How to Help Your Toddler Nap

In this article:
  • By definition, what is a nap?
  • How do you determine your child’s nap needs?
  • Why are naps important?
  • What is the ideal nap environment?
  • What can you do about reluctant nappers?

Toddler Naps, New Mommy Media
Naps are essential for your little one’s mood and development (and your sanity!), but how do you know if they’re sleeping enough? What are the basic do’s and don’ts when it comes to toddler naps? In today’s post, Jen Varela, a baby sleep coach, chimes in on how to ensure your little ones get the proper daytime rest.

By definition, what is a nap?

Varela says that a nap generally needs to be about 1.5 hours to be restorative, anything less than that just takes the edge off. The frequency and duration of naps decrease as children age; by 4 years old they may no longer be interested in a nap.

TIP: Do not ignore sleep cues, you and your child will be much happier when he is put down for his nap at this time. Want more information about toddler naps? Listen to our episode or read our transcript!

How do you determine your child’s nap needs?

One of the major developments children experience is going from two daily naps to one, but knowing when to make that transition can be tricky. Some signs that your little one might be ready for only one nap:

  • If they’re sleeping 10-12 uninterrupted hours at night and it’s taking them longer to fall asleep during their first nap.
  • If they’re consistently taking a shorter nap in the morning.
  • If they sleep so much in the morning that they go on a nap strike in the afternoon.

If these things happen for two weeks straight, it might be time to consider a one nap routine.

Why are naps important?

Napping is essential for toddlers (and babies) because it increases their learning capacity. It works as a midday pause where they can process the day’s information and open up space for new learning. Naps can also fill in the gaps for a poor night’s sleep and reduce fussiness and whining. Naps can also make bedtime easier as an overtired child will often be cranky and try to fight sleep.

What is the ideal nap environment?

  • Generally, routine and structure are ideal regarding nap timing. You don’t want to go too long between sleep and you don’t want to structure naps too close to bedtime.
  • Dimly lit rooms are best, but it doesn’t need to be completely dark. Many children need a small amount of light to retain their circadian rhythm.
  • White noise is a good idea – this might need to be louder during the day than at night because of competing sounds (e.g. the phone ringing).
  • Room temperature should be between sixty-eight and seventy-two degrees.
  • A safe environment is key – ensure that you’re using an age appropriate mattress and that all heavy furniture and wall hangings are secured.

What can you do about reluctant nappers?

  • Limit screen time – no screens in the hour before the nap.
  • Don’t start the nap too late – you could miss the sleep window and cause over tiredness.
  • Have a routine – You could try reading the same story book every time or encourage “passive relaxation.” Have your little one start at their toes, then slowly move up to their head, imagining each body part feeling warm and relaxed.
  • Co-sleeping could be an option for naps, but at the end of the day, the goal is for the child to self-regulate their sleep, not be too dependent on mom/dad.