There are a massive number of toddler-codes that concerned parents and caregivers would love to be able to crack, but the secret to a toddler’s perfect sleep schedule might be the hardest one to pin down of all. Toddlers’ language skills are growing every day, but their sleep needs are evolving and changing just as fast, and they’re not always able to keep up well enough to let you know what they need. If your toddler’s smooth sleep schedule has hit a rough patch, you might be wondering if napping is to blame. Before taking the plunge to drop a nap, though, it’s important to make sure that’s what Baby actually needs.
Signs that your toddler is ready to drop a nap
Between one and two years old, almost all toddlers drop down from two naps a day to one, and for most tots, this happens before they’re a year and a half old, which means that even if Baby isn’t ready to drop a nap right now, there’s a good chance he will be very soon. Still, it’s important to wait until he is ready – no parent or caregiver wants to wrangle a toddler who isn’t getting the sleep he needs. If your little one is having troubled sleep, but doesn’t quite fit the profile for a toddler who’s ready for just one nap a day, you can still try fiddling with his napping schedule to try to figure out the best formula for better sleep. This could mean moving naps or bedtime to start earlier or later to make sure Baby’s sleep schedule gives him the rest he needs.
- Consistently shortened naps: One or two shorter naps don’t make a pattern, but if your toddler’s naps are consistently growing and staying shorter than the ones he had previously been enjoying, it might be a sign that he is ready for a little less daytime sleep, and that clumping that daytime sleep into one longer nap instead of two shorter ones may be better for his overall wellbeing.
- Disturbed nighttime sleep: Restless nighttime sleep, and suddenly starting to regularly wake up earlier in the morning may be a sign that your toddler is getting more of his sleep during the day than he needs to. This can be tricky, though, because restless sleep can also be a sign of over-tiredness. The important thing to remember is that dropping a nap isn’t about toddlers getting less sleep, just about their sleep becoming more consolidated. Even once they’re down to one nap a day, toddlers between 1 and 2 years old still need between 11 and 14 hours of sleep, it’s just the distribution that changes.
During this time, nap resistance can seem like a sign of readiness to drop a nap, but at his age, Baby is likely to resist naptime for any number of reasons, including separation anxiety, a desire to tell you “no,” and have control over the shape of his own day, and a resistance to the major transition napping makes from the active play that generally fills so much of his time. Nap resistance may be a sign that the nap isn’t working for a toddler if he doesn’t eventually drop off, or if, after resisting a nap, he wakes up without sleeping for very long. On its own, though, nap resistance generally isn’t a sign that the nap isn’t needed.
In the end, it’s a toddler’s behavior that’s the best indication that he is or isn’t getting enough sleep, or sleep in a distribution that works well for him. If he is sleeping soundly through the night, a child’s behavior upon waking up is the best way to tell if he is getting enough sleep – waking up independently and in a good mood and then moving through his day energetically is a great sign that he is getting enough sleep.
Steps towards the naps of the future
Once you’ve decided Baby is ready to start living the single-nap life, there are a few different strategies you can use to ease him into it. It’s generally a good idea to make the transition gradual instead of a quick switch, since toddlers’ bodies count on routine to work with their bodies’ sleep patterns.
- The morning-nap shuffle: One of the main, effective strategies for transitioning from two naps to one is to start by gradually moving the morning nap to a later start-time, 15 minutes at a time. The afternoon nap then starts to grow shorter in response, until the morning nap starts in the early afternoon, and you’re able to cut out the afternoon nap altogether.
- The morning-nap elimination: The other main strategy is to slowly shorten the morning nap until it makes more sense to just cut it out entirely. As this goes on, it can also be helpful to move the afternoon nap until it’s a little earlier. How early depends on a toddler’s bedtime and personal energy level, but generally, an afternoon nap that starts just a little after lunch tends to work well.
During this time, it can be helpful to do a little math, to make sure your toddler is still getting the right amount of sleep in every 24-hour period. Dropping a nap doesn’t necessarily mean less sleep, and sleep is more important to toddlers’ learning and growth than ever. Some families find that, as naptime turns into a battle-zone, just calling it “quiet time” can help to avoid some of the nap-resistance that can come with the age even in children who still rely on naps for a significant amount of their rest. Figuring out the right formula for naptime at this stage of toddlerhood can be tricky, but even if there are some bumps along the way, Baby’s sleep will start to balance itself out before too long. If you’re concerned that you’re having trouble making sure your little one gets the rest he needs, though, don’t hesitate to talk to his pediatrician.
- Malia Jacobson. “Dropping a Nap Without Drama.” San Diego Family. San Diego Family. Web.
- William Sears. “Ask Dr. Sears: No Longer Needs a Nap?” Parenting. Meredith women’s network. Web.
- Heather Turgeon. “Should your child be napping?” Washington Post. Washington Post, February 26 2015. Web.
- “National Sleep Foundation Recommends New Sleep Times.” Sleep Foundation. National Sleep Foundation, February 2 2015. Web.