Research has shown that preschoolers who sleep less have more behavior problems. Plus, sleep is an important support for brain development. These tips can help your growing toddler settle into the nap she still needs but may struggle against.
Toddlers and naps go together like pillows and blankets. Except when they don’t! Some days, naps are shorter or longer. And 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, she has 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.
In fact, sleep is as important as nutrition to a growing toddler. A study of 2- and 3-year-olds at the University of Colorado 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 individual child:
She’s just not tired enough. Sometimes, your toddler may simply not have expended enough energy to be really tired. She may fuss about resting, then eventually fall asleep.
She’s too excited! Your toddler may also refuse to nap because she doesn’t want to miss anything.
She’s asserting her independence. As toddlers get older, they may say no to everything, even things they love (cookies) or enjoy and need (sleep).
She’s getting ready to drop naps altogether. Sleep needs vary by individual. Although it’s uncommon to stop napping before age 3, it’s possible. A recent review of 26 published studies on napping in children up to age 5 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 when your toddler refuses to sleep:
Watch for sleepiness signals. If she says no but rubs her eyes and gets 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 she 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 her 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.