Giving Up Naps
"Most children go from two naps to one between 12 and 18 months," says Dr. Judy Owens, director of the Pediatric Sleep Disorders Clinic at Hasbro Children's Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island. "The age of giving up naps altogether varies. At 2 years, 80 percent of children are still napping. At 3 years, this drops to about 60 percent, but a quarter of 4-year-olds and even about 10 to 15 percent of 5-year-olds still take a daily nap. But each child is different; it is more important to read your child's signals than get hung up on the 'right' age or the 'best' way."
"The key is good energy and behavior throughout the day," says Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, author of Sleepless in America: Is Your Child Misbehaving or Missing Sleep?. "That means that you do not get the 'poison hour' late in the afternoon where he's constantly picking fights and melting down or falling asleep whenever you get into the car to run errands."
A compilation of signs that a child is ready to give up a nap include the following:
- Awakening on his or her own in a good mood
- Falling asleep at night and staying asleep
- Sleeping somewhere around 11 to 12 hours a night
- Consistent behavior all day, even without a nap
- The battle to get your child to nap is more exhausting than the child's behavior that caused you to think he or she needed a nap
The NaptimeTransitional Period
There is a transitional period because while some kids can go cold turkey, others can do OK without a nap for a few days but accumulate tiredness and crankiness, says Dr. Laura Jana, a pediatrician in Omaha, Nebraska and BabyZone expert. Some kids really fare much better taking a nap even past the age of 4, she says. "I just suggest paying attention to whether or not [not napping] is due to the lack of a well-established routine, conducive environment, and/or the inability to fall asleep or if it is truly that the child isn't tired and doesn't need one."
Some children whose parents swear they're not nappers—often since the age of 2—benefit from a nap once they fall asleep, says Dr. Jana. Kids may very well make it past naptime just fine but become cranky, hyper or whiny uncharacteristically early in the evening as a result of fatigue.
According to Sheedy Kurcinka, the transitional period can last around six months. That's a long time—it feels more like six years to parents! Sheedy Kurcinka recommends having a regular "siesta" time right after lunch, when there's a natural dip in body temperature and it's easier to fall asleep. Invite your child to sit with you and read and snuggle. Make sure the environment clearly communicates it's OK to sleep, so dim lights, close shades, turn off the TV, pick up the toys, etc., she says. Read to him, offer a little massage or back scratch to calm him. "If he hasn't fallen asleep within 45 minutes, siesta is over and you know it will be an early bedtime so he can get his 11 to 12 hours that night."