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Toddler Won’t Nap? 5 Tips to Solve Sleep Battles

Blog Toddler Won’t Nap? 5 Tips to Solve Sleep Battles

Kids this age often refuse to nap. Here, Michael McKenna, M.D., a pediatrician at Indiana University Health, shares his advice for ending the struggle.


Kids this age often refuse to nap. Here, Michael McKenna, M.D., a pediatrician at Indiana University Health, shares his advice for ending the struggle.

Do know your child’s sleepiness signs. “If she’s rubbing her eyes, blinking a lot, or zoning out, she needs to get to bed ASAP,” says Dr. McKenna. If you wait too long and your child gets seriously cranky, she may already be overtired—and overtiredness makes little kids irritable and hyper, so you’ll have to work that much harder to get her to settle down.

Do give warnings that it’s almost naptime. The toddler years are a time of curiosity and exploration, and when kids this age get wrapped up in an activity that interests them, it can seem almost impossible to get them to do anything else—like take a nap, says Dr. McKenna. Give your child a heads-up when it’s almost time for him to snooze (“You can play one more game and then you need to lie down”) to make the transition easier.

Do have a pre-nap routine. Help your little one wind down with a consistent, predictable naptime routine: Dim the lights, play soothing music, and read a story or two. “Basically, make it a shorter version of whatever you do at her bedtime, which will signal to her that it’s time to go to sleep,” says Dr. McKenna.

Don’t call it a nap. Instead, call it “quiet time” so your child doesn’t feel like she’s being forced to sleep. “Set a timer, and tell her that she has to stay in her room and play quietly until the timer goes off,” suggests Dr. McKenna. “She may end up falling asleep anyway.” This is a good strategy for kids who are starting to outgrow their need for a daily doze—most children give up naps entirely between ages 3 and 5.

Don’t panic if your child doesn’t fall asleep. “Ultimately, if a child I see is sleeping okay at night, I’m not as worried about naps,” says Dr. McKenna. What really matters is how much sleep your child gets in 24 hours—not when he gets it. In fact, if you’ve noticed that he’s been sleeping longer at night, it may indicate he doesn’t need a nap anymore. If he’s wide awake at bedtime, isn’t overtired after skipping an afternoon siesta, and can’t seem to fall asleep at naptime anymore, these may also be signs he’s ready to give up his daytime snooze.

-- By Jessica Brown

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