Toddler sleep training. How to know when to drop that final nap!

Final Nap

You might’ve thought the day would never come, but your little one’s daytime napping will one day sadly come to an end.

Dropping the final nap is both a joyous and sad time for parents. It opens up a world of no longer having to work around nap schedules – hallelujah! But it also means parenting for a full 12-13 hours throughout the day (made trickier if you’ve had a second baby and were counting on some downtime …. HELP!)

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    So at what age can you expect your child to drop their last day time nap?

    Children most commonly reduce and phase out their day nap between 2.5-3.5 years of age. In saying this, every toddler is individual which is why there’s such a varied response as to whether your little one is ready to drop their day nap when compared to friends, your niece, your neighbour or even your OWN children!

    Rest assured your toddler will provide a number of signs of readiness to transition out the day nap although some signs are easier to recognise than others.

    Here is a list of the five most common signs it’s time to drop the final nap

    Your toddler is between the ages of 2.5-3.5 years.

    Obviously there can be variances with this guideline and we’ll discuss this more in the points below.

    We know balanced sleep throughout the day and night is important to regulate a toddler’s emotions and appetite and to allow their bodies to rest for optimal growth and development.

    Total sleep requirements for this age group can vary between 11-13 hours (noting all children can be +/- 30-60 minutes). However, consolidated sleep is more important than a set number and research shows that for little ones over the age of 2 years, night sleep is a higher priority for the body.

    Did you know we achieve our deepest and most restorative sleep prior to midnight? This means it’s counter productive to keep a day nap if your toddler is up until 9:00/10:00pm at night.

    We don’t want to keep a day nap at the detriment of achieving consolidated sleep overnight, especially if this is dipping below 10-11 hours.

    Expert Tip: If your little one isn’t refusing their day nap but you believe their night sleep is being impacted, start by shaving 15-30 minutes off their current nap length. Reassess after 7-10 days and then reduce again if needed until you find their “sweet spot”.

    Your toddler takes a long time to fall asleep at nap/bedtime.

    If your child is genuinely not tired at sleep time, this is when we can shift to offering a “window of opportunity” for day sleep to occur.

    Rather than a set nap length that doesn’t occur until 3:00pm in the afternoon – (hello “danger nap” which causes delayed bedtime), offering your toddler a window of opportunity can make a huge difference and relieve pressure on you as a parent for trying for too long and getting stressed.

    For instance, you might choose to allocate between 1:00-2:00pm as the window of opportunity to fall asleep each day. I would then recommend waking your little one from their day sleep no later than 2:00/2:30pm regardless of how long they have slept in this timeframe.  As a rule of thumb, most children need between 5-5.5 hours of awake time before bed when having a day sleep. This ensures bedtime doesn’t slip past 7:30/8:00pm at night.

    Expert Tip: If they don’t sleep in the above scenario, just remember we can offer the opportunity for sleep but we CAN’T force it. If there is strong resistance to sleep, switch to quiet time or abandon the nap completely after 30-60 minutes.

    Quiet time ideas might include:

    • Laying your little one in their bed/cot for 30-60 minutes
    • Reading/listening to audio books
    • Puzzles
    • Movie time
    • Set up a “quiet activity” box that only comes out during quiet time.

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    You experience bedtime battles when your little one has had a nap.

    This is referring to stalling tactics being levelled up by your toddler at bedtime because they’re genuinely not tired. Think of a scenario where a child plays happily in their cot/bed in excess of 30-60 minutes before they fall asleep.

    Note: Don’t confuse this with your little one gaining a second wind in the lead up to sleep time. This commonly occurs after too much wind down. Toddlers don’t need extensive bedtime routines, short and sharp is preferable. An example can be watching electronic devices in the late afternoon/before bedtime where they zone out and reboot.

    Expert Tip: Ideally, we would eliminate screen time in the 3-4 hours prior to bedtime. The blue light emitted from electronic devices such as TV, I-Pad and mobile phones blocks our body’s melatonin and can also cause our toddler’s little minds to run wild. This makes winding down for sleep much harder to switch off.

    Your toddler skips their nap more than they take their nap.

    A good rule of thumb here is if the nap is being skipped at least 3 days a week over a 3 week period then your little one is preparing to say goodbye to their daytime nap.

    Another great way to know if they’re really ready to drop the nap is taking note when they’re in the car or pram and stay wide awake on the trip home.

    Be mindful of keeping an eye on your little one in the late afternoon though as the “danger nap” mentioned above can strike at any time.

    This is when your toddler goes suspiciously quiet because they’ve curled up and gone and put themselves to sleep at 4:00pm in the afternoon! If this happens, give your little one 10-15 minutes and gently wake. It may not be pretty, but ride the emotion and expose them to fresh air outside to shift the mood. You’ll be thankful later when they are settled into bed at a reasonable time.

    Expert Tip: Don’t be fooled by the 2 year sleep regression with nap refusal, keep offering the day nap and 9/10 times the nap will come back in some capacity. You can read more about sleep regressions here

    Your child is early rising, waking overnight or staying awake for long periods during the night.

    Another strong sign it’s time to reduce or drop the day nap is a sudden onset of night waking. This can include your toddler being wakeful for long periods overnight creating a split night or early rising where they’ve genuinely run out of steam for sleep.

    Sleep pressure is highest at the beginning of the night meaning bedtime can sometimes come easily but they’re wide eyed, awake and playing at 4:30/5:00am in the morning.

    If they’re ready to drop their day nap, you’ll notice that despite the early wakeup, they stay awake with no excessive meltdowns until their regular “day sleep”. This shows loss of sleep pressure in the early hours of the morning.

    Expert Tip: The only way to shift sleep into night is to reduce/eliminate day sleep. This means battling through some extra emotions as we take away the bodies safety back up and reconsolidate night sleep.

    If your child is coping well and happy throughout the day as well as achieving consolidated sleep overnight, all you can do is offer the opportunity for sleep. We can’t force it and need to release the pressure.

    Saying goodbye to the final daytime nap is rarely a quick and smooth process and often comes over weeks and even months with a reduction of the length of nap and then offering alternate days on an as needed basis.

    Want to know more about nap transitions and when they occur.  Check out my nap transition blog HERE .

    Kelly Martin Sleep Consultant

    Helping babies get a good nights sleep

    Our mission is to empower parents with the knowledge and education about how they can help their little one develop and maintain healthy sleep habits. Are you ready to regain your sleep?

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