Toddler Naps

Toddlers are going through a lot of transitions.  They transition from two to one nap, and sometimes they even transition to no naps (although this preferably doesn’t happen until at least preschool age)!  This is happening while they are going through other transitions, such as learning to walk, talk and have their own opinions as well.  For the purpose of this post, I will refer to children aged 1 – 2.5 as toddlers.

The average age for children to go from 2 naps to 1 nap is between 15 and 18 months.  Remember this is an average and some children do transition earlier or later, but most children transition between around this age.

You will be able to tell your child is ready to go down to one nap if they sleep well at night, are taking longer and longer to fall asleep for their first nap, and the first nap is starting to interfere with the second nap. The first thing I recommend doing if your child is on the younger side and  the first nap seems to be interfering with the second nap, is to keep the first nap to only about 45 minutes.  See if that works to still get a second nap.  The problem I see a lot here is that the children are tired in the morning, but if they take a long nap, then they don’t take a second nap and they are up for a long time before bedtime.  This can make them cranky in the afternoon, and then they are also overtired at bedtime which can increase night wakings and early morning wakeups.  This is why I like to try and keep the morning nap for a bit, especially in children on the younger side of the 15 – 18 month old range.

When children are on 2 naps, I like to recommend the 2, 3, 4 schedule.  Your child’s first nap should start around 2 hours after they wake in the morning (but not before 8AM or that can reinforce early rising), then the second nap should being 3 hours after your child wakes from the first nap.  Bedtime should be around 4 hours after your child wakes from their second nap.

Unfortunately I have seen many day cares that transition babies at twelve months.   If that is the case and you cannot convince them otherwise, try to still get your child to take two naps on the weekends. Also your child’s bedtime may need to be moved earlier in the evening so they do not get overtired.  You may also find your child falls asleep in the car ride on the way home.  If they take a short nap and bedtime is not affected too much, this is fine.

So you’ve decided that your child is ready for one nap, what time should that nap be?  This may take some playing around with for a bit.  Your child may be tired around 11 or so because they are used to that early nap.  While that is okay for the start of this transition, we do want to push the nap later at some point.  We only want about a 4 – 5 hour gap of awake time between when your child wakes from their nap to bedtime.  So if they are sleeping from 11 – 1, that means bedtime should technically be between 5 and 6 which is much too early.  I prefer a nap of 12:30 – 2:30 or 1 – 3, but not every child will get there on their own.  If you do need to push a nap later, try just doing it by 10 or so minutes every few days.  That way you will be pushing it later, and not having an overtired child.

The last thing I want to talk about is when your child starts giving up naps.  The hope is they will nap until at least 3 or 4 years old, but I know my own daughter (who was always a great sleeper) gave up a nap at 2 and a half.  She was however sleeping 12 straight hours at night.  So, it can happen and it can work.  Once I went back to work when she was a little less than 3 and started waking her in the

morning, she went back to napping.  (Funny side story on that – she was at a preschool and all the 3 year olds napped in the gym.  She hated napping there and fought it, she wouldn’t let anyone pat her and wouldn’t even lay down, but a teacher always sat next to her because she would fall asleep sitting up and they didn’t want her to get hurt!)  I usually recommend still doing quiet time when the child has about an hour in their room to do quiet activities like looking at books or playing with quiet toys.  You can encourage them to lay in bed while they do this and they may just sleep every once in awhile.

Do you have questions?  Feel free to post them here!





5 Thoughts on “Toddler Naps

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  3. My 2.5 year old is waking up at 4:30-5am. He goes to bed at 7:30 and naps for 1.5-2 hours. Lately he fights his nap and it takes several times of putting him back to bed before he stays there. Do you think eliminating his nap would help him sleep later in the morning?

    • Hi Robin, At this point I would not recommend taking the nap away. What time are you starting the nap and what time does he normally wake? I like to see only about 4 – 5 hours of awake time between when he wakes from nap and when bedtime is. If the gap is longer, he may be overtired at bedtime which can cause early rising. Also, since he’s waking early, he may be overtired at nap which is causing him to have trouble falling asleep and thus fighting more. It is a horrible cycle sometimes, having a child who is overtired leads to worse sleep and the child being even more overtired.

      • I just saw your reply – thank you! Nap is usually about 1-3. You’re right, it is a horrible cycle! I have been trying to treat 4am wake-ups like a middle of the night wake-up (straight back bed, no talking), and it’s working fairly well. If he wakes after 5 it’s a lost cause. 🙁

        I definitely won’t give up the nap, thank you!

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