Nap transitions: a quick overview

Nap transitions tend to happen fairly quickly in the first 12 months of your baby’s life. He or she will transition from 5 or 6 naps each day to just 2 naps in his first year. Within the next half year, at some point between 14-18 months of age, your toddler will transition from 2 naps to only 1 per day. 

The age for kids to stop napping varies enormously. Some toddlers stop napping by age 2-3, while other kids will continue to nap until the age of 5. However, the average age for kids to stop napping is sometime between age 3 and 4.

Nap struggles

For some toddlers around a certain age, daytime naps become the enemy. You might feel this is your child’s way of letting you know that they’re ready to stop napping. But before you decide that the napping phase is over, look for signs that indicate whether your child is REALLY ready to stop napping. 

Because the truth is, your child’s actions may speak much louder than their words. Even if they resist, naps may still be necessary if:

  • Your child still falls asleep at naptime, even after some fussing. Falling asleep on their own means your child needs the rest. Even when he has a really short nap, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t need it anymore.
  • Your child’s behavior changes due to lack of sleep. A sleepy child can become fussy, irritable or hyperactive. Lack of sleep affects emotional responses. So if your child’s responses change later in the day, it might mean that he still needs a (short) nap.
  • Your child shows signs of sleepiness. Even if your child doesn’t pass out in the afternoon, they may have signs of sleepiness like persistent yawning, rubbing their eyes, or becoming less active.

But when ARE children ready to drop their last nap?

The window of time in which that transition from one nap to no naps can happen is a HUGE window. So even though you know the averages, how can you be sure that your toddler is really ready to drop that last nap? What signs should you look for?

Signs your child is ready to stop napping
  • It takes too long to fall asleep at nap-time..
    …and he or she generally does not seem tired when going down for the nap. This is a classic sign that your child may be starting to transition away from the last nap. Remember, as your toddler grows, he can gradually handle more awake time during the day. While it may be the case that, just a few weeks ago, he was tired and ready for a nap by 12:30 or 1, but now he seems to need the nap at 2 or even 2:30 pm. You can still offer the nap, but keep the nap sort to not interfere with bedtime. Preferably no napping after 3 or 3:30 pm!
  • It takes too long to fall asleep at bedtime…
    …and he generally does not seem tired at bedtime when he had an afternoon nap. Your toddler’s window of wakefulness increases from 6 hours awake to 7 and 8 all the way up until he can stay awake from his wake-up time to his bedtime (12 hours) in a relatively a short time. The time he is able to spend awake after his nap-time until bedtime might be too short to build up enough sleep pressure to fall asleep easily. So this might be a sign that he is ready to drop the nap.
  • Skipping Naps
    Your toddler skips the afternoon nap, but does not show any negative side effects. If your toddler sometimes skips her nap altogether but seems fine (no crankiness, does not seem exhausted by early evening, can go to bed at a reasonable time, etc.), this is a good sign that she is ready to transition away from her afternoon nap. Keep in mind, though, that skipping a nap one day here or there is one thing, but every day is quite another.

How to help your child to stop napping?

Nap transitions can be tricky. How do you handle the transition from one nap to none?

Well, for starters, keep in mind that every child is different. Some toddlers may be able to stop napping from day one, and will almost never need another afternoon nap. Other toddlers may transition more gradually.

A lot of kids do nap sometimes and don’t nap on other days for quite a while (maybe up to a year!). For instance, your toddler might go 2 days without an afternoon nap, but he day after, he may need that nap. Or kids do nap at daycare/preschool but stop napping at home (or vice versa). Then, over time, they will have more and more no-nap days, until you’re down to no napping anymore. But it can last for even a longer that they still nap every now and then when they need it. 

My 4.5 still naps some days, especially when we’re in a car in the afternoon and that’s totally fine. Those 30 minutes might be enough to make it until bedtime all shiny and cheerfully. 

No tired signs? Quiet-time!

As you work through this transition, use your toddler’s sleepy cues as a guide. If your toddler genuinely does not seem tired at nap-time, then don’t try to force a nap. Instead, have ‘’quiet-time’ – put your toddler in bed with some books and small toys, and have him play quietly for an hour. This is a win for everyone: it gives you a break, it allows your toddler wind down and rest, and, if your little one turns out to be tired after all, he has the opportunity to lie down and sleep.

More about quiet time

Treat quiet time like nap-time. At its core, quiet-time is downtime for your child. It’s a time during the day where they have an opportunity to rest their busy little bodies and minds. The length of quiet time can range anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours. Proper use of quiet time can actually make your late afternoon and evening activities more pleasant, as well as helping with bedtime.

Choose activities for quiet time. 

Many parents wonder what activities to employ during quiet time for toddlers. I recommend a quiet activities. Good choices include books, a slow-moving, quiet video, coloring, playing with blocks or Legos, dolls, trains, puzzles, puppets, etc. The options are really limitless, as long as the child is calm, quiet, and playing in the designated quiet time area, like your child’s bedroom.

PRO TIP: Have several items that will stay in a special “quiet time only” box. Before rest time, allow your toddler to choose one or two for that day. After rest time is over, have him or her put them back in place. These toys are only available for rest time, which will make rest time more appealing and fun and avoid your toddler from getting tired of them. 

Early bedtime

If your child didn’t nap during the day, adjust bedtime quite a bit! Keep in mind, 3 years olds needs around 12 hours sleep and his wakeful window changes from one day to the other from 6 hours awake to 12 hours awake. That’s a huge change! 

So, if your toddler is no longer napping, he may need to go to bed way earlier in order to compensate for that missing daytime sleep and to decrease the amount of hours he will spend awake. An early bedtime is normal. Sometimes even a 6 p.m. bedtime may help your toddler get the rest he needs. This bedtime won’t last for long, but in the transitional period it’s very important to keep an eye on you child’s sleepy signs (rubbing, yawning but also being fussy or irritatable) and put him in bed early!

If you’re in the middle of dropping the last nap and it’s not clear what you should do or you have questions about the right time to start, email me at info@sleep-champs.com or call me anytime and I will help you figure it out!