Is Your Child Too Old to Nap?

How to know when (or if!) it's time to ditch the daytime snooze.

By the time your 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.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) doesn't specify when children should stop napping. Instead, they offer guidelines for the total amount of sleep a child needs in 24 hours. These guidelines are good to keep in mind as you determine whether your child is ready to forgo naps:

  • 1-2 years: 11-14 hours
  • 3-5 years: 10-13 hours
  • 6-12 years: 9-12 hours

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.

Read on for tips to help make the transition to nap-free living a little easier.

Little girl asleep on blue pillow
Denys Prykhodov/Shutterstock

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, I'm done with the whole napping thing." So you have to look for the signs.

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, they 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 when they're ready to be done with naps. They 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, they'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 their own and in a pleasant mood, that may be an indication they're ready to be nap-free, Pantley says.

Signs Your Child Isn't Ready

On the other hand, if your child isn't ready to give up naps. they'll give off different signs.

Naps are painless

Some clues related to the ease of naptime may indicate your child may still need to rest during the day. According to Pantley, these signs include:

  • Responding positively to naps and falling asleep easily
  • Putting up very little resistance but eventually dozing
  • Sleeping for an hour or longer

Crabby 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 they still need the extra rest.

Dozing off in the car

Remember how car rides helped your little munchkin slip into dreamland when they were a baby? If a missed nap means they fall asleep during a short drive, they're probably not ready to give up naps just yet.

Sleepy signs

Though they may not verbally tell you they're sleepy, your child's body language will let you know. Watch out for the following signs your child still needs a nap:

  • Yawning
  • Eye rubbing
  • Being especially quiet and less active
  • Having a slightly glazed look in the eyes

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

Moving away from naps may seem cut and dry, but the transition can sometimes be difficult. Even when kids are ready to ditch the naps, going from a mid-day rest to no rest can result in a tired and cranky kid. Some things can make the process a little smoother.

Track sleep and behavior

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 them sleep if they need 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. When a child that old is still napping, it may be a sign that they aren'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 their bedroom or another non-busy area of the home is a good way for your child to recharge. (They can still choose to nap if they really need it, Dr. Colon points out.)

Provide some calm activities, like:

  • Books
  • Kid-friendly art supplies
  • Puzzles
  • A few quiet toys

Start with 15- to 30-minute increments of quiet time, then gradually increase the time, up to about an hour, with periodic check-ins.

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 they'll probably put up less resistance. And hey, they 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 them to bed 20 minutes to an hour earlier, Dr. Colon says.

The Bottom Line

Since all kids are different, there isn't an exact age that every child follows for giving up naps. Instead, you have to follow the clues to determine whether the timing is right. Your child's behavior combined with the AAP's sleep time recommendations can help you figure it out.

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