Is your child ready to drop their nap?
It is the nap transition many parents dread. When your child is ready to drop their nap and be up ALL DAY LONG. Some parents look forward to it and not having to plan their days around nap time. No matter which camp you are in, eventually your child will be ready to drop their nap.
If you are wondering ‘how will I know when they are ready to drop their nap?’, then you’ve come to the right place! Let’s talk about it. But first…
A few key points about dropping the nap
Most children are not ready to completely drop their nap until about 3 years old. However, this is the most unpredictable nap transition and the timing is specific to each individual child. Some children nap until they are 5 years old and ready to start school, and some barely make it to age 3 before being ready to drop their nap.
It can be tempting to drop the nap earlier if your child is resisting and protesting naps, but these nap protests or nap strikes happen for many reasons and until some of these other pieces of the puzzle are in place, you child may not truly be ready to drop their nap.
Dropping the nap and brain maturation
Working to help your child nap when they still truly need a nap because they don’t have enough stamina to get them through the day is worth the effort. This is because research shows that being ready to drop the nap is a marker of brain maturation.
The readiness to drop the nap is related to brain maturation. Specifically, a child’s brain has more capacity for short term memory storage which decreases the need for more frequent consolidation of memories which happens during sleep.
Without this brain maturation, napping supported learning for preschoolers.[i]
Regular napping versus irregular napping.
In preschool aged children who habitually napped (5-7 days per week) show an increased benefit from nap due to increased slow wave sleep, or deep sleep during nap. For children who nap regularly, learning is supported with more frequent processing of information from short term memory during naps. [i]
Children who do not nap regularly, 2 or fewer times a week, were shown to have mostly light stages of sleep in their nap. Those naps are not as beneficial for learning and memory consolidation
A study done at the University of Colorado[ii] shows toddlers between 2 and a half and 3 years old who miss only a single daily nap are negatively affected by the missed nap. These children were more likely to show anxiety, less joy and interest in doing things and had more trouble problem solving.
The missed nap changed the way toddlers were able to express their feelings and over time with continual missed naps it shaped their brains in ways that could lead to mood-related disorders later in life
The missed naps also lead to more tantrums and worse coping skills which can lead to more negative parents, teachers and caregivers’ interaction with them.
Clearly, dropping the nap is an important milestone in a child’s life developmentally and in their daily life in general, so making sure they are ready to drop it is important.
Here are four signs that your child is ready to drop their nap.
1. Your child is between the ages of 3 and 5 years old
There is often a period of increased nap resistance and protests around age 2. Many parents are ready to drop their child’s nap at this point because they don’t want to feel like they are fighting every day to get their child to nap.
This nap strike can be a long one, lasting a few weeks to a month even. However, the benefits of napping at this age on mood, coping skills, and learning are vast. Trying to push through this trying time is worth it. You can do this by not forcing the nap or pressuring your child to sleep but staying firm with providing the opportunity to nap or at least rest.
2. Refusing the nap or struggling to fall asleep for nap 4 or more days a week
This point goes back to the difference in nap benefits in children who nap regularly versus children who do not nap regularly. If your preschooler struggles (takes 30 + minutes) to fall asleep or does not fall asleep for their nap on a regular basis, this is a good sign that they likely ready to drop their nap.
You want this to be based on actual difficulty or being unable to fall asleep when given the opportunity to nap, not just on your child fighting you about the nap or protesting the nap. These situations pop up for other reasons that may not directly be related to your child’s readiness to drop their nap.
3. Afternoon and evenings when your child doesn’t nap are handled relatively well
Missed naps in children who need them lead to more frustration, increased tantrums, negatives moods, more anxiety and decreased ability to cope. If every single day your child doesn’t nap leads to an afternoon of epic melt down after epic meltdown and your child seemingly ‘out of control’ and unable to control their emotions, they likely need that midday sleep period.
Sure, some tantrums and bad moods are natural for preschoolers (and really all of us) but if afternoons and evenings go relatively smoothly at least half the time after a missed nap, it is likely a sign that your child is ready to drop their nap.
4. Taking a long time to fall asleep and not falling asleep until very late at bedtime
Between ages 3 and 5, the average total amount of sleep kids need is between 10 and 13 hours, with 10 to 12 hours of that sleep happening at night. If you see your child struggling to get to sleep each night and not seeming tired (not wired, which can be a different story), they may be ready to drop their nap or at the very least shorten it in order to get the 10 to 12 hours of nighttime sleep they need at this age.
When your child is ready to drop their nap
You may see all of the signs above or you may only see some of them. When you are ready to pull the nap the biggest piece of advice I have for parents is to implement an earlier bedtime (30-60 minutes earlier than normal) for at least a few weeks to ensure your child is getting enough sleep and isn’t accumulating a sleep debt during the transition.
Getting enough total sleep is an important factor in learning, memory recall and overall cognitive performance for school age children. You should monitor your child’s sleep and move bedtime to ensure that they are getting at least 10-12 hours of nighttime sleep after dropping their nap.
If you don’t think your child is truly ready to be done with naps but you are struggling with them, please reach out. You can schedule a free evaluation call to learn more about how I can help you get past these nap time struggles or you can schedule a 30-minute sleep support call to discuss strategies specific to your child so you have a step-by-step action plan to get your toddler the nap sleep they need to thrive.
Cheers to healthy, happy sleep!