Perhaps it’s because my own child is about 2.5 years old now, that all the parental conversation around sleep seems to be gravitating from how to get them to sleep through the night, to how do you get over the bedtime battles? Recently, in a few different circles, my friends have been telling each other about how the bedtime battles are getting out of control. Routines get dragged out every night, the manipulation and negotiating is getting more complex, and they just aren’t going to sleep on their own anymore. And then someone suggests it. “…I think it’s time to drop the day time nap.”
So how do you know if this is key to solving your little one’s problem?
First, it’s important (or at least helpful) to know what the recommended amount of sleep is for your child. Note that for toddlers aged 1-3 years it is 12-14 hours (typically 10-12 overnight and the rest made up in a nap), and 11-13 hours for preschoolers aged 3-5 years. Before you make the decision to cut that nap, will your child still be getting the recommended amount of sleep for children his/her age? There is an agreement among my sleep consulting colleagues to encourage naps until kids go to school. The better rested kids are, the better they learn and play with each other. However, kids may drop their day time nap anytime between the ages of 3-5 years old. We want to maintain and preserve the nap as long as possible, but not at the expense of consolidated night time sleep. When your toddler/preschooler isn’t falling asleep at their normal bedtime (ideally anytime between 6:00 and 8:00 pm), but is still taking long restorative naps, it does make sense to ask whether or not things about that nap can be changed to improve night time sleep. If this is the case with your child, here are a couple of things to try before deciding to drop that nap altogether.
- What time is the nap happening? All the literature suggests that the ideal window for children taking one daily nap starts between 12:00 pm and 2:00 pm. A one hour nap is still considered restorative, but often times children napping only once a day may nap as long as 2-3 hours or longer. If your child’s nap starts at/or after 2:00 pm, consider offering an earlier nap time closer to 1:00 pm.
- How long is the nap? Cap the nap at 4:00 pm. Children this age will be able to last at least 4 hours from the end of their nap until bedtime. So if bedtime is 8:00 pm, you don’t want to allow the nap to go past that. If this doesn’t have an effect, then begin capping the nap earlier, but allow your child to still get at least one hour of nap time in.
Having a consistent routine really is key to overcoming most of the issues around bedtime battles. If you are consistent and are not doing anything to reinforce behaviors that are dragging out bedtime routine, it is worth tweaking your nap timing when consolidated night time sleep is threatened, before dropping the nap altogether.