Toddler sleep changes can be a confusing time for parents. Baby sleep consultant, Emma Purdue, is on hand with plenty of advice to help you navigate this difficult phase...
If you’ve ever found yourself fighting with a strong-willed toddler over whether or not they need to take a nap, you will understand that the struggle is real. They are proficient at tricking us that they’re not tired and don’t need a nap. When these stages hit, having some guidelines will not only help preserve your sanity, but also your sleep. A toddler who naps excessively will experience delayed onset of night sleep and have more fragmented sleep. The toddler who drops their nap prematurely is likely to become upset and clingy at bed time. They will then start to wake up earlier and before you know it… hello 5am!
Naps will remain a significant part of your toddler’s daily sleep needs, so don’t dismiss them as an unnecessary luxury. During your toddler’s nap their emotions regulate, which is a huge part of their wellbeing in these years. Their immune system strengthens, the skills they learn move from short-term to long-term memory, their little appetites regulate, and they grow.
Most 12-month-olds entering toddlerhood are having two naps a day and won’t drop their morning nap until between 15 to 18 months old. Once you have established this one good nap a day, they will need it until they are between two and a half to three-years-old. The final stage of dropping that nap altogether is different for every child, and not quite as predictable as babies dropping their naps.
Moving from two naps to one usually occurs between 15 to 18 months. Nap patterns to look out for include: noting the days your toddler has a decent morning nap, when they refuse their second nap altogether, or won’t settle to sleep until close to 2pm, which is too late for a toddler nap. If you have followed a structure of short morning nap, long lunch-time nap, you are more likely to notice your toddler refuses that morning sleep, and happily stays awake until after lunch. This is a sign that they are getting ready to drop down to just one nap.
Signs that your toddler is ready to drop their nap completely
- While having a solid 1-2 hour nap, they have started to wake earlier in the morning and are over two-years-old
- The 1-2 hour nap is starting to cause a delayed onset of evening sleep. Your toddler is wide awake, happy and showing no signs of sleep until 9 or 10pm
- They refuse to sleep and happily last all afternoon with no nap. They do not lose the plot at dinner time, and settle easily
- They don’t fall asleep in the car in the late afternoon when they skip their nap
- Your toddler has started to wake in the night, and is bursting with energy for an hour or two
- If your toddler is showing a few of these signs and is over two and a half years old, they probably need to drop their nap, or if it’s longer than one hour, have it trimmed back. If they are two years old, and you feel they are starting to show some signs of needing less sleep I suggest you start with a shorter nap before cutting it. Don’t be afraid to reinstate a nap if you feel you dropped it prematurely. It might take some work but it is possible to get it back.
After reading the signs it may be obvious to you that your toddler’s nap refusal is not a sign they are ready to drop a nap, but more a difficult sleep phase. So what can you do to bring back naptime bliss?
Toddlers thrive on boundaries and consistency. If you are certain your toddler’s antics at naptime are just a strike and they’re not ready to drop a nap, prepare to do some work for a few days. Create a consistent nap routine that transitions your toddler from play to sleep time while avoiding FOMO (fear of missing out).
Set up boundaries, both physically (a cot or baby gate) and metaphorically. Decide that 12.30-2.00pm is naptime, and in that time your toddler will remain in bed. Toddlers can scream and shout during nap strikes – it’s our job as parents to acknowledge those difficult, emotional outbursts, but not fuel them with stimulation and inconsistency.
Sit by your toddler’s bed or cot if you want to be supportive and lie them down when they stand. Shush or sing quietly when they are emotional, touch them intermittently if they need calming down but don’t fall asleep for them. If they are winding you up or vice versa, leave the room for 10 minutes, return and lie them down. Check they are safe, console them, remind them it’s sleep time, and then leave
for another 10 minutes. Repeat until they go to sleep or for a maximum of six 10-minute cycles.
Hint 1 Sit on the floor by their cot instead of a chair and they are more likely to lie down in order to be near your head. A chair has your head at cot height, which encourages standing.
Hint 2 If you think they have fallen asleep, close your eyes, enjoy the quiet. Don’t leave too soon as toddlers can take 20 minutes or more to fall asleep, and leaving might put you back to square one if they are not fully asleep.
Hint 3 Keep your toddler in a cot and sleeping bag for as close to three years old as possible. Both of these items help preserve both your nap and night sleep.
If your toddler is just having a nap strike and genuinely still needs their nap they will likely fall asleep in the car if you go out late in the afternoon. They will struggle to play independently and become clingy around dinner time, often not eating well as they are too tired to focus. This lack of day sleep in a toddler who needs it will often result in upset night wake-ups, crying, difficult bed times and screaming early risers.
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