Is Your Child Too Old to Nap?
How to know when (or if!) it's time to ditch the daytime snooze.
By the time baby's first birthday rolls around, you could probably write a love letter to naptime. It's a rare chance to binge-watch TV, eat a snack (without sharing!), have an uninterrupted conversation with a friend, and tackle all those two-handed tasks you've been neglecting.
Unfortunately, like all good things, these midday siestas must come to an end. Though every kid is different, "most children give up daily naps sometime between 3 and 5 years of age," says Elizabeth Pantley, author of The No-Cry Nap Solution. But regardless of when it happens, ditching the daytime snooze can be challenging for both you and your child. These tips can help make the transition to nap-free living a little easier.
Signs Your Child is Ready
Before you eliminate daily slumbers, make sure your child is ready for the no-naps milestone. Obviously, your preschooler isn't going to waltz up to you one day and say, "Hey, Mom, I'm done with the whole napping thing." So you have to look for the signs, which may include:
- New bedtime struggles. "When a child no longer needs to sleep in the afternoon, it becomes difficult for him to fall asleep at the usual bedtime," says Elizabeth Super, M.D., a pediatric sleep medicine physician at OHSU Doernbecher Children's Hospital, in Portland, Oregon. The nap throws things off because your child doesn't need the extra sleep. As a result, he may take longer to fall asleep at night, go to bed later, or wake up earlier in the morning.
- Resisting naps. Instead of the normal fuss-and-go-right-to-sleep routine, your kid's naptime resistance may go into overdrive. She may keep getting out of bed, whine endlessly about not wanting to take a nap, or not fall asleep at all.
- A good disposition. Kids who are ready to give up daytime dozing will be able to maintain a generally stable mood all day sans nap. Obviously, your child will have normal ups and downs, but for the most part, she'll be in good spirits and will have enough energy to make it from morning to bedtime.
- Easy mornings. If, even without a nap, your child sleeps well all night, and usually wakes up on his own and in a pleasant mood, that may be an indication he's ready to be nap-free, Pantley says.
Signs Your Child Isn't Ready
- Naps are painless. Responding positively to naps and falling asleep easily, or putting up very little resistance but eventually dozing off and sleeping for an hour or longer means your child may still need to rest during the day, says Pantley.
- Attitude in the afternoon. If your kid is irritable, fussy or just hard to please in the evening after a skipped nap, that's a clue she still needs the extra rest.
- Dozing off in the car. Remember how car rides helped your little munchkin slip into dreamland when he was a baby? If a missed nap means he falls asleep during a short drive, he's probably not ready to give up naps just yet.
- Sleepy signs. Though she may not verbally tell you she's sleepy, your child's body language will let you know. Yawning, eye rubbing, being especially quiet and less active, or having a slightly glazed look in the eyes may mean she needs more shut-eye.
- Revved-up energy. Sometimes, instead of looking and behaving as if they're exhausted, overtired children become fidgety, antsy, or hyperactive.
Make the No-Nap Transition Easier
Put it on paper. Still not sure if your child is ready to say adios to siestas? "Keep a sleep log—time in bed, time asleep, time they wake—and write a couple notes about their behavior for the day," says Dr. Super. After a week or two, you may see a pattern and be able to make a better decision about whether you should forge ahead with nap eliminations or hit the pause button.
Don't ban naps. Your child won't go from napping daily to never napping again overnight. "There will likely be a transition period of several months, even as much as half a year, when your child needs a nap some days but is fine without it on others," Pantley says. So let him sleep if he needs it, but take notice if a child older than 6 starts napping again every day, advises Jose Colon, M.D., M.P.H., a child neurologist and author of The Magic Ice Cream Palace, a children's sleep book. It may be a sign that he isn't getting enough sleep, or has a sleep disorder that should be discussed with the pediatrician.
Replace naps with quiet time. Taking a break in her bedroom or another non-busy area of the home is a good way for your child to recharge. (She can still choose to nap if she really needs it, Dr. Colon points out.) Start with 15- to 30-minute increments of quiet time, then gradually increase the time, up to about an hour, with periodic check-ins. Provide books, kid-friendly art supplies, puzzles, or a few quiet toys she can play with on her own to prevent boredom.
Be consistent. Just as you were consistent with naps, you need to be consistent with quiet time as much as possible. Try to have it at the same time each day—for instance, after lunch—and in the same designated area. If you make it predictable, your child will come to expect it, which means she'll probably put up less resistance. And hey, she may even begin to look forward to it.
Bump up bedtime. If, during the transition, your child shows signs of sleepiness or has regular afternoon meltdowns, try putting him to bed 20 minutes to an hour earlier, Dr. Colon says.