Figuring out when your child is ready to drop their last nap is tricky. Maybe your little one has started a “nap strike”, or possibly they are taking hours to fall asleep at bedtime when previously they fell right to sleep. Of course you don’t want to force them to drop their last nap too early, but you’re also tired of battling at naptime or bedtime. And you don’t want to lose that amazing hour or two of freedom you have in the middle of the day! So let’s look at what you need to know.
The National Sleep Foundation has published guidelines for optimum sleep requirements by age. According to their extensive research, within a 24 hour period toddlers need 11-14 hours of sleep, and preschool-age kids need 10-13 hours of sleep.
When do Kids Typically Drop the Last Nap?
Individual sleep needs vary significantly from kid to kid. On average, most children are ready to drop the last nap between 3-4 years old. Some children will demonstrate a need for daytime sleep until about 5 years old. Rarely do children naturally stop napping before 3, but sometimes it happens and we find it is often related to a lack of independent sleep skills or a schedule issue. If your child is over the age of 5 and continues to show signs of needing a nap, you may want to discuss with your pediatrician to rule out any health issues.
Signs your Child is Ready to Drop the Last Nap
There are several signs that your child may be ready to drop the last nap. Some kids demonstrate more than one of these signs, and others may show only one.
Your child is between 3-5 years old.
As mentioned above, the majority of children need a nap until the age of 3 or later. If your child is under 3, we encourage you to ensure your little one has independent sleep skills, you’re following the right wake windows, and you are being consistent about where and when you offer your child a nap before discontinuing the last nap completely.
Your child consistently takes longer than 30-45 minutes to fall asleep for their nap.
If your child suddenly begins taking 30 minutes or more to fall asleep for their nap, it may be a sign they are ready to begin the transition. Before concluding they no longer need the nap, make sure the difficulty falling asleep is not related to a schedule issue, such as going down for nap too early.
Your child begins to have difficulty falling asleep at bedtime when previously this was not an issue.
Often parents find their toddler willingly takes an afternoon nap for 2 or maybe 3 hours, which they take as a sign that their child clearly still needs their daytime nap. But then the trouble starts at bedtime. There may be lots of game playing going on, stalling tactics, or singing and talking to themselves. Even though they got into bed at 7:30pm, they may not fall asleep until 9:00 or 9:30pm, and then they are up at 6:00am and the overtired cycle starts all over again.
If your child begins to have trouble falling asleep for bedtime but still naps consistently, first try reducing the amount of daytime sleep they are getting before dropping the nap all together. For example, if they typically take a 2-3 hour afternoon nap, try capping the nap at 1-1.5 hours. After adjusting the nap duration, make sure you give their body enough time to build up melatonin, or sleep pressure, and offer bedtime 5-6 hours after they wake up from nap. This often means an 8:00 or 8:30pm bedtime.
If capping the nap and adjusting bedtime don’t help after 5-7 days, it’s probably time to consider eliminating the nap completely. Additionally, if you are a parent who can’t imagine having their kids awake after 8:00pm, moving forward with the last nap transition will allow for a much earlier bedtime, between 6:00-6:30pm.
Your child outright rejects their nap for at least 3-5 days in a row for 2 weeks.
We consider a nap “rejected” if you’ve tried giving your little one a minimum of one hour to fall asleep before taking them out of their crib or bed and calling it a day. It’s important to make sure you are not contributing to the nap rejection by responding too quickly when they are trying to fall asleep. Sometimes a child will learn that if they protest long enough, they will be given the opportunity to get up and play. To ensure this doesn’t happen, we recommend letting your child work it out and try falling asleep on their own before giving up too soon.
Your toddler suddenly begins waking up before 6:00am.
Early morning wakes are not always a sign that your child is ready to drop their final nap. However, if early waking was not a previous issue, your child falls asleep independently for nap and at bedtime, and they are waking for “morning” less than 11 hours before falling asleep the previous night, it may be a sign your child is getting too much total sleep, and the nap needs to be eliminated.
You’re Ready to Drop the Last Nap, Now What?
If you’ve determined that your little one is officially ready to drop the last nap, congratulations! It means your little one is growing up into a healthy big kid. Although you may feel like losing naptime during the day is not something to celebrate, we have a solution! Read on to find out what we suggest you do instead of naptime once it’s no longer needed.
Offer Early Bedtime Once They Drop the Last Nap
The first step in dropping the nap is to offer an early bedtime on days your child skips nap. And when we say early, we mean early! Understandably, your little one is going to need an opportunity to catch up on sleep they are no longer getting. This means bedtime should happen between 6:00 and 6:30pm for at least the first month or two post transition. This will help manage your child’s initial overtiredness, and ensure they have the opportunity to sleep as much as they need to overnight.
Offer Them the Choice Between Nap or Quiet Time
Once your child begins the final nap transition, we recommend continuing with “Quiet Time” on days your child does not nap. Set a timer or use an OK-to-Wake clock such as The Hatch to indicate when quiet time is over. If they choose to sleep, great! If they prefer to play quietly with a few toys, wonderful.
In the beginning of a nap transition, expect your child to nap on some days and play quietly on others. Adjust bedtime accordingly, meaning that if they napped they will need at least 5-6 hours to build up sleep pressure before bedtime. If they choose not to sleep, go for early to bed! When they are not sleeping, offer Quiet Time for about 30 to 45 minutes to start, and work up to an hour. This time offers parents a break, and also gives kids time to rest and reset their bodies during the day.
We often encourage parents to create Quiet Time boxes which are used solely for their daily Quiet Time period. Fill them with quiet activities like books, puzzles, coloring supplies, and other small objects that your child may enjoy. Encouraging independent play is a great way to enhance your child’s innate creativity, and for them to learn they don’t need constant entertainment from adults. If you are worried about how to implement quiet time, you can check our quiet time blog here. We recommend avoiding screen time as a Quiet Time activity, as it is more stimulating than relaxing for your child.
Common Mistakes To Avoid When Dropping the Last Nap
What are the most common mistakes we see families make when dropping the final nap? Let's have a look...
Do Not Drop the Last Nap Too Early
Let’s say your 2.5 year old puts up a fight at naptime for a week or two. This does not always mean your child is ready to drop their last nap! Occasionally rejecting a nap may be your toddler naturally testing the waters, or it may be that their brains are going through a rapid period of development, so stay strong and continue to offer them the nap until things return to normal.
You really want to avoid dropping that last nap too early as it will cause your child to become overtired, have more meltdowns, and possibly end up with a sleep debt that begins to impact their night sleep in a negative way. An overtired child will experience more frequent night wakes, early morning wakes, and more protest around bedtime.
Early Bedtime is Your Friend, Not Your Enemy
Many parents believe that early bedtime will lead to early morning wakes, and that’s simply not the case. Your child is far more likely to wake early if they go to bed overtired at a later hour than if they go to bed before they reach that point. Remember, your little one needs 10-13 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period, and we find most kids to be on the high end of that. This means that a 6:00pm bedtime often leads to a 6:00-7:00am morning wake time. Don’t be afraid to put your child down early, especially after they drop the last nap!
Be Patient, it will all be Okay!
This transition is one of the hardest of all of the sleep transitions. Your child will have a little bit of a sleep debt for most likely four to six weeks after you implement no nap. Just know that it’s going to be a bit of a struggle. Your child will still seem tired, there will be a little bit of afternoon grouchiness happening, and that’s normal! Make sure that once you’ve made the decision to go for it, just go for it, because the sooner your child’s body clock gets in line, the stronger their wake time stamina will be, and the better their mood and tiredness levels will become.
Offer Yourself Space and Grace During the Nap Transition
It can take up to 4-6 weeks to fully adjust to a new nap structure. To help with grumpiness and fatigue, try taking your child outside for some natural sunlight and fresh air, or provide a healthy afternoon snack to help with energy levels. Stay firm when it comes to defining morning, as we don’t want early morning wake ups to be the next struggle. If this becomes an issue, check out our blog post on early morning wakes. If your child goes to bed around 6:30pm, stick to 6:30am as an acceptable time for “morning”.
Do your best not to become frustrated with yourself. You are not alone – many parents struggle during nap transitions. The transition will be successful with time as long as you remain consistent and provide space for your success. Remind yourself of the accomplishments you have made thus far with sleep. Before you know it, this new schedule will be like clockwork, too!
And cheers to the freedom that comes with not having to be home for a nap!