The Ever Transitioning Toddler Nap Situation
As they grow, toddlers don’t need as much sleep as they use to, but they do need help *adjusting* to their new and evolving schedules. Here’s some tips on easing nap transitions.
No one is sadder to see naps disappear than Mom and Dad. That vital hour or two of sleep that helps your child recharge for the afternoon’s “work” of being a toddler also lets you catch up on bills, laundry, work, or whatever. Here’s a peek at what you can expect from toddler naps and advice on how to deal when the need for daytime sleep disappears.
Dropping the morning nap. Most babies eventually settle into a two-nap-a-day routine — one in the morning and another in the afternoon — until around 16 to 18 months. Once they’re toddlers, they start to skip the morning nap. You’ll notice the signs when your child remains revved up around naptime or starts to spend all the time playing in his crib. Sometimes, he’ll be very vocal about it: “I’m not tired!” Whatever the signs, don’t expect the transition from two naps to one to be smooth sailing. For the first few weeks, your child may grow cranky and fussy as he struggles to stay awake for more than six straight hours. He might doze off midway between what used to be his morning nap and his afternoon nap or even revert to his old morning-and-afternoon nap schedule.At the beginning of this switch-over, keep an eye out for telltale signs of drowsiness — eye-rubbing, yawning, and that lovely Mr. Hyde personality change that comes with hair-triggered tantrums and tears. Shift lunch a bit earlier to accommodate an earlier afternoon nap if necessary. If he nods off before lunch, don’t worry; you can always feed him after he wakes up. Just know that the single nap he’s getting will likely be longer than his usual afternoon snooze — close to two hours or more.Know too that with just one restorative siesta, he may easily get frustrated and cranky toward dinnertime. Again, keep an eye on him and adjust his schedule accordingly to ensure that he’s getting enough sleep. Maybe feed him dinner a little earlier in order to get him to bed earlier. If you’ve allowed your sleepy child to nap later than usual, however, don’t expect him to be ready for sleep at his regular bedtime. If there’s typically, say, four hours between nap and bedtime, adjust his schedule accordingly to minimize protests.
Dropping the afternoon nap. Ah, you knew the day would come when that last nap disappeared. When it actually happens depends on the child (whether they’re ready or not) — some kids nap till they’re five, while others quit around two or three. So there’s a wide range of normal. Again, the transition from one nap to no naps can be shaky at first. Instead of going cold turkey, your toddler may nap three days out of seven, and then two or one. For those days when napping is not in the cards, try to institute a half hour of “quiet time” when your child can lie or sit or play quietly and refuel for all the fun things you have planned for the afternoon. Most kids won’t mind hanging out by themselves to do whatever they please, and more often than not they wind up falling asleep.You should also consider moving up his bedtime on nap-free days. As with the two-to-one transition, he’s still learning to make do on less energy, and it’s not always pretty. He may get sloppy and cranky in the evening, so make sure you help him ease into bedtime before he becomes overtired. And make sure he’s getting at least 11 hours of sleep each night. If he used to go to sleep at 8:00 p.m., wake up at 6:00 a.m., and get a one-hour nap, push his bedtime an hour or so earlier to make up the difference.Not all kids are created equal, however. If your child is not getting the textbook-recommended sleep allotment, but he seems happy, healthy, and well rested, he’s probably fine. If you have any questions at all about his sleep needs, check with your pediatrician.