Where babies sleep for about three or four periods during the day, by the time your child is 1 year old he will probably only take a nap a couple of times, perhaps one nap in the morning and one in the afternoon.
Whilst you will be keen for daytime naps not to interfere with a good night’s sleep, these rest periods are still important for your toddler’s physical and mental development, which is still moving on at an exhausting rate!
How long should daytime naps be for a toddler?
All children differ, but you will begin to see a pattern long before your baby is 12 months old. Is he a light sleeper who cat-naps then is ready to explore again, or does he get grouchy if he doesn’t have a good two-hour snooze? Let your toddler’s past behaviour be your guide. Of course, if he’s had a busy time of it, don’t be surprised if he naps for longer than usual occasionally.
There will be days when you’re out and about and your child’s so entertained that he misses his nap. You shouldn’t be a slave to nap times, but you might find he is more grumpy by the time he has his tea or his bath, if he hasn’t at least had some quiet time during the day.
By about 18 months you might find that your child only needs one nap just after lunchtime. Whilst you don’t want to make him stay awake when he may be incredibly tired, do try to keep the nap contained in a period where he wakes up no later than about 4pm, otherwise the late nap will begin to affect how ready for bed he is in the evening.
What if your child won’t nap?
Try taking your child out for some fresh air, if only to the shops or a nearby park. Even if he wants to walk, take the buggy along and you may well find he enjoys a 20-minute snooze on the way home.
If you feel your child really isn’t ready to give up the daytime nap (he’s always tired and in a bad mood by about 4.30pm, even if he refuses to lay down in his cot), think about creating a daytime bed routine like your night time one:
- a story on the bed together
- curtains closed
- gentle music
- a cuddle with teddy
Even if your child just gets used to having a lie-down and some quiet time this will really help him get through the day in a better mood.
When will my child grow out of a daytime nap?
This varies hugely and some parents are desperate to hang on to it for as long as possible because they get used to this chance in the day to get the washing done, the dinner made or to grab a sit down themselves!
Some children will grow out of their daytime naps more quickly than others, but new research suggests that by the time your child is 2, it’s best to drop the daytime napping. However, you may feel your child isn’t ready.
If your child is consistently waking up early, he may well be getting ready to drop the daytime nap, or at least sleep for a shorter period earlier in the day.
However, if your child is still napping by the time he starts at al nursery where there’s no opportunity for him to have a lie-down, think about opting for a morning session so he has his quiet afternoons at home, if at all possible.
When your child starts all-day nursery or school, you may well find that the daytime nap returns for a while, at weekends. This is totally understandable because your little one is dealing with so many changes to his routine as well as new demands on his energy and concentration. If this is the case, be sensitive to this and try to allow for a few lazy Saturdays at home at the beginning of each new term.
Help your toddler drop his day-time naps
Changing any routine is easier if you pick a few days when neither you nor your child has much on. Be realistic: it may be better to drop his daytime sleep every other day at first. You could move your toddler’s bedtime forward by 15-30 minutes when you first start reducing the naps. Alternatively, try reducing his daytime sleep by 15 minutes, until it’s gone completely.
Initially, dropping nap times means a long day with a tired and irritable end. So be prepared, and try the following:
- Build in regular rest or quiet times in the afternoon.
- Give him a main meal at lunchtime, when he’s not too tired to eat, as this can also help.
- Organise the day so you don’t have too many pressures on you when you’re dealing with a more tired toddler in the evening.
- To keep him going for longer in the day, give him afternoon snacks, as these can boost ener