If you’re reading this, chances are that you have garnered some experience from your little one’s previous nap transitions; the three to two-nap-a-day transition and most recently, the two to one-nap-a-day transition had their challenges but you made it through. The one-nap a-day schedule lasted the longest; perhaps since your now 3 or 4-year-old was only 15 months old or even younger. Some parents dread this final transition to no more naps: how will I ever get any work done at home if my child doesn’t nap? While other parents are eagerly waiting for that freedom that comes when you don't have to feel chained to the house for a certain amount of time each day. Whatever your personal feelings are about dropping this final nap it’s most important to consider your little one’s sleep tank. If that nap stops abruptly and you do not help the transition along you may find your child and yourself with rapidly emptying sleep tanks that wind up in what I like to call the sleepless snowball. This is when your child’s sleep tank begins to suffer (in this case due to either skipped naps or too abrupt of a transition to no naps) and then the snowball ensues. The sleepless snowball can include fighting bedtime, waking up in the middle of the night multiple times and even wandering into your bed to finish the night, waking up earlier in the morning, and possibly night terrors or sleepwalking. Here are some key factors to consider when helping your child through this transition and to help avoid that sleepless snowball.
1. The Amount of Sleep your Child Needs: The amount of sleep your child requires at night and during the day is age dependent and can vary greatly from child to child. If your child is 2 to 3 years old he or she likely requires 11 to 13 hours of sleep at night and 1 to 2 hours during the day. If your child is 3 to 5 years of age they probably need 11 to 12 hours at night and 0 to 2 hours during the day. If your child is over 5 years old and you’ve managed to hold on to that nap…. Congratulations! Your 5 to 12-year-old needs around 10 to 11 hours of sleep at night and no daytime sleep.
2. Get to Know Your Child’s Individual Sleep Needs: How do you know? Pay attention to how your child behaves around 5pm when you’re engaging with him/her and not when he/she is zoned out on some sort of screen. Can he/she focus and participate on an activity with you? Or is she/he fussy, fidgety, moody, and/or hyperactive? If she/he can participate with you then awesome! If she/he is unable to participate then chances are she's/he’s starting to become overtired. Often times we put our kids in front of a screen around 5pm. I know I do! I’m trying to get dinner on the table and sometimes I just need that time to myself. This means that often times your child’s growing sleep debt can go unnoticed. You go to have dinner and he/she won’t eat and then acts crazy after dinner, pushing bedtime later and then has trouble going to sleep. Next comes the nighttime wake ups and before you know it you’re starting your day at 4am because your toddler is now fully entangled in the nap transition sleepless snowball. It’s easy to see how dropping a nap before your child is completely ready can lead to your family’s sleep going completely off the rails! So, if you pay attention around 5pm and notice the signs that she's/he’s overtired, chances are she/he isn’t getting enough sleep and you need to figure out how to refill that sleep tank stat.
3. This Transition is a Long One: There is no finite moment in time when your child will suddenly not require daytime sleep. In other words, the transition can take weeks or months until complete. This means that some days your child might benefit from a nap and other days may not require a nap. Also, just because he/she might benefit from a nap, doesn’t mean they’ll take one. Give it a solid 2 weeks of nap skipping before you give up on naps completely because sometimes they do come back.
4. There Are Ways To Encourage Napping If You Feel Your Child Needs It But Is Fighting It: Changing the language you use can be one way to facilitate daytime sleeping. Instead of saying “take a nap or I’m going to be really mad!” or “you better take a nap!” try to take the pressure of your child so they can really relax and have the greatest potential to fall asleep. Try saying “If you rest your body you’ll have enough energy when you wake up to go play outside.” Or you could say, “when you rest your body for a nap, you wake up stronger and you can run faster and jump higher!” Last, you could try “when you rest your body you’ll have so much energy that we’ll be able to go out to the park!” You fill in the activity that you are able to deliver on and then follow through. Other ways to encourage napping include using a timer, making sure the room is really dark, using white noise, ensuring your timing is correct, and/or even letting your child have quiet time with some books in his/her bed.
5. If Your Child Is Just Flat Out No Longer Napping But You Think He’s Overtired: Because there is no finite moment your child is ready to transition to no naps (see number 3), if you just suddenly drop the nap completely, your child will most likely become overtired. If you’ve tried for a solid 2 weeks and that nap just seems to be gone forever then temporarily move bedtime earlier. It’s temporary, I promise! Since every child's sleep needs are so different you may be able to get away with a half hour earlier bedtime while some other children will require closer to a whole hour earlier. Once you notice that at 5:00pm your child is happier, able to stay awake and happy throughout dinner, and able to participate in evening activities with a smile, you’ll know the time has come to push bedtime a little later again. Start gradually by pushing bedtime 15 minutes later and then continue to do so every 3-5 days as tolerated.
6. If Your Child Naps Sometimes But Other Days Doesn’t or Doesn’t Seem to Need it: Some children will start transitioning to no naps by dropping their nap at home but napping while at daycare. Others will nap some days and not others. On the days your child naps, excellent! Keep your normal or even slightly later bedtime. On the days your child does not nap, institute a 30 to 60 minute earlier bedtime. If your child is home during the day and not at daycare or school it’s ok to only enforce naps every other day, or only on Mondays and Fridays. Whatever you think your child needs to stay happy and well rested is what you should do.
7. How to Know the Transition Is Complete: I can’t stress enough that your child’s mood around 5pm will tell you almost everything you need to know about his or her sleep tank. If it’s full your little one will be happy leading right up to bedtime. If your little one’s sleep tank is nearing empty you’ll notice more tears, tantrums, hyperactivity, inability to focus, fidgeting, and possibly picky eating. Stave off the sleepless snowball (fighting bedtime, middle of the night wake-ups, and early morning waking) that often follows when children become over tired by tuning in to their overtired signs and adjusting bedtime earlier until the transition is complete!