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Establishing Healthy Napping for your Toddler

By Connie J. Schnoes, Ph.D.

Handling a Toddler Who Won't Nap

Children, like adolescents and adults, need adequate sleep to function at their best. For young children naps are critical to achieving the total sleep time they need. And, like bedtime children may resist naptime. Every parent knows how a missed nap can wreak havoc on an, otherwise, perfectly good day.

Establishing a positive naptime routine and schedule is very helpful and will reduce resistance from your child. When naptime becomes too frustrating, parents risk deciding prematurely to stop daily naps. Young children need daily naps for their growth, development and healthy emotional functioning.

Techniques for Toddler Naptime

To set your child up for success at naptime, consider these helpful tips:

  • Establish a healthy naptime routine from the beginning. Infants will initially need your help to learn to fall asleep. Put your child down for naps in his crib or bed, in a quiet, dark room.
  • Your child’s age matters when it comes to napping and what to expect. During the first year of life children take more than one nap per day. On average, at one month infants nap 4 times per day, at three months 3 times per day, at six months 2 times per day. They may continue to take more than one nap per day until age 18 months.
  • During the first year of life paying attention to how long your child has been awake will help you plan naptime. By one month of age infants are ready to nap after being awake for 90 minutes. Watch for your infant’s sleep cues (rubbing eyes, crying, fussing) after 60 to 75 minutes of wakefulness so you can help your infant fall asleep. With age your child will stay awake for longer periods of time in 90 minute increments (i.e., 90 minutes, 3 hours, 4.5 hours).
  • Pay attention to your child’s sleep - wake schedule. Toddlers 18 months to 2 years typically sleep 9 hours at night and nearly 3 hours during the day. Three-year-olds typically sleep 10 hours at night and just over 90 minutes during the day. If you try to put your child down too early he may not be ready to nap. If you put your child down too late he will likely have trouble falling asleep at bedtime. For children napping twice a day, late morning and mid afternoon naps are common. For children napping once a day, a mid-day nap is best sometime between the hours of 12:00 and 3:00 pm.
  • Set a firm rule that your toddler must stay in his room during naptime. About 60 to 90 minutes is a fair amount of time to expect a toddler to sleep, or at least rest while in his room. Return him to his room right away if he comes out before the set time. If he comes out again, close the door for a short time.
  • If your toddler is at home with you during the day, make sure he sleeps in his bed or crib for naps. Allowing him to seep in a different place than where he sleeps at night, such as your bed, a couch, etc., will cause difficulties at bedtime.
  • Teach your child to fall asleep on his own. Resist lying down with your child until he falls asleep. If you lie down with your child, over time your child will learn to fall asleep with you there and make it difficult for him to fall asleep without you present. This will make bedtime challenging as well.
  • Stay calm and follow through with napping if naptime becomes challenging.
  • Children begin to give up naps at 4 years of age. As you notice your child needing a nap less often, replace napping with quiet time. Provide a few books or quiet toys for quiet time in his room (not his bed) each day. This will help your child to feel rejuvenated and ready to tackle the remainder of the day.