When Should Kids Stop Napping? Advice from a Pediatric Sleep Consultant
The end of nap time is bittersweet for many parents. On one hand, it means that their babies are growing up, and on the other, it could also mean that their child is finally sleeping through the night. Cheers to that. When it comes to napping, there are no hard and fast rules for when your child will stop. Every child is different, so much so that parents will even find that what held true for one child doesn’t necessarily hold true for another.
The exact age children abandon their naps varies widely. Some stop as early as age three, while others continue to nap well into age five or six. So, while the official end to your child’s nap time is anyone’s guess, it’s important to know what to look for and how best to help them get through the transition.
The importance of napping
While most parents would never wish away nap time because it’s far too valuable for getting some household chores done, remember that naps serve a real purpose. In fact, it’s crucial for your child’s cognitive and emotional development. According to Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant, Bonnie Dimmick:
“Naps are shown to support learning, positive mood, and problem-solving skills, and readiness to drop the midday nap is related to brain maturation. When a child’s brain has the capacity for increased short-term memory storage, their need for frequent consolidation of memories (which happen during sleep) also decreases.”Bonnie Dimmick
When do kids start fighting naps?
Parents will often start to see nap resistance around 18 to 24 months, but putting an end to nap time at this point may be premature. At this stage, Dimmick says, nap resistance is more about a “toddler’s development and exploring their independence and ability to make decisions on their own.”
While it may be tempting to curtail naps at this stage, it may not be all that wise. Remember that toddlers need about 12-14 hours of sleep per day. So, if your child isn’t sleeping through the night, they won’t get the total amount of sleep they need, and this could be a recipe for disaster.
Moreover, toddlers don’t just suddenly stop napping. Somewhere around 18 months, your toddler may go from three naps per day down to only two. As they continue to develop and grow over the few next months and years, nap time will continue to taper off until it eventually stops altogether. Very often, this final transition happens around ages four to five.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, only about 50% of children are still napping at age four, and by age five, only about 30% of kids are still napping.
Signs that your child is ready to stop napping
Instead of trying to follow parenting books or grandma’s advice to the letter, it’s more important that parents pay attention to subtle (and maybe not-so-subtle) signals and listen to what their child is telling them. When your child is ready to stop napping, their actions will speak loud and clear. Here are three signs that your kid is ready.
Taking too long to fall asleep during nap time
If your child takes too long to fall asleep when nap time rolls around or continues to play, showing no signs of sleepiness, this could be a good indication that their bodies no longer need the extra sleep.
Taking too long to fall asleep at bedtime
If your child doesn’t seem sleepy or tired at their normal bedtime and takes a long time to fall asleep, this could also be an important signal that the end of nap time is near.
If your child skips a nap and shows no signs of crankiness, or an impending meltdown, this may be a good sign that they’re ready to transition away from nap time.
How to help your child transition from nap time
Adjust their bedtime
When your child first transitions away from nap time, they may get tired earlier in the evening. So, you may want to move up their bedtimes to accommodate the lack of a nap. While a 6 PM bedtime may seem a little far-fetched, rest assured that during this transition, it’s completely acceptable.
Stop offering naps
If your child seems wide awake at their normal afternoon nap time, don’t force it. Instead, Dimmick suggests that parents should stop offering the nap and help their little ones recharge with some quiet downtime. Remember that even though your child isn’t napping they still need a physical and emotional break. Use the time normally reserved for naps to offer them a snack or quiet time with a book instead.
Commit to a nap-free routine and stick to it
Once your child transitions away from napping, it’s important that you stick to a consistent bedtime routine and don’t waffle back and forth. Doing so can both confuse your child and wreak havoc on their internal clock. If bedtime proves to be difficult, try a few calming audio stories or meditations to help your little one settle down.
The end of nap time can be a bumpy road for everyone. To help make the transition as smooth as possible, it’s important to pay close attention and listen to what they’re trying to tell you, make adjustments to their routines as needed, and try your best to be patient.