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Naptime Wars: Your Guide to Less Stress, More Sleep

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The rubbing of eyes, crying over a tumbled block, and more whining than usual… it’s nap time! Even when it is obvious your child is exhausted and in desperate need of a rest, sometimes they still kick, scream and fight when it’s time to go down for their nap. By two years old most children have transitioned into only needing one nap a day, typically in the afternoon. As they get older, 25% of children by the age of three will no longer need a daily nap. Another 50% of children will no longer require a nap by the age of four and the remaining 25% of children may still need a nap until the age of five or six.

Mayo Clinic in Minnesota recommends that toddlers get 12-14 hours of sleep, in a 24-hour period. If your child sleeps 10 hours at night, then aim for approximately a 2-hour nap. If your child sleeps 12 hours at night, they might not need an afternoon nap, or possibly just a short 30-45 minutes. These are just guidelines to think about while planning naps around what your child needs.

Naptime can be one of the most stressful yet needed times of the day for both child and adult. So, as parents, how can we make this a less stressful and even pleasant experience? Make the nap time routine something you and your child can do consistently. This routine is important both for your child’s development, and it will help your child have an easier time falling asleep everyday. Plan on putting your child down at the same time everyday and establish a pre-nap ritual. Reading a book or two, quiet playtime or cuddling while listening to soft music are some ideas. Pick what works for you, but try to stay consistent. If your child is in day care a few times a week, try to keep the time of the nap the same at both places and provide your child with the same stuffed animal or blanket at each place.

When you child is napping at home, try to let them wake up on their own- this ensures they are well rested. However it’s recommended not to let them nap past 4: p.m. or they might have a difficult time falling asleep at bedtime.

And for those days when they just don’t want to nap…try doing something that can be soothing. A walk in a stroller or drive in the car, some children find movement to be calming. If leaving the house isn’t an option, try placing a few toys in the crib or bed and insist on “quiet time.” Close the door and let them know this is quiet playtime. Hopefully they will end up falling asleep, but even if they don’t, at least they have rested and quieted their bodies, which is better for them and you!

Each child is different. How much sleep they need, what time of the day they need to sleep, how they fall asleep etc. Above are just some tips that we hope are helpful in regards to naps in your household but remember to always adapt  to your child’s individual needs.

Elissa Sungar is the Co-Creator of If Not You, Who? a free website that offers easy and fun in-home educational activities that help prepare children for kindergarten and life. Her passion for early childhood education grew out of her experience as a pre-school teacher at Stanford University’s Bing Nursery School. Elissa loves hiking, running, tennis, yoga, cute workout clothes, good cheese, great baked goods and exploring Denver! Twitter: @ElissaINYW.

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  • comment avatar Amber Johnson December 19, 2013

    My biggest advice is to have a consistent schedule. Every day at 2 p.m., my kids went down for a nap. Occasionally they fought it but usually they fell asleep pretty quickly. And never, ever lay down with them. That will form some bad habits…better to let them fall asleep on their own.

  • comment avatar Anna December 19, 2013

    My oldest napped everyday till she went to first grade. My 3 and almost 5 year olds take a 2-3 hour nap everyday too, and still go to bed at 7:30. They are much happier when they are rested, and so am I.

  • comment avatar Amber Johnson December 19, 2013

    Both of my kids stopped taking naps at 3. A very sad time, indeed but I still enforced quiet time for my sanity.

  • comment avatar Anna December 19, 2013

    Yep, mine know everyday what they are going to do at noon and they do it. No complaints because it’s been our routine since they were babies. 🙂

  • comment avatar Cathy December 19, 2013

    Consistency and a routine. Mine is 3 and he still naps most of the time for an hour and 15 min. Even just quiet time if they won’t nap is helpful. Keep things quiet and calm before nap, no loud toys, read books and sing songs, sippy of milk or water and then down they go.

  • comment avatar Morgan December 19, 2013

    Duct tape. 🙂

  • comment avatar Bruce Smith December 20, 2013

    Generally speaking, I believe the more we listen to our kids and let them practice regulating their own sleep schedule, diet, activity level, etc., the better. In 15 years of working at Alpine Valley School, I’ve repeatedly seen that even young children are capable of a lot more responsibility than we sometimes give them credit for. I know it isn’t always practical to just leave this kind of thing up to them, but you might be surprised just how hard kids will try to meet our respectful, high expectations.

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