The all important question. When is it time to drop naps? Is it time to drop THE nap?
There is not a specific time or age that works for all kids. As with many things regarding sleep and development, every child is different. That said, there are a few signs that it is time to drop the nap.
When a child consistently starts to refuse a nap (typically afternoon nap), it might be time to ditch a nap. This is not always the best sign, especially with the toddler years. Toddlers could be refusing naps just to push boundaries, but if they are fighting naps hard it’s definitely time to assess the nap.
Sudden Erratic Schedule
Changes in overnight sleep such as frequent wakings, early wake-ups or having difficulty falling asleep can be an indicator that a nap needs to go. Before deciding that a nap needs to be dropped make sure you rule out anything medical (like ear infections, other sudden illness, sleep apnea, etc.) or developmental (working on new skills, language bursts, etc.) first.
Naps can get shorter as the need to drop a nap increases. Even though you might feel you need to add naps in to increase the amount of daytime sleep, the solution might be to drop a nap and let the amount of sleep consolidate to the remaining nap times.
When Deciding to Drop a Nap…
It’s important to keep a few things in mind as you make the decision to drop the nap. Like I said, there isn’t a magic age kids will drop a nap, but there are typical age ranges when kids drop a nap, as pictured in this chart:
The next thing to consider is total sleep needs. Again, the chart is a general guide. Some kids just have higher sleep needs while other kids just sleep less. But, if dropping a nap significantly cuts out sleep that they still need, you might want to reconsider dropping it. There might be other sleep issues that need to be addressed in that case.
How to handle dropping the ONE nap
Dropping naps completely typically happens around 3-5 years of age. It’s fairly common that nap will slowly peter out. Some days naps will happen, some days they won’t. Some weeks there will be lots of naps and then there will be none. The best way to handle the final transition to no nap is by offering quiet time.
Quiet time is a period of time set aside for kids to disconnect, rest, and have some independence. When a child is skipping nap, either on occasion or regularly, it is still helpful to continue to offer that time to relax. It gives them the opportunity to nap if they want or need to, but then gives the option to just play quietly.
Quiet time has several benefits including: helping them relax, teaching them to be self-content, growing their imaginations, helping them focus and absorb what they have learned, and learning to play with out distractions.
So what should a child do during quiet time?
I usually recommend giving your little a book or two to “read”. They often will flip through the pages and either recite the story from memory or create their own story based on the images. A few quiet toys like stuffed animals, puzzle, or (reusable) sticker books can be great for quiet time.
The most important thing to remember when it comes to your child’s naps, and sleep in general, is that every child is a little different. They might fall into the general windows but your child’s sleep needs are different from then next child. When deciding if it’s time to drop a nap, make sure you are paying attention to your child’s cues and don’t compare them to someone else’s experience.