When Can a Toddler Start Giving Up Naps

Does your toddler seem to be less in need of or willing to nap?

Mom and toddler boy playing with stuffed animals.
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Like all other transitions in the toddler years, there is no set age when your toddler needs to start giving up his nap. Some children stop napping during the day right after their first birthday. Other children continue to need a nap into the early school years.

There are signs that you can watch for to determine whether your child is ready to stop daytime napping (or maybe that she needs more sleep).

There are also nap traps -- things that make you say "we can skip that" even though your child's not really ready to stop catching some midday zzzz's.

Test out a nap-free day if your child seems ready

It's hard to tell if your toddler is really ready to go without a daytime sleep break until you let her go without a nap for a day or three. If your child doesn't seem to crash before dinner or melt into a tantrum or overtired tears, then it just might be time for her to move on. Watch for signs of sleep problems such as difficulty going down for the night or not sleeping restfully all evening, which might indicate that it was too early to give up that daytime rest.

Keep in mind that resisting a nap isn't a sign that your little one is ready to stop napping. That's just typical toddler behavior. There are other situations that shouldn't impact your decision to say goodbye to the nap.

Don't skip the nap just because your child's getting older

Your child's sleep needs change from age 1 to age 3.

At age 1, your child may still be on a schedule of napping twice a day, but by age 2, many toddlers transition to just one daytime nap. That nap may get shorter or disappear altogether by your child's third birthday. The total amount of time your child needs to sleep per day also changes, with up to 15 hours being the normal at around 12 months and possibly as little as 11 hours needed at 3.

Don't assume, though, that because your child is nearing her third birthday and needs less overall shut-eye that you can say goodbye to naps. Studies show that part of the reason children need naps is that they can only tolerate being awake for a certain length of time.

So, while parents may think they should ween a child off of naps because he's not sleeping as long at night (i.e., staying up too late or waking too early), that thinking may not be the best thing for your child. If, when she skips a nap, your child is having tantrums, whining, and showing signs of exhaustion by late afternoon, she's probably not ready to give up that daytime rest.

Of course, mom and dad still want little one in bed at a reasonable time and don't want to be awakened at the crack of dawn. There are a few things you can do to manage naps for older children:

  • Have your child nap early in the day. Finishing a nap before 2:00 P.M., for instance, will allow her enough time to build up a need for sleep by 8:00. Arranging for even earlier naps can help you to plan bedtime at 7:30 or whatever time is appropriate for your family.
  • Don't let your child nap for too long. While your child needs time to rest his brain, he may not need two hours of sleep in the middle of the day. Try waking your child after an hour maybe even just after 45 minutes and see if he's rested enough for the rest of the day and sleepy enough to go to bed at your existing bedtime. If you see signs for fatigue, though, after he's full awake, give him more time for naps for at least a few more months before you try to limit the length of his naps again.

Don't let your child's nap be driven by other things
If your child is napping at daycare, you might have things a bit easier (as long as she will really nap for your child care provider). If you're home with your child during nap time, try to carve out the same set period of time every day to allow her to get the rest she needs. That means planning a nap outside of grocery shopping and shuttling other kids around. However, napping in a stroller or a car is usually fine as long as you can assure that your little one will get a full, uninterrupted sleep.

When you're trying to control when your child goes down for a nap, consider things that will help you make him sleepy. Physical activity for an hour beforehand (especially outdoor activities) is a good way to work up the need for a nap.

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