throughout the day. The World Health Organization recommends that children obtain at least three hours of active time per day. Just don't provide too much stimulation (15) right before naptime, or they'll be too wired to sleep.
Devices like smartphones, tablets, computers, and televisions provide easy entertainment, but they don't supply a good way for your child to let out their pent-up energy. While it's difficult to limit screen time in this day and age, setting healthy boundaries around electronics use can make a big difference to their state of mind. It can help to try to forbid screens in the lead-up to naptime (16), and make the bedroom a screen-free zone.
It's easy to cross the line from tired to overtired. If you notice your child is moody or they're more hyperactive than usual, they may just be exhausted. Learn to recognize your child's tired cues so you can adjust their activity levels and naptime accordingly.
Switch from Two Naps to One
If your toddler is resisting naptime, and you notice their nighttime sleep suffering as a result of having naps, it might be time to phase out naps. Every child is different, so be sure to consult your pediatrician if you're not sure whether your child still needs to nap. Eliminating naps before your toddler is ready can lead to nighttime sleep problems and daytime fatigue (17).
Offer Quiet Time Instead of Naptime
Even once toddlers stop taking naps, they can still benefit from having a quiet rest period during the day. Experts recommend spending this time doing interactive activities with your child, such as singing, doing puzzles, reading, or storytelling. Ideally, quiet time should help your child learn, relax, and build their social skills, so you might want to try to avoid using screen-based devices during quiet time.
Talk to Your Pediatrician if Your Toddler is Still Refusing to Nap
Toddlerhood can be a tricky stage, and it's natural to feel concerned when your toddler refuses to nap easily. If you keep persisting with constructive habits, your patience should eventually be rewarded as your toddler realizes that naptime is non-negotiable. If nothing seems to work, don't hesitate to consult your pediatrician. They may be able to recommend a sleep training program or identify a treatable sleep disorder.
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