Signs that it might be time to give up nap:
1. It takes more than an hour for them to go to sleep for nap.
2. They are skipping nap occasionally
3. Their naps are getting shorter
4. If they are out, they do not need a nap
5. They seem more wakeful at night
What’s a typical age to eliminate naps?
This is my opinion based on working with a lot of children and having 3 of my own; it varies so much. Usually under 2 years old is pretty young to eliminate naps. Children store their memories during sleep so it’s important that they sleep often for the purpose of retaining all the new information they are taking in. If your child is under two and seems to not need a nap, but they are sleeping really well at night, less than 2 wake-ups average and more than 12 hours, they may not need the nap. If your child has disruptive sleep during the night, waking up 5 times, hard to fall asleep, seems more emotional as the day goes on and/or their energy level increases, throughout the day, they may really still need the nap, even if it’s hard to get them to sleep sometimes.
On the other side of the spectrum, I also know of 5 year olds who do quite well with a midday nap and parents are worried about how they will cope with no nap in Kindergarten. From my experience, this is all fairly typical. We all have unique sleep needs. Children are no different.
Understanding and Surviving this Big Change in Routine
This transition can be challenging. Usually, by this point, there is some predictability as far as sleep goes. Well that goes right out the window when the transition away from naps happens. I have found a way that seems to reduce some of the unpredictability and challenges with this transition period. This method may only be possible if your child does not attend child care.
What happens during this transition period is the sleep pressure children used to feel earlier in the day, decreases. It still builds up, just more slowly. If you’re lucky, this leads to early bedtimes, yay!! But often it also leads to random naps around dinner time, which is enough to give any parent an anxiety attack. It also leads to over-stimulation caused by being overtired.
How does over-tiredness work in children?
It is believed that, a young child’s body may interpret being over-tired as a sign that there is a threat to be wary of. This may increase adrenaline, which contributes to hyper-vigilence and an inability to relax the body because it is in fight or flight mode. This instinctual response to being overtired is a part of all of us so that we will run from a threat, even if we are exhausted. Children’s bodies rely on signals to tell them what instincts to employ.
The instinctual parts of a child’s brain may interpret over-tiredness as an indicator of a present threat; if a child is not asleep, when they are tired, it must be because they are fleeing a threat. This is why an over-tired child can sometimes seem like they have so much energy left to burn. They may have moved into a fight or flight mode as a result of being tired. As long as you support their needs, during this time, there is no risk to this instinct being triggered. It just makes getting to sleep harder, sometimes.
The truth is…. sleep may just be a “shit show” for a bit, as their bodies find a new routine that works for them. One trick I have found that helps meet some of those unmet sleep needs and reduces the chances of these inconveniences is an occasional preemptive early nap.
Every 3 days or more, I plan an errand for around lunch time. Something simple like going through the drive-through works. If they need the sleep, they will drift off. If the night before was particularly difficult, that might be a good time to try this. When you do a walk in the stroller or a car ride, the time they will nap is more naturally limited as the drive or walk will end. This advice is also only applicable to those who have their child at nap time. There is little you can do about nap routines at child care but it never hurts to discuss your observations and concerns with your child’s educators. They may be able to support you in some way.
During this transition time, try to avoid taking them in the car from 3 pm to around 7 pm. They could very well fall asleep and this can make bedtime more challenging. If it does happen, which it will (for so many this isn’t even realistic), give yourself grace. Know they needed the sleep. Do a movie in bed night, and just let go of the bedtime for one night. It’s easier to deal with these fluctuations when we are flexible and less rigid about routine. If routine is really important to you or necessary for other reasons, just try and be flexible about timing, where you can, but keep the same pre-bed routine.
Caring for the parent
You may also find yourself feeling more irritable and less patient, during this time. The change in routine can effect parents, as well. Especially since this change results in the loss of our quiet time, too. Couple that with later, inconsistent bedtimes, and a toddler who is also adjusting to new sleep needs…. yeah, life can get tense.
Here are a few tips for taking care of your own needs during this time:
For the tired parent: Take turns; if it was a tough day, have your co-parent take the lead for bedtime.
For the lonely parent: Schedule social escapes a couple times a week, such as a class or meeting a friend.
For the parent who just wants to be alone: Self-care routine; whatever fills your cup, make it a priority to fit that in a couple times a week.
For the parent with little support: Make that preemptive nap YOU time. Go get yourself a treat, take a nap in the car, read a book, listen to music and cruise, scroll aimlessly; whatever refuels you that you can also do in the car.
For the parent who misses their old life: Fortunately, for many, this is the point where your schedule starts to open up a bit more. You may be able to go for that lunch now, without worrying about nap. Try thinking about and planning some things you may be able to do again.
This transition can be a big adjustment for both parent and child. Give yourselves grace and remember that whatever is happening with sleep at the moment, will be temporary.