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When and How to Stop Napping Altogether



 

The dreaded day (or should I say afternoon?) has arrived: your toddler is ready to drop naps altogether. Nap time in the early years isn’t just giving your child a chance to rest: it may be the only break you’re getting throughout the day, too! I distinctly remember crying during this transition. I was not ready to let go of that mid-day break that I felt like I so desperately needed.


Parents, this is a big change for you, too! It’s okay if you are feeling overwhelmed by this transition. Just remember – you have made it through every hard transition before this, and you will make it through this one as well! As daunting as getting through the day without a nap might sound, there is a light at the end of this transition tunnel.


In fact, dropping that final nap often relieves a lot of stress around sleep. If you are truly ready for this transition then chances are, nap time has become a battle, or bedtime has gotten AWKWARDLY late. One immediate bonus is you can move bedtime forward to a reasonable hour again! And the best news is that this does not have to be the end of your mid-day break because I’m going to introduce you to your new best friend: Quiet time.

 

Signs That It’s Time


While you may not feel ready, there are some reliable predictors that your little one is ready to release that final nap. Most little ones reach this stage between 2.5 and 4 years old. They may be showing all of these signs, or just one or two:

  • Skipping naps more than half the time

  • Night sleep is affected when they do nap:

    • LATE bedtime

    • Sleeping less than 10 hours at night

    • Split nights

    • Early morning wakings


Before You Drop the Nap


I like to try capping this nap before we drop it altogether. Making the transition too early can make those last couple of hours before bed truly painful for all parties involved. Even one sleep cycle can help, so try reducing the nap first! If your child is skipping naps or consistently taking a long time to fall asleep, then offer their nap about 45 minutes later than normal and wake them up after they have slept for 45 minutes. If you do this and your child is still getting at least 10 hours of sleep at night, then STAY HERE. Within the next 2-3 months you will probably be ready to fully drop the nap, but it isn’t time yet!

 

This is Not an All-or-Nothing Transition


When you’re ready to finally pull the plug, I don’t want you to feel like you can NEVER offer a nap again. Even as adults, there are some days when our bodies naturally crave a nap! With all other nap transitions, I advocate sticking with the new schedule EVEN IF you’re seeing sleepy cues earlier so that their bodies can adjust to the change. This one is different! Watch your child’s cues and teach them to listen to their body. For the next couple of months, they may still nap once or twice a week. On days that they do nap, wake them up after 45 minutes and simply offer bedtime a little later that night. On days they don’t nap, aim for bedtime between 7 and 7:30.


During this phase of life, I would often let my boys take the reins. If they fell asleep in the car or while watching cartoons after lunch, then I wouldn’t try to keep them awake, I would simply let them snooze for a sleep cycle. If you want to put them in their sleep space for these one-off naps, feel free. But don’t be afraid to soak in a good contact nap, too! It’s just one sleep cycle, and it may have been a while since you’ve gotten to enjoy a good snuggle with your energetic little one!


If a 45-minute nap is enough to seriously throw off bedtime (and I mean seriously – not falling asleep until 10:30 at night after a nap), then it’s time to drop the nap altogether and push through any tiredness. I won’t lie: this is a big change and it can be HARD at first. Your child isn’t used to staying awake for 12 hours straight! You might notice that 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm is a roller coaster of emotions. Your child might go from hysterically laughing straight into a full-on tantrum. Hang in there! This part gets easier as your child regulates to the longer days!

 

Create a Quiet Time Routine


Quiet time is parenting GOLD. I cannot tell you how vital quiet time is, not only for you as a parent but also for your child! A little bit of quiet time for your child to play in their room without too much stimulation will help them get to bedtime without being overtired. Even though they are not actually sleeping during this time, it is still a much-needed break for EVERYONE in the middle of the day. I promise that once you build this routine, you will notice a difference on days that you have quiet time and days you do not.


If your child is not used to playing in their room by themselves, then start small. Set a timer for 10 minutes and have your child play in their room until the timer goes off. You may need to re-direct them and walk them back to their room often at first. As they get accustomed to this habit, add on 5-15 minutes at a time until you work your way up to an hour. Using a visual timer can be great with this so that your child can physically see how much time they have left!


I recommend offering quiet time after lunch so that we do not have to worry about them being hungry during this time. If they are having trouble staying engaged, then consider getting some small bins and putting special toys in them. Every quiet time you can rotate which bin you give them. These toys should ONLY be used for quiet time so that they become something special to look forward to.

 

Final Thoughts


I know dropping naps altogether can feel scary. Again, I went through a full-blown grieving process when we dropped naps with my twins. However, I truly mean it when I say that there is good that comes out of it. You no longer have to schedule your day around a nap. You get to move bedtime to a MUCH more reasonable hour. Bedtimes tend to go more smoothly and are less frustrating because they are truly ready for bed. Most of all, your toddler is growing into a preschooler. While I know this feels bittersweet, I want to tell you that there is SO MUCH GOOD in the preschool years. The child that your toddler is going to transform into will NEVER stop amazing you. The preschool years are SO precious and important, and I know you are just going to love seeing who your child becomes.






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