Chrissy Teigan once tweeted about her daughter, “When Luna is awake I want her to sleep and when she is asleep I want her awake. This is my parenting life.”
This is so relatable. How many of us spend ample amounts of time putting our babies down for a nap, only to scroll through videos and pictures of them while they’re asleep? When my babies were newborns, they would nap the day away. As they got older, multiple naps a day turned into two naps a day, which then led to one long nap a day.
Eventually, they began fighting nap time, taking longer and longer to fall asleep each time. When nap time started pushing into the late afternoon, I knew it was time to say goodbye to those quiet daytime hours for good and put them to bed for the evening at an earlier time.
Naps are essential for parents and children alike. It’s crucial for a child’s physical and emotional development and for parents, well, it’s a time that we can get things done, or simply relax, without interruption. But while some children still nap at six years old, others will stop napping as early as two to three years old.
Does my child still need a nap?
“On their third birthday, most children (91 percent) are still napping every day. At age four, about 50 percent of children nap five days a week, and by age five, about 25 percent of children are napping about four days a week,” writes Dr. Marc Weissbluth in Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. Parents whose child no longer wants to nap but still exhibits signs of needing one can offer an hour of quiet time to help mentally and physically decompress.
Quiet time is a great way to transition out of nap time. It should be held in a designated space that is quiet and calm and occur at roughly the same time every day. Some parents wish to play calming lullabies while others prefer to play a relaxing audiobook. Whether your child reads board books, engages in independent play, or simply wants to snuggle with a favorite blanket, the point of quiet time is for your child to physically and mentally decompress.
What are signs my child is ready to be nap-free?
- Your child is resistant to nap time (more than usual)
- It takes your child longer and longer to fall asleep
- Nap time begins creeping into the late afternoon
- Your child has difficulty falling asleep at bedtime and it takes much longer than usual
- Your child exhibits a steady mood throughout the day
- Your child does not fall asleep when riding in the car
Weissbluth notes that preschool children whose parents sign them up for too many daily activities may be scheduled out of a nap before they are actually ready. Try to be cognizant of what scheduled activities your child actually needs and if it will interfere with nap time.
My youngest was 2.5 years old when she transitioned out of nap time. The daily activities of her older brother and the fact that he wasn’t napping anymore prompted her to declare that she was a “big girl” and didn’t need naps, either. I suspected that this was entirely premature so my husband and I compromised by giving her a 6:30 pm bedtime. By then, she would be fast asleep as soon as her head hit the pillow.
What is the best way to transition out of nap with earlier bedtimes?
It’s safe to assume that the earlier you put your child to sleep, the earlier he/she will wake up in the morning. However, Weissbluth insists that “going to bed too late may cause bedtime battles at night.”
He has a point. In fact, the specialists at sleep.org agree that “sleep-deprived children will actually sleep less and not more.” I know this to be true as well because, on special occasions such as holidays and late summer nights when we put our children to bed later than usual, they are awake before sunrise and in cranky moods all day.
So, once your child stops napping, adjusting their bedtime to an earlier hour is not only best for them health-wise, but it will also save you the headache of trying to get an over-tired child to bed later on.
Maintaining a set bedtime and wake-up time is also important, as it helps sets the body’s rhythm. Bedtimes and wake-up times should reflect the needs of your child, like school start times and morning activities. Of course, life happens and there are exceptions, but consistency is key to maintaining healthy sleep habits after your children have outgrown the daily naps.
There is no set manual for children’s sleeping habits, and each child is unique and has different sleeping needs. So watch for your child’s cues and use your intuition when determining to eliminate nap time for good. After all, moms know best!