Most children shift to two naps sometime in the first year and then down to one longer nap sometime between 18 months to two years old. Many children give up naps on their own between three and five years old.
Before they give up naps all together, many young children go through phases of not napping for a few days then napping again for weeks. This ebb and flow can go on for a long time. Having quiet time at the otherwise nap time is the best way for daily naps to return. In our house, quiet time was an hour in their beds playing quietly or looking at books. Children that are quiet and laying down will likely fall asleep if they need to. Respect the quiet time like you do the nap, same time every day and required. If quiet time is optional or only happening on days it fits the schedule, then it becomes more of a fight and much more likely that the child will give up naps all together. Once they do give up naps, it is fine to keep a quiet time as long as you’d like.
It can be helpful for children to nap in the same place and at the same time every day. A consistent schedule will help children fall asleep easier. It can also be helpful to have a brief naptime routine similar to part of your bedtime routine. This might be reading a story in the same chair you read bedtime stories or singing the same songs. If you pat backs for five minutes at bed time, you might also do this at nap time. If your child naps at daycare or preschool three or more days a week, it can be helpful to follow the same schedule at home.
To learn more about naps and bedtime routines, sleep associations and ways to get children to sleep, join me for a workshop on Bedtime Routines and Sleep Issues on September 24 from 7:00-9:00pm. For more information and to register, please visit http://www.eventbrite.com/o/parenting-by-dr-rene-parenting-playgroups-283710166?s=1328924.
Parent Question: My three-and-three-fourths-year-old doesn’t want to nap. It takes her time to fall asleep when she does nap, both at bed time and naptime. When she does nap, I would say that, on a 24 hour period, she sleeps 10-12 hours. How much sleep should she be getting in a 24 hour period? How long should her naps be at this age and moving forward? Any suggestions for those days (especially with the holidays around the corner) when she stays up late at night and still wakes up early the next day? Thank you!
Answer: 10-12 hours in the 24 hour cycle is the goal now thru late elementary school. Significantly less than 10 can be problematic, and eight is a low minimum. If it were my house, we would be transitioning to ‘quiet time.’ An hour everyday of playing quietly in their bed which you respect like a nap – same time, same length everyday. You can say, “you don’t have to sleep, just stay in bed and stay quiet.” I would give a quiet activity or book after the first 20 mins or so. If you provide this religiously, the idea is they are still resting, and if they need to should fall asleep. If she naps, think 60 to 90 minutes which is probably plenty. You don’t want it to vary widely from day to day. On really crazy holiday days, plan quiet breaks in the day. Maybe spend 30 minutes in the afternoon snuggling and reading a chapter book or time listening to quiet music.
Sincerely, Dr. Rene
Dear Dr. Rene,
My two-year-old still takes an afternoon nap for one to three hours each afternoon. I’ve noticed if the afternoon nap is long, or if he naps later in the afternoon, he has trouble going to sleep at the regular 8:00 p.m. bedtime or wakes up during the night. If he skips nap or naps for a short time, he is cranky by 5:00 p.m. Any suggestions?
Lee, Mother of One
One thing that might help is being more consistent with your naptime routine. Naps benefit from being at the same time, in the same place everyday. It may also be helpful to build in a short naptime routine to aid the transition. If long naps seem to interfere with night-time sleep, the idea is to gradually make naps shorter. Think about waking them up 15 minutes earlier each week. If they have been at three hour naps, wake them at two hours and 45 minutes consistently. The next week, two hours and 30 minutes until it seems to be the right amount of nap and doesn’t impact night time sleep. Also, be sure nap starts by 1:00 p.m. at the latest so they might be back up around 3:00 p.m. This will avoid bumping into bedtime.