We read a lot about napping with young children, but there is a void of information about when your child no longer needs a nap; so, I thought we might spend some time on this topic.
 
Firstly, although all children are different, it would be usual for a child to nap until at least three years old - and some, closer to four. Some children will “give up” napping really early, and some may cling on for dear life. Very often, a child who gives up really early may not be ready to give that nap up, but is resistant; and that makes us think that that is the reason. I generally like to see most children napping until at least two-and-a-half years plus, and that would be in conjunction with routinely sleeping through the night, and that you allow the cessation of the nap to be organic and not forced by you or childcare.
 
As you may already know, naps serve a huge function - mood behaviour, eating, and overnight sleeping patterns - so it is important that your child is offered a nap as long as they need it, and to not rush the process. Eliminating the nap prematurely can often result in unwanted night time activity and early rising.
 
 
Here are some indicators that your child still needs to nap:
 
If your child is under 4 years of age and;
  1. They are tired in the mid morning/lunch time
  2. They always fall asleep in the car around the 1-2 pm mark
  3. Without a nap, they are really tired by 4-5pm
  4. They can’t cope without a nap, and have meltdowns in the evening
  5. Do not routinely sleep through the night.
When your child is ready to stop napping, there are normally two different presentations. The first one may be that the nap starts to get shorter - so, shrinking from two to two-and-a-half hours, to one to one-and-a-half hours; and this would be age-relevant. This is representative of the body needing less day-time sleep, and preparing to not nap at a time in the future.
 
Or you may find that your child starts refusing the nap; and you may find that, before they are entirely ready to stop napping, they start napping less frequently - so, napping three days out of seven days, for example. Again, this is the body preparing for the transition. Keep offering the nap on a daily basis, as it may be difficult to establish a pattern. Keep providing the nap opportunity, and encourage rest time even if the nap doesn’t happen.

As your child makes this transition - either from the shrinking or pacing perspective - you will need to start making further adjustments, to ensure that the start of not napping does not cause bedtime resistance and/or frequent night-time activity.  
 
 
From age three to five years, the sleep amount recommendation endorsed by the American Association of Sleep Medicine is from 10-13 hours. Once the nap element is gone, the sole source of achieving this quota is night-time sleep. So, make sure that you adjust bedtime forward to take account of the missing nap. For example, if historically the single nap was for one-and-a-half hours, and bedtime was 8.30pm; without the nap, bedtime may need to be 7pm, to comfortably accilmatise to this new sleep pattern. Once this becomes established, you may be able to move out bedtime again; but this adjustment would be strongly encouraged in most instances.
 
Even without a nap by day, a toddler/pre-schooler, may find it hard to get through the day without a break; so, in the absence of a nap, allow for what I would describe as being 'quiet time': not necessarily in the bed but on the couch, and ideally NOT television. Use reading or listening to audio books or music as a way of accounting for this, and one hour would be the recommendation - but, to be honest, anything would be helpful to ensure that they can get through the time until bedtime.
 
If bedtime needs to be adjusted forward, then you may also need to adjust your dinner time to allow for two hours between eating and sleeping. Also, it can be helpful to also make sure that you have a sleep-friendly environment - adequately dark with minimal distractions. If you haven’t already, having a peaceful bedtime routine can also be helpful.
 
Even if you have had months of no naps, it would not be unusual for a naps to re-emerge for a while. On that basis, allow it to happen, but don’t allow to sleep past 2.30pm or you may run the risk of bedtime being affected. With an occasional nap, plan for bedtime to occur about five hours thereafter; so, begin preparations for the bedtime routine  four hours and 15 minutes after the nap has finished. This way, you always protect the bedtime process.
 
It is an exciting time to have your child ready to not nap - they will be hopefully nap free, nappy-free; and for many of you, this will be the time that another baby is arriving too, and you have to start with naps all over again. Enjoy!
Paediatric Sleep Consultant
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