Last updated January 7th, 2021
Sleep when they sleep, they say. The first piece of advice you get when you have a baby is to take advantage of the time they sleep to get some snooze time too. With time however, I discovered that nap time is when parents squeeze in their whole adult life. My daughter napping two hours in the early afternoon was the most blissful time of the day. As much as we love our children and cherish moments with them, there comes a time when you need to wind down and have some space to think. I’m sure every parent can relate to the feeling of your toddler suddenly becoming fussy at nap time, resisting it or even having just a 10 to 30 minutes nap when they used to go on for two hours. How can you get back that me-time and make sure your toddler is getting the right amount of restorative sleep? Read on for more info!
During their first 4 to 5 years of life, our kids’ sleep patterns continuously change. As babies become toddlers and toddlers move closer to the age of 5, afternoon naps decrease according to various factors. These include the quality and quantity of nighttime sleep, their sleeping habits, their routines and even their eating habits. It is said that the sleeping habits of a young child is established by 1.5 years of age and remains the same until 5 years old.
Napping time and frequency will change with time as your toddler’s needs vary as they grow. There are so many reasons why your toddler is having shorter naps and even resisting sleep time altogether so you shouldn’t worry about it. There are ways to get your toddler to nap longer and get the amount of sleep he needs, as it is possible for a toddler to still nap 1 to 2 hours.
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Why do toddlers fight sleep?
The length of your toddler’s nap usually depends on how much sleep he got the night before. A toddler should usually get 11 to 14 hours of sleep in total over 24 hours.
But as your toddler grows, you will most often than not find that he is either resisting his nap, making it shorter or just keeping himself up longer, and ending up having a late nap which will impact his nighttime sleep. As early years involve constant developmental changes, your toddler’s daily life changes can affect how much sleep they will need.
Other factors can also determine why your toddler has been fighting sleep at nap time:
- Their nap time will automatically be shorter if their morning is quiet and they had lots of sleep during the night.
- Sometimes, it will seem like your toddler is resisting sleep as he shows a sudden burst of energy just before nap time and everyone gets hopeless and cranky. This might just mean he got himself overtired, making nap time more difficult and unbearable for both of you. Another reason is overstimulation. It can be with TV, with playing outside, noise or even medications they are on. Kids get overstimulated easily as they’re taking everything in and going through a new phase like the terrible twos.
Your toddler might be fighting nap time because he doesn’t need a second nap or has been napping at the wrong time of the day, when he’s not tired enough or when he’s already overtired.
Some cues to watch out for to avoid getting to an overtired or overstimulated state
It is common for parents to think that the more their toddler is tired and worn out from activities and days out, the better and faster he will sleep. Truth is, we’ve all been there.
When we are overjoyed that our child hasn’t napped or has been playing so much that they’ll snooze in a minute and take a long nap or have a full night. With time, we learn that the more balanced activity and rest they get, the better they sleep.
Before it gets too late and your toddler has pushed himself to the point of being overtired, watch out for those cues:
- Being fussy and irritated
- Resting their head on pillows, laps or shoulders
- Tired eyes
- Not being very alert
These cues mean your little human is ready for his nap and that he should have a nap schedule based on his age and on the time of day.
What is a good napping schedule?
It has been shown that napping in the afternoon has a significant impact on nighttime sleep in toddlers and kids, and that early-in-the-day nap timing is positively correlated to the length of nighttime sleep. That idea, along with the following factors, make a base for every parent to schedule their toddlers’ nap, which drops to 1 a day starting at the age of 18 months.
- Total nap time should be less than 3 hours
- Naptime should take place before 3 pm
- Awake times (i.e. time in which your toddler is awake during the day) are important in determining your toddler’s sleeping schedule. If your child is awake too long, he will become overtired and stimulated. If awake times are too short, your child won’t be tired enough to be able to go to sleep. A toddler taking 1 nap a day should be awake 4 to 5.5 hours in a row at most.
So, how do you get your toddler to nap longer?
Like everything in parenting, there are many ways to help your toddler get the long nap he needs to develop properly and feel completely rested and energized.
Every parent and child have their ways of course, but here are some general guidelines you can follow to make that time of day restful and restorative for both you and your toddler:
- Make sure there are no distractions in your toddler’s room before and during his sleep. Toddlers usually wake up briefly during their naps and should be able to fall back asleep quickly without distractions.
- This comes hand in hand with teaching them to fall back asleep on their own. We all fell into the trap of rocking them to sleep. When they’re used to falling asleep while being rocked or fed, they will never be able to get back to sleep by themselves.
- Fill their tummies 20 to 30 minutes before nap time so they don’t wake up earlier because of hunger.
- Have all the elements of bedtime there before nap time too. You can skip the shower and extensive bedtime routine of course, but create something similar to cue them into sleep. A darkened room, their crib, their stuffed animals, and a small story can go a long way in making them feel safe and relaxed enough to nap longer.
- Keep their nap time consistent and fixed. They will nap easily and longer if their schedule is kept the same. If your toddler usually goes to daycare, follow their schedule for ultimate rest.
- Keep your toddler in their bed even if they wake up earlier from their nap. This will encourage them to fall back asleep or simply teach them to sleep longer with time.
- Older generations (hello grandma and grandpa!) are convinced that screen time will make kids relax and fall asleep. I’ve been there! The fact is screens and sleep cannot mix. Stopping screen time 30 minutes before their nap will help them sleep longer as their brain won’t be stimulated.
- Have white noise in the room during nap time for it to cancel daytime noise from outside. We all know how many distractions there can be during busy weekdays.
- Keep the room where your toddler is napping cool and dark. Darkness helps the body produce melatonin, the sleep hormone.
- Letting them get outside, run, play, and get some sunshine makes a big difference in your toddler’s quality and length of sleep. So make sure he gets lots of exercise and fresh air before his nap! Keeping them engaged and active while they’re awake guarantees good sleep time.
FAQs – More Questions on Toddler Nap Time
Does napping impact bedtime and vice-versa?
Getting your toddler to nap longer largely depends on how his night went. A well-rested toddler who’s had a good night’s sleep will nap better and longer than a toddler who is sleep deprived.
Is it okay for a 2 year old not to nap?
A two-year-old is very special. Growing out of their baby phase and stepping in to their preschooler one, they are constantly taking in new ideas and situations. A well-rested toddler is much easier to deal with and a tired one is surely a cranky one. That is why nap time is still crucial at that age.
What is “Wake to Sleep”?
“Wake to Sleep” is a method used on babies and toddlers to extend their sleep time. Basically, you just rub them gently until they slightly move and you do so 5 to 10 minutes before they get to their light sleep stage. This will make them skip the light sleep stage and go back to the deep sleep one.
Should I wake my toddler from a nap?
We parents are always told never to wake a sleeping baby or child! An extra-long nap is an exception to that rule as a nap that has gone too long (i.e. more than 2 hours) can have a huge impact on their nighttime sleep.
Naps for toddlers are of great importance. Be it for them and their wellbeing, or for us parents and our own wellbeing, it is important to have a properly-settled nap time routine. There are many reasons why toddlers fight sleep and don’t get the amount they need, but the ways to extend their time of rest and make the most out of it are many.
The first years of their lives are the most beautiful ones but also the ones where parents are the most sleep-deprived. Hang in there, you’ll miss those cuddly nights soon enough!