This blog is all about dropping the nap, when nap times are no more. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? I know people have mixed opinions on that but we will go through when is the best time for this to happen, how you can make it easier on your little one and avoid having it unravel and just destroy nighttime sleep.
When are little one’s ready to drop the daytime nap?
Actually I would always recommend keeping it as long as you can, but certainly up to age three. Around age three, they may show signs of wanting to drop the nap and some are ready. Some may show signs and not be ready and others aren’t ready until they’re four or even over the age of four. So it’s quite a broad spectrum of time as to when they’re truly ready, but don’t worry, because I’ve got some answers for how you can make this a gradual thing, which sounds weird because you’d think it either has to be a nap is there in the day or it isn’t, but actually there are some little tricks you can use to make it easier.
Whilst your little one may need a nap or not need a nap, there’s also the parent perspective on this because for some parents, it’s a case of, “Oh no, please keep napping because that’s my little bit of time to do some things and have some head space.” Whereas other parents are like, “Phew, I don’t need to fight this battle every single day anymore. We don’t need it anymore.” So there are mixed feelings and I would love to know which side of the fence you sit on the nap going completely. Is it something you are excited about or dreading? If you are lucky, in some cases and especially if you have a little one who does already nap well, if they’ve got their nice nap rhythm in place, they’re doing their nice one nap a day, you’re most likely to be lucky and to see the nap very naturally get shorter.
This is the organic approach, naturally their nap times just become shorter. You know that they’re okay because they’ve been napping for two hours a day, it’s gone down to an hour and a half a day, maybe an hour and a quarter, and they’re waking up just as happy and rested as they were. They’re not waking up prematurely from a nap and crying and upset and cranky because when they wake up like that that’s usually a sign they’re not done, they’re not finished. Perhaps something disturbed them or they just woke too soon. But that’s a sign that they haven’t actually finished sleeping. But if they’re waking up quite happily in the same way they were when they were having two hours and an hour and a half, you just start to see it naturally get shorter. If you get that, then you are very lucky.
It’s a lovely way to just see it slowly, slowly, disintegrate and you know little one doesn’t need it anymore. When that happens, they usually also carry the stamina to go for the rest of the afternoon and through to their bedtime quite comfortably because they are comfortably ready and they’re showing that organically. Some little ones it’s less obvious and things are a little messier. Maybe they’ve never been a great napper. Maybe they’ve never really taken enough sleep. So it’s harder to tell because you can’t really see that the nap’s reducing because it was possibly too short anyway and you’ve maybe been doing backup naps and early bedtimes to compensate for as long as you can remember.
So it might not be quite so obvious. That’s when you want to use a little bit of that guide of age but also What else can we look for?
Look at how bedtime and nighttime sleep is going. If your little one is settling quite smoothly to sleep at bedtime and sleeping soundly all night long, obviously they do wake, but resettling quite easily with or without your help, if they’re sleeping well at night on the whole, then it is a good chance that they may be ready if you’re seeing signs like suddenly we’re finding it more difficult to settle at bedtime or we’re finding it more difficult to take that nap. That could be a sign that it is time for the nap to go or begin to go.
If nighttime sleep, however, isn’t great, if you’ve got a lot of difficulty getting them off to sleep, if you have really disturbed nights and wake ups and difficulty resettling and perhaps even early rising, then the nap is not ready to go. This is one of the biggest mistakes I see is, “Oh, nights are a wreck. We are going to have to get rid of that daytime sleep just to make sure they’re tired enough.” It’s like emptying out the tank just so that they can have that great big sleep at nighttime. That’s not the answer and whilst once in a blue moon that will work, once in a blue moon they will crush out and zonk out for 12 hours and you’ll think you’ve cracked it, but that’s not sustainable and that’s not going to be the norm. That’s going to be the rarity. The norm is going to be these cranky, restless, unsettled nights because they’re overtired.
So it’s important to keep that daytime sleep in there if we’ve got problems with night sleep and we’re overtired. If your little one’s overtired, keep that sleep. So what happens when they get to an age where they can’t really nap anymore, but you also know they’re not quite ready to drop it completely? That’s where quiet time comes in. So the nap ideally will get shorter and shorter and shorter until we don’t really nap, but we still have quiet time. If you present your preschooler with quiet time anyway, and actually quite often they do this in preschools, they have the opportunity if they want to curl up and nod off, but they don’t have to. I love things like having a quiet time bag, like a little drawstring bag with maybe a book, not toys, but a book.
There could be something sensory in there, like sensory books, touchy-feely things, a blanket perhaps, like a little or comfort thing. You could have a nap mat, the ones that have the little pillow and the covered thing, and set up this quiet time space. Or a beanbag, something like that. If you have this quiet time environment where you dim the lights or you pull the blinds, you make it a little darker, take away some of that daytime stimulation, kill the noise, no screens, TV sounds, distractions. Just make it nice and calm and zen-like, and create this space for them to have that chill time. Actually, it doesn’t matter if they fall asleep or not in quiet time. If they do, don’t wake them. It’s cool. That’s just telling you that they do still need a little bit of sleep and they probably won’t sleep for too long anyway.
If they don’t, that’s okay. It’s telling us that they may still need it and not take it, but they may not need it. But they’re still having that quiet time and that quiet time is still clocking up our little Z points. It’s still giving them a level of rest because it’s reducing all the stimulation and giving them some calm and that quiet time counts. It absolutely counts. So if you’re struggling to get your preschooler to nap, when you know they do still need to, but they are having some quiet time, then you’re still winning. It’s better than not bothering. It’s better than just going, “Oh my God, this is too hard. I quit,” and then letting your little one be starved of that sleep or rest or quiet time that they do so desperately need. So use that as part of the process.
If you do go without the daytime nap, but you find your little one is tired in the afternoon, a backup nap is fine. There’s no harm in going, “Ah, okay. Maybe today we do need a little bit of sleep,” and just slot a little bit of sleep in there. You can always limit the nap if you need a backup nap and you think, “Okay, they’re asleep now, it’s three o’clock, 3:30, but …” and I see this all the time with mums on the school run and it’s like, “Oh no, they’ve gone to sleep now.” Just let them have a little power nap, but don’t let it go on too long. 20, 30 minutes and just go, “Right. Okay. I’m going to wake them up now, just so that we don’t completely skew the bedtime routine.”
A sign that they’re not entirely ready to stop sleeping in the day is when you get the car ride at 4:00 or 5:00 PM and they go to sleep in the car and you’re like, “Yeah, see, there’s still some tiredness in there. Can’t quite resist that,” and you know that they’re not quite ready to go without sleep in the day, but probably are past the ability to settle in their cots or crib and take a nap as such. So it’s a good sign that they still probably need a little bit of sleep or at least quite time and perhaps an early night. Now, early nights. Early to bed is a brilliant piece to use throughout this time and this transit and most little ones will need an early night for probably some weeks, if not a few months, just to help them manage that whole day of not napping and bringing up the time that little bit earlier. It won’t stay there. It’s just temporary until they’ve built that stamina properly up.
I hope you find this helpful in what to look for and how to navigate this little bumpy road down the lane of getting rid of that nap completely. I hope it goes smoothly for you and if you have any questions, please do reach out. We’re always here to help.
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