As babies get older, the number of naps needed decreases.
By the age of 18 months, toddlers are typically down to just one nap a day – after lunch. By the age of 4, more than half of children still take naps.
Each child is different and some function fine without extra sleep during the day, waking up happy in the morning and ready to go. Others wake up cranky and have a hard time listening and focusing when not getting mid day naps.
It’s important to try to get your toddler or preschooler to sleep about 12 hours a day to keep them at their best.
Toddler not napping, but you feel they still need it?
I know the feeling. There were days where my daughter told me she didn’t want to nap and that she wasn’t tired. Yet, when she didn’t sleep she was crazy by the time dinner came along. She had a hard time focusing, she was clumsy, and just bouncing off the walls.
Her body did need sleep… her mind was just fighting it!
The Mind is a Powerful Thing!
I found that my daughter got overwhelmed with new things she’d learned or with busy days and she couldn’t shut off her brain. She would be talking to herself, singing, playing with her feet… anything but sleeping.
You know, I do the same thing when I have a lot on my mind. I hate when I lay awake thinking about things, then look at the clock and think… OK, if I go to bed now I’ll get a solid 7 hours of sleep. A while later, after thinking about 101 different things, I look at the clock again and get aggravated when I realize that I just lost an hour of sleep and think… if I go to bed now I’ll get 6 hours of sleep, and then do that at least one more time before I wake up exhausted. Thankfully it doesn’t happen often, but it makes me understand that it can be hard to fall asleep sometimes even though our bodies need it!!
As children grow older, the need for control grows stronger. They want independence and to do things for themselves. They don’t want to be told to take naps. They don’t want to listen!
There are so many rules children have to learn and I have a hard time picking my battles sometimes. I want my daughter to respect me and listen, but also want her to feel in control of certain things.
If she fights me and tells me she doesn’t want to nap, I tell her she doesn’t have to, but she does need to stay in her bed and rest her body.
We went through a period where she called me into her room several times during nap or bed time… wanting a tissue, her stuffed animal fell out of her bed, she had to use the potty, her music turned off because the time was up, etc.
As a Mom I wanted to help, but I knew that she was trying to stall going to sleep and feel a bit of power having me come to her with every request.
I made a rule that I only come into her room once after putting her to bed. It’s amazing how all those emergencies no longer happened! I was giving her some control by allowing her to choose when and for what reason I come back into the room to help, but I set the limit to just 1.
You’ll notice some things are similar to what’s needed for a baby to sleep, but I urge you not to just glance over the bullet points thinking that you’ve heard them before.
- Limit distractions – Use blackout shades and make the room as dark as possible and keep toys out of sight in bins or the closet so there is less they can look at.
- Add music or white noise – If using music, I suggest something without words so that they cannot sing along. Toddlers listen very closely to words, absorbing them, and if yours isn’t repeating everything yet, they will be soon! You don’t want them engaged with the music, it’s just something to block out the noise of the house and for calming.
- Add a nightlight or something to look at – Adding something to the ceiling should keep them laying down and it gives them something to look at.
If you use a moving projector and you think it may be too distracting and keeping them awake, opt for something that doesn’t move. My daughter likes the rainbow. It doesn’t move, but is something she enjoys looking at.
- Explain to them WHY sleep is needed – Explain that the body needs rest so that they have energy to play later.
Now that my daughter is in preschool I’m going into more depth teaching her that it’s important that she take care of her body by brushing her teeth, taking vitamins, drinking more water, eating healthy foods, and sleeping. All these things will help to keep her healthy and strong
- Teach them
Sleep is something their body should naturally do, but it can be hard when the brain gets in the way. So, I’ve taught my daughter how to sleep. Seem silly? Maybe, but I think it helps. It gives her something simple to focus on.
Each time I think my daughter needs the reminder, I tell her “Close your mouth, keep your body still, and close your eyes when you’re ready”
I mention “close your mouth” because she is a talk, talk, talk, talk, talker, lol.
I put “keep your body still” in there because she is constantly playing with her feet or waving her arms/stuffed animal around.
I added “close your eyes when ready” because that’s what she fought the most. She knew that closing the eyes meant sleeping and she didn’t want to do that. So I added that she can do that last, when she’s ready. If she does the other 2 things, her body should slow down and her eyes should get heavy and it’ll just happen.
I then repeat mouth, body, eyes so that she has something short and easy to remember to focus on. So, rather than focusing on things that she saw or learned that day that stimulate her brain, she’s focused on staying quiet and calm.
You can use those same 3 things or you can tweak it to things you think your child can focus on to be calm. Suggestions: Listen to the music, look at the nightlight, take deep breaths, etc.
That’s what has worked for us.
My daughter still takes naps every afternoon at 3.5 years old. On rare occasion she’ll stay awake in her bed, but it’s rare.
I hope this helps you as well. 🙂
If your toddler is waking up too early in the morning, check out this post on toddler alarm clock.