When Do Toddlers Drop Their Nap? You Might Not Like The Answer

It's... complicated.
Mom and daughter reading fairy tales in bed.
kate_sept2004 via Getty Images
Mom and daughter reading fairy tales in bed.

There’s a moment in every parent’s life when their toddler graduates from napping once a day, sometimes for a solid couple of hours (allowing you to actually get things done), to refusing to nap altogether.

It’s a sad (read: devastating) period and many of us will reach it at different stages. Because it turns out there’s actually not really a set age when toddlers drop a nap – rather, they do it when they’re developmentally ready.

For me, it’s come excruciatingly early. And I was not prepared. I’d read that barely any toddlers drop a nap before the age of three and, according to the Sleep Foundation, a joyful 60% of four-year-olds still nap.

Then, by the time they reach five (school age), most children no longer need naps – although around 30% still do.

Lucy Bagwell, a holistic sleep consultant at Second Star To The Right, tells me she typically sees it happen anytime between 2.5 and four years, “but a little before and after is not unheard of”.

Dear reader: we’re just one month past our toddler’s second birthday and she has spent the past couple of weeks refusing to go down for a nap during the day.

I’ll put her in her cot and do all the usual, routine things to help her wind down, and she’ll just sit in there, for an hour, wide awake. Sometimes she’ll play with her teddies, sometimes she’ll read a book.

She will occasionally nap at childcare, but for a mere 40 minutes. And when she does, we can’t get her down to sleep before 9pm that night. On the days where she doesn’t nap, however, she’ll go down between 6.30 and 7pm.

There’s not really a way to know the age your toddler will be when they do drop a nap, but there are some signs that can help warn you that it’s happening.

Signs your toddler is ready to drop a nap

The general consensus among sleep experts is that a child will drop a nap when they can get through the day while still feeling energised and not cranky.

“The final nap transition can be speedy and smooth for some, but for most it can be a prolonged period of adjusting lengths and times, and making some compromises before finally losing it all together,” says Bagwell.

Just to clarify, she’s referring to the nap there, not your sanity. Although that may go too.

According to the sleep expert, the signs you are at the start of this process include:

  • Consistent nap resistance or refusal. The sleep expert notes this can sometimes happen before they are ready to drop the nap due to ‘FOMO’ (fear of missing out) – in which case, a pre-nap routine, wind down, calm environment, going with the path of least resistance, and a little persistence should help.
  • Nap getting later and later.
  • Bedtime battles.
  • Bedtime getting later.
  • Split nights (where your child wakes up multiple times in the night, wide awake).
  • Early rising.

How can you make the transition easier?

If your child is showing signs they’re ready to drop a nap, Bagwell recommends capping their daytime nap first, before cutting it all together.

This can be a really gradual process, she suggests. So, if their nap was historically two hours long, you could cap it to 1.5 hours and keep it that way for another few months, before dropping it to an hour, and so on.

For others though (ahem), the process might be speedier and you have to do multiple length reductions in a row, she suggests, adding: “There is no right or wrong way, just what works for your little one.”

Compromise is key during this transition, as sometimes your little one might not be able to get through the day without a nap, which means you might have to accept they’re going to have a later bedtime once in a while.

“I know losing some of your evening isn’t ideal but battling to put them down earlier than they are ready is stressful and absolutely not worth it,” says Bagwell.

“You may be tempted to drop the nap to bring bedtime earlier, but if they really aren’t ready then you can get the negative side effects of over-tiredness.” In short: more frequent night waking, very early rising and, of course, the emotions.

A partial nap drop is a common occurrence – so, your child might be able to cope without a nap for a couple of days, and then do a catch-up nap every few days to help even out their sleep needs.

Once the nap is gone for good, it can be helpful to schedule in some ‘quiet time’ in place of the nap each day. “Even us, as adults, need some down time during the day (where possible),” says Bagwell.

Quiet time could include reading stories or gentle play (like colouring or playing with cuddly toys) – and you can let them do it in their bed, cot or living area.

“You can be involved if necessary,” says Bagwell, “but if you can also have some quiet time, that’s a bonus.” Here’s to that!