Toddlers and naps go together like pillows and blankets. Except when they don’t! Some days, naps are shorter or longer. During some stressful afternoons, your toddler won’t want to nap at all. It’s frustrating but not unusual.
Toddler Sleep Patterns and Needs
Because so much is going on in a toddler’s rapidly developing brain, they have a biological need to sleep during the day, as well as at night. Most toddlers have dropped the morning nap by 18 months but continue with an afternoon nap until sometime between the ages of 3 and 5. By 2, your toddler should be sleeping about an hour and a half during the day, plus 10 to 12 hours at night. It’s smart to try to keep your toddler’s daily routine consistent, with bedtime and naptimes happening at about the same time every day.
Sleep is as important as nutrition to a growing toddler
A study of 2- and 3-year-olds found that those who missed a single afternoon nap showed more anxiety, less joy, and less interest. They reacted less positively to happy events and with more frustration at negative events.
Why Toddlers Resist Naps
The reasons for nap mutiny vary by child:
- They’re just not tired enough. Sometimes, your toddler may simply not have expended enough energy to be really tired. They may fuss about resting, then eventually fall asleep.
- They’re too excited! Your toddler may also refuse to nap because they don’t want to miss anything.
- They’re asserting their independence. As toddlers get older, they may say no to everything, even things they love (cookies) or enjoy and need (sleep).
- They’re getting ready to drop naps altogether. Sleep needs vary by individual. Although it’s uncommon to stop napping before age 3, it’s possible. Studies on napping have found that after age 2, some children’s brains no longer need the afternoon rest. They sleep better at night without it. If your toddler routinely resists naps and doesn’t fall asleep during naptime, this may be the case.
How to Get a Toddler to Sleep
Try these tactics to resolve toddler sleep problems when your toddler refuses to sleep:
- Watch for sleepiness signals. If they say no but rubs their eyes and get cranky, your toddler may need sleep.
- Keep to a reliable naptime routine. Going through your nap routine can cue your child to sleep. Read a book, darken the room, or play soft music.
- Insist on quiet time. Even if your toddler doesn’t fall asleep, have a quiet hour or so when they can get up and look at books or do something else quiet.
- Try changing bedtime. If your child continually says no to naps, going to bed a little later but waking up at the same time may make them more tired for the next day’s nap.
- Stick to a regular schedule. If you let your child sleep in on weekends, that can interfere with napping.
Follow these tips and get help resolving common toddler sleep problems. Toddlers fighting their nap time and bed time is fairly common, so don't feel alone! Struggling with other challenging behaviors associated with the “terrible twos”? Learn some tips for dealing with your toddler’s terrible two phase.