Naps are a wonderful thing for both an overwhelmed parent and an exhausted child. Your little one gets the opportunity to hit pause on running around all day, and you get your first chance to pee alone. It’s a win-win. But unfortunately, there comes a time in every parenthood journey when your toddler is done with naps, and forcing or pushing for them to take one it isn’t going to make things any better. Yep, there are a few telltale signs your toddler should stop napping, and it’s important to pay attention to them.
I know it’s tempting to keep trying to force naps on them — trust me, I’m already worried about what I’m going to do when my 9-month-old daughter (who already isn’t a great napper) drops daytime sleep altogether — but trying to make a toddler take a nap when they don’t want to will result in a lot of tears, tantrums, and unhappiness. It’s better for both of you to just drop that nap.
If you do still need a break, and you feel like they still need at least a little rest, try replacing nap time with quiet time. Dr. Florencia Segura of Einstein Pediatrics suggests to Romper that toddlers can instead be told to spend an hour or so in their room doing quiet activities, like reading books or playing with toys. “This break not only helps the whole family, but also will give him time to fall asleep if he is especially tired on a given day or had difficulty sleeping the night before.”
That said, here’s how to tell if your toddler should stop napping:
1. Your Toddler Has Difficulty Falling Asleep For Naps
The most obvious sign that your toddler is ready to drop a nap is that they give you a really hard time going down for one. Now, this actually might not be that obvious for every kid: some kids just don’t like naps, even if they still need them, and always give a parent a hard time.
But Segura says, “It is usually not an overnight process and happens over a period of several weeks. You will start to notice that your young child will have difficulty falling asleep during nap time and will nap on some days and not on other days.”
Don’t expect things to change overnight, either. There might be some days where your child doesn’t want a nap, and others when they seem like they do. “Once children start to go through this period where they are not tired enough to nap earlier, they might want to nap around 4:00 or 5:00 pm because they will start running out of energy,” says Segura. “Please resist this since a late nap will make it harder for your child to fall asleep at bedtime. Instead, try to go outside during this time or play a game to keep them engaged. During this transition, be prepared to move dinner and bedtime an hour earlier.”
2. Your Toddler Won’t Go To Sleep At Their Usual Bedtime
OK, so say your kid goes down for a nap at the usual time with no problem… but you’ve noticed something strange: they don’t seem to want to go to sleep at their usual bedtime. Refusing to go to bed at their normal bedtime is a sign that they need to drop a nap, because they’re simply not tired enough after taking one.
Innessa Donskoy, a pediatric sleep medicine doctor at Advocate Children’s Hospital, elaborates on this, saying, “Sleep is controlled by two overarching processes: our circadian rhythm (our internal 24-hour clock) and our sleep pressure drive. This latter drive for sleep starts out low in the morning and builds throughout the day so that by the time we get to the evening, our sleep pressure is so high, we can fall asleep easily and pay it off throughout the night. As we build sleep pressure, any amount that we pay off in the daytime (with a nap, for example) will prolong how much additional time we need to get back to that ‘pressure’ where we are able to fall asleep easily.”
3. Your Toddler Is Very Irritable
Kids who don’t want to take a nap are going to be pretty annoyed about being forced to take a nap. Think about it this way: they’re playing, they’re having fun… and then suddenly you’re sticking them in their bed, turning off the lights, and telling them they have to sleep.
If this happens, they are obviously going to get more moody and irritable, because they’re kids, and that’s just how they react to things they don’t like. “The child who stays happy and composed without the nap, or certainly who consistently stays awake for the entire nap opportunity, may be a candidate for trying to skip it,” says Donskoy.
4. If Your Child Is Around About 5 Years Old, They Can Probably Skip A Nap
There’s no exact age that your toddler will stop napping: it’s generally between ages 3 and 5, but for some kids, it could be as young as 2 (especially if they have older siblings running around and not napping). Still, if your child is still napping by age 5 and you’ve noticed a difference in behavior, it could mean they’re ready to drop the naps.
Donskoy says, “The general guidelines for pediatric sleep put forth by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommend total sleep times grouped by age. Up until a child is 5 years old, the total sleep time that he/she is recommended includes a daytime nap. After this age, the total sleep time is assumed to be exclusively at night.”
Donskoy also notes that, actually, naps after the age of 5 (if the child seems like they really need them) could be indicative of poor quality of sleep at night. After 5 years old, you really want them to get all their sleep at night, so if they need a nap, that may be a sign something needs to change with nighttime sleep.
5. Your Toddler Doesn’t Seem Tired At All At Nap Time
When your child is ready to get rid of naps, you’ll notice that not only are they refusing naps, but they just don’t seem tired at all. “The toddler who is potentially done napping will be at his or her baseline around the time the nap would usually approach. They will not be ‘revving up’ nor having a meltdown. They will be playing, eating, learning, etc. and no different than they are at any other part of the day,” says Donskoy.
If you notice this is happening, try skipping the nap. If your child seems happy and totally fine without it, they probably don’t need naps anymore. “Noticing these clues and fostering stress-free approaches around sleep opportunities is crucial; it allows children to have positive associations with sleep that stay with them well into adulthood,” says Donskoy.
Dr. Florencia Segura, MD FAAP, of Einstein Pediatrics
Innessa Donskoy, MD FAAP FAASM, pediatric sleep medicine attending at Advocate Children’s Hospital and member of the Pajama Program Goodnight Advisory Council