Healthy Sleep Habits: Giving Up The Afternoon Nap

I knew the day would come eventually.

The very sad day when my daughter Lizzy (almost 4) was finally showing signs that she was ready to give up her afternoon nap.

Lizzy was always a fantastic napper.  Once I had helped her in learning how to fall asleep and stay asleep all night long and for naps on her own she looked forward to her naps and once able would ask to be put down for them.

Healthy Sleep Habits
Healthy Sleep Habits

As she grew from an infant to a toddler, she fell into a solid routine of a daily 3 hour nap every afternoon.  This was such a blessing for me as it gave me a chance for some down time and to accomplish anything I needed to get done.  When I became pregnant for a second time, her afternoon nap allowed me to take one as well.  And when you are pregnant and exhausted, a 3 hour afternoon nap hits the spot!

For the past several months, Lizzy began showing signs that she was nearing the end of her afternoon nap days.  At first the signs (detailed below) were sporadic at best and usually after a few days to a week of nap difficulties she would settle back into her usual 3 hour nap routine.

But as the weeks and months wore on, the signs became clearer and clearer to spot and increased in frequency until I finally came to terms with the fact that in order to preserve my daughter’s healthy sleep habits at night, we were going to have to phase out her afternoon nap.

For all children, this transition will need to be made to allow for a proper bedtime and to prevent bedtime struggles from ruling your evenings.  The timing of dropping the afternoon naps can range anywhere from 2 years to up to 4 years of age.

Healthy Sleep Habits: What are the signs that your little one is ready to drop their nap?

They will almost always go down easily for the afternoon nap, but the main challenge will become bedtime.  They might have a prolonged duration of chatting, singing or playing in their bed or crib when they should have been heading off to dreamland 30 or 45 minutes ago.

Or, your little one might try and take control of your bedtime routine and drag it out with multiple requests (more books, songs, another sip of water, having to go potty once more or my personal favorite…but I just need one more hug).  Pretty soon, a great bedtime routine that usually takes 20 – 30 minutes has now turned into a 45 minute + free for all.

But a word of caution: Developmental milestones can be the cause of naptime parties and bedtime shenanigans, so be sure the problem has been going on consistently for longer than 2 weeks.

Once all the signs are clear to you, you actually do have a choice to make:

If you would like your child to continue with their afternoon nap or you are unable to drop it due to a daycare schedule and expectation, then you will need to move your little one’s bedtime back to 8:00 or 8:30pm.

If you are choosing to remove the afternoon nap, bedtime will need to be moved earlier to 7:00pm.  This will ensure that your little one is not becoming overtired and cranky who is primed for a full blown meltdown by the time bedtime rolls around.

I also suggest that each afternoon when naptime would normally begin, you implement “Quiet Time” for at least 6 weeks after making the transition to allow your little one time to decompress from a busy morning and rest their brain a bit before taking on the afternoon.  The appropriate duration of quiet time is about 45 minutes worth of “unplugged” activities.

What are some great Quiet Time activities?

Reading books, coloring, quiet games such as memory or puzzles.  Some toddlers and preschoolers may find it difficult to refocus and engage in quiet time so you may have to sit for the first few minutes at the beginning and lead them into what activities are appropriate options.  Once they have the hang of it, you can step away with the understanding that you will return when quiet time ends.

In closing, my advice is to watch your child’s sleep habits closely and let them be your guide through this important journey.

Good luck and please feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions.

Sweet Dreams!

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