At what age should your child drop their afternoon nap?

Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock 

What is the normal age for your child to drop their afternoon nap? And how do you manage a toddler who refuses to nap at all? 

Here's Essential Baby's handy guide to napping to help you out.

How much sleep do toddlers need?

According to Better Health Victoria, toddlers need about 10 to 12 hours sleep per night as well as daytime naps. 

And when it comes to napping, it's important to try and get your toddler to nap in the early afternoon, so as not to disturb their night-time routine. It can be severely disruptive if your toddler doesn't get enough sleep during the day, or if their afternoon nap is too close to bedtime.

Midwife and baby, toddler and child sleep consultant Karen Faulkner said afternoon naps are good for a number of reasons.

"Day naps are usually in the afternoon between 1-3 pm and for a maximum of 1.5-2 hours in duration," Ms Faulkner said.

"Children nap to consolidate memory and learning and to cope with their active physical and developmental needs."

How do you know when your toddler is tired?

Toddlers make it pretty clear when they're tired. 

They're more difficult to handle, cranky, irritable, have tantrums and cry a lot. Other signs include clumsy physical movements and taking longer to perform simple tasks.

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A twenty month old girl falls asleep at lunchtime.

Why do some toddlers not like naps?

There are many reasons a toddler might struggle to nap in the afternoon. 

Common reasons include being hungry, thirsty, unwell, afraid to be alone, fearful of missing out on fun, too excited, restless or anxious, and not having a regular routine.

Ms Faulkner also said toddlers who are unable to self-settle can struggle to do a day nap. 

"Day nap resistance is common in the strong-willed toddler. However, most really benefit from the day nap," she said. 

"I know many strong-willed children who at age three can easily sleep for 11-13 hours at night and still nap for two hours in the day. 

Early sleep training (at six-12 months) can also have a positive outcome in continuation of day naps."

Ways to help your toddler get the naps they need

Here are some suggestions from Better Health Victoria to help your child settle for a nap: 

  • Make sure your child has plenty of fresh air and physical activity.
  • Establish a routine so your child expects to have a nap at certain times.
  • Give your child time to relax beforehand with gentle activities. Perhaps you could read them a story.
  • Make sure they are comfortable, fed and wearing a fresh nappy.
  • Ensure their room is dark and quiet.
  • Provide your child with an opportunity to settle themselves. Then, if they're anxious without you, stay in the room for a few minutes.
  • Leave their bedroom door open so they can hear you moving around the house.
  • Even if they don't nap, encourage them to have a rest.

What age should they stop having an afternoon nap?

Even if your toddler sleeps well at night, they still need a daytime nap, but there does come a time to stop.

Ms Faulkner said while some toddlers will drop their day nap by 18 months, generally by the age of three-four years it's normal to no longer need a day nap.

"When your child is ready to stop having a day nap it can be helpful to encourage either some quiet play in their room or quiet lay downtime on their bed for 30-60 minutes," she said.

But for some children, they have difficulty dropping their day nap.

"Four years of age is too old to be day napping," she said.

"Transition them gradually by reducing the length of the day nap by 30 minutes every two-to-three days until the day nap has gone. 

"Avoid car journeys until this lack of day naps has been established and allow seven-to-10 days to imprint that new behaviour. Car trips are a big sleep association and motion can trigger a micro nap which can have an impact on night waking or bedtime delay."