Most 2- to 3-year-olds need 12 to 13 hours of sleep a day — and it’s a rare child who will stack them all together. Trying to adjust a child’s schedule so she does may cause nighttime sleep problems, since being overtired can cause her to become hyperactive.
How many naps does my toddler need, and how long should I let her sleep?
Most kids give up their morning nap by the time they’re 15 to 18 months old. Usually an hour or two in the afternoon is enough to refresh a toddler. It’s best if you arrange her schedule so she wakes before 3 or 4 o’clock, or you may have trouble getting her to sleep in the evening.
What can I do when my child refuses to nap even though she’s tired?
Sometimes a toddler gives all the signals of being sleepy – rubbing her eyes, yawning, getting frustrated easily – and still won’t nap. At this age, she’s interested in all that’s going on around her, and she’s afraid she’ll miss something. Also, she’s beginning to assert her independence from you, and refusing to rest is one way she may try to take control.
To combat those tendencies, try to keep nap time – both the hour and the activities leading up to it – consistent from day to day. Follow an early-afternoon routine, like some quiet play and then a story or soft music in her room. If your child still resists lying down, you can try lying down with her; the drawback to that is she may become reliant on your company to sleep.
Although you can’t force your child to sleep, you can enforce a period of “quiet time.” Explain to your child that she must stay in her room and rest or look at books or another quiet activity for a specified period of time. If the child comes out of her room prior to that time, calmly return her to her room. Initially this may require many attempts, but if you persist and are consistent, your child will eventually learn that she must stay in her room during “quiet time.”
How will I know when my child is ready to give up her afternoon nap?
A few children can make it through a day without a snooze as early as 2, but most ease up on the afternoon Z’s around age 3 or 4. If your child isn’t sleepy at nap time for several days in a row, wakes up early in the morning, or takes a long time to go to sleep at night, then she’s probably ready to be weaned from her nap. Let her play quietly instead.
What should I do if my child seems to need a nap some days but not others?
Children don’t suddenly decide not to nap anymore. Giving up that afternoon snooze is a gradual process that can take weeks or even months. If your child skips her nap, move dinner up and let her go to bed a little earlier than usual. If she needs a nap some days, let her sleep for a while. Eventually, her body will adjust to the change.
American Academy of Pediatrics, Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5. Bantam, 2009.
The Baby Book: Everything You Need to Know About Your Baby from Birth to Age Two. William Sears, Little, Brown & Co., 2003.