Naps are beneficial to a young child’s development. Children who do not get adequate day sleep may not appear well rested, may have poorer levels of attention, and may be irritable and more prone to temper tantrums. Most children continue to nap until three to four years of age, with some dropping their nap sooner and others continuing to nap a bit longer. A typical nap length for preschoolers is one to two hours.
A nap may be dropped prematurely due to social activities or because a child starts resisting the afternoon nap.
I am not an advocate of dropping a child’s nap because of social activities, but parents make this decision considering a variety of factors.
Sometimes if a child starts resisting his nap it is helpful to move it later by 30 to 60 minutes to increase his drive to sleep. A three- to four-year-old, for example, may not be ready (tired enough) to nap before 2 or 2:30 p.m. If, however, a nap is interfering with falling asleep at night at a reasonable time, limiting the nap to an hour and/or moving bedtime later (e.g., to 8:30 p.m.) may be necessary.
In some cases—when a nap interferes with a later bedtime or the child still resists napping at a later time—the child may be ready to go without a nap. Eliminating the nap and moving bedtime earlier may be necessary.
Signs that your preschooler may be ready to drop the nap
- You offer your child a nap but he or she resists napping and doesn’t fall asleep or appear tired enough to nap.
- If your child naps, you have difficulty achieving a bedtime of 8:30–8:45 p.m.
- If your child misses a nap, he or she is able to make it to bedtime without being overly fussy or irritable.
Transitioning to no nap
Some children may still need to nap periodically as their sleep debt builds. So continue to offer your child an opportunity to nap if he needs one, unless it continues to cause bedtime problems. On some days he may nap and on other days he may not. When the nap is eliminated, replacing it with ‘quiet time’ can give everyone a bit of a break from an otherwise busy day!
With the introduction of full-day kindergarten in several Canadian provinces, some preschoolers may have to drop their nap before they are quite ready to give it up. In preparing your child for a full day of school without a nap, I recommend that the week before schools starts, eliminate the nap and start putting your child to bed earlier to avoid him or her from becoming overtired and to help ensure sufficient sleep at night.
When the final nap is dropped
- Move bedtime to 6:45–7 p.m. (in bed, lights out).
- Aim for 11 to 12 hours of sleep at night (or even more for some children).
Establish healthy sleep habits.
- Have a consistent, calming and predictable bedtime routine. The end of the routine should take place where the child sleeps and should be done in low-level lighting.
- Ensure your child is falling asleep independently.
- Establish an optimal sleep environment—dark, quiet and a temperature on the cool side of comfortable.
- Introduce a sleep-compatible security object if needed – such as little ‘blankies’.
- Make sure your child’s bedtime is not too late to ensure she gets adequate sleep at night.
- Speak with your child’s doctor or other health care professional working in the area of pediatric sleep if your child snores, sleep-walks, has bedtime problems, or night wakings, or if you have any other concerns regarding sleep habits.
Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, September 2015.