And, then comes a (sad) day when your toddler decides to give up his daytime nap or significantly cut down the hours he sleeps or the number of daily naps he takes, from three to two to one to none. Just like that. For the majority of parents across the corners of the earth, this is a heart-breaking moment in their life. I would agree with you. Those precious hours your baby sleeps during the day is the perfect opportunity to get some things done or even work, right? I hear you.
Here are a couple of things to take into consideration…
To Lose Naps or Take Bedtime Later?
Many toddlers love to nap more than they like going to bed early. If this is your case, I strongly encourage you to hold on to the nap routine and just push bedtime a bit later than usual.
What I have seen happening with the majority of toddlers I have worked with is this. At some point in the day, they seem tired, and would gladly take a nap, which they do (a couple of hours for sure). Everything runs smoothly until it is bedtime, which is when lots of mischief takes place. Your little boy or girl may call you or come out of bed a dozen times before finally falling asleep. Or they play in for hours and hours before dozing off. Guess what happens next. They wake up tired, even exhausted, because they didn’t get enough sleep during the night. They desperately need a nap, and you enter a “merciless” cycle around it. This usually happens around the two and a half mark.
Yes, an early bedtime leaves you with much-valuable me-time to spend with your partner or do whatever pleases your soul. And, I know. Given a choice, you would not change that 7:00 bedtime for anything in the world; instead, you would just pull the nap(s).
So, here is what you can do:
- Pull your child’s nap and keep the early bedtime.
- Hang onto the nap and push bedtime at 8:00.
In the first case, you get to enjoy your evening hours as you wish (but get no rest during the day) while in the second case, the little one will have enough time to feel tired enough so they can get to sleep without shenanigans, and sleep through the night without problems (but you get to lose an hour or so of your personal evening time).
Note: Occasionally, I receive emails from moms saying that their toddler has stopped napping all of a sudden. This is rather rare and usually happens when a child reaches a developmental milestone (first major one is around 2 ½ years old and has to do with language acquisition). And, whenever the child enters such phases in their life, the changes occurring then affect their nap time.
What to Do If Your Child Refuses To Nap
You put the baby in his crib, and it takes him an hour or more to conk out. He may twist around, sing, chat, or even walk around his crib. My experience has shown that this sleep regression can last for about a week, with some babies stretching it to two weeks. Then, the toddler goes back to napping well. My advice? Don’t panic. Give it some time. Chances are that after the surge is over the baby will start napping well again.
But, again, how you handle this situation really has to do with you have decided you want. Do you wish to keep the early bedtime routine or the nap? Whatever your decision, it is crucial to stick with it. Therefore, if you have committed to pulling the nap time, be prepared to juggle with contradicting emotions. Some days, you may feel that you are being a bit too hard on the child, when, for example, she is having a bit of a meltdown at around 5:00. Before you give in and put her to nap, remember that it takes about a month for a person’s body to adjust to a change, so give her body some time to attune to the new situation.
I would also suggest you give both yourselves some quiet time during the day – a breather from one another. I like to give the child some crayons or her toys and let her color or play by herself in the bedroom (preferably with the door closed). If you don’t feel comfortable with closing the door, you should make it very clear that this is your quiet time and that she can play or paint while you do something else, somewhere else inside the home. This indeed helps.
- Don’t second guess yourself. Stick with your decision and have patience.
- Don’t go back and forth. This only confuses the baby’s body clock.
“Am I pushing my child too much?”
Another concern I hear a lot about is related to over-tiredness. Many moms are super nervous to make the transition from 3 to 2 or from 2 to 1 nap because they are worried about pushing their toddler into fatigue.
The truth is that you might, for the short term. The key here is not to step into this gently and slowly. Pushing the baby too hard will undoubtedly backfire.
So, if he is used to going 2 hours between naps, push him to 2 hours and 10 or 15 minutes for 3-4 days and see how he is doing with it. Like we said before, the body needs around 4 weeks to adjust to such a change. Then, push him to 2 ½ hours between naps, see how he is doing, then 2 hours and 45 minutes, and stop at 3 hours.
Dealing With a Short 2nd Nap
You put the baby down at 3 o’clock for her second nap, and she is still awake by 4 o’clock. It is a long time until her 7:00 bedtime comes. So, how do you deal with it? One idea is to give her a cat nap around dinner time, say 5 o’clock, which will ideally last anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes. This will help take the edge off a bit and prevent tantrums until it’s time for her to go to bed. To achieve that, you can go for a beautiful drive or take her out in her stroller for 15-20 minutes.
If the child refuses to sleep, I suggest moving bedtime earlier for a little while. Instead of 7:00, she could be in her crib at 6:00. Bear in mind that there is no such thing as getting kids to bed too early. In my career, I have had children that had to be put down for 5:30 bedtime to avoid over-tiredness or to have a nap at an odd time.
No, the 6:00 bedtime is not going to stay. You know that, right? I mean, there is no way you can have a 5-year-old go to bed (and actually sleep) at 6:00 in the afternoon. This early bedtime is a good solution for the period the body of the child is adjusting to the transition – until naps get nice and long. After that, his bedtime can move to around 7:00 – 7:30, which is a more appropriate time.
How to Tell If Your Baby Needs Less Napping
Babies around the 6-month mark begin to show signs that they don’t need as many as three naps during the day. What is also very common among this age group is that they sometimes feel like having 3 naps and sometimes they need 2, which is quite confusing for the moms who can’t figure out what is going on.
To find out if your baby does need those 3 naps, notice how tired they seem when you try to put them down every 1 ½ -2 hours. If it is taking them more than 15-20 minutes to fall asleep once they are in their crib, then you probably need to wait longer between naps.
Another tell-tale sign that it is time to transition because the baby does no longer need 3 naps is their morning nap. If it is long and peaceful, it will push the entire day down, leaving you with not much time for a 3rd nap. Time to skip that 3rd nap and go with two.
Is your toddler’s 2nd or 3rd nap getting a lot of protests and crying? It might be your child telling you that they just don’t need that much sleep anymore. If their 2nd or 3rd nap stretches to nearly bedtime, you certainly need to consider having two naps instead of two.
The Day Naps End
If your child goes down for his afternoon nap without too much fighting and sleeps a good couple of hours, you may find yourself puzzled. He clearly needs his daytime nap, doesn’t he? Probably, yes. But, watch what happens at bedtime. Lots of stalling tactics, playing, talking, singing, and babbling to himself for an hour or more. Eventually, he falls asleep at 9:00 and gets up at 7:00 in the morning lacking sleep. And, the entire cycle starts again. Although sad, this is one of the most common signs that you may need to eliminate daytime sleep or, at least, minimize it.
Your child will show you what needs to be done. If, for instance, you decide to minimize your child’s daytime nap, consider cutting their 3-hour nap down to two and see if it will make any difference to his bedtime and whether it will reduce his shenanigans at that time. If this gets him cranky for the rest of the afternoon, it might be better to have him in bed at 7:00 and pull naps completely.
The best way to eliminate naps is, again, to require the toddler to have some quiet time for 30-45 minutes (you can set a timer) in her room, away from things that stimulate her brain, like tablets or TVs. You can put her in her crib with a few favourite toys or a few books and tell her that it is just quiet time. Make sure you mention that it is okay if she wants to sleep but it is also okay if she doesn’t. Be patient. At first, you may need to come back to tell her that the quiet time is not over yet and that she will have to wait for the timer to ring off. This not only gives the child better stamina to make it through the day until bedtime but also teaches them how to play independently. Plus, it gives you a bit of a much-needed break!
Some Final Words…
The transition from 3 to 2 or from 2 to 1 or from 1 to zero naps is one of the hardest of all transitions for both you and your child. If your child needs to cut down on his naps, you may have to endure some sleep debt for a while (expect between 4 and 6 weeks) after you put forward the strategies we mentioned above to make this work. Make sure that bedtime is around 7:00 or earlier for a week or two if your toddler shows signs of over-tiredness and just go for what you have decided. The sooner his body clock gets in line with the transition you have decided to stick with, the better he is going to be adjusting (and the happier he is going to be during the day!).