Nap Time: What to Know About Toddlers and Naps

Toddler taking nap

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Toddlers are known for their exuberance, curiosity, and high energy levels, so it should come as no surprise that napping helps them recharge after a busy morning or afternoon playing and exploring. 

Yet, despite needing the downtime to reset, many little ones resist napping with everything they’ve got. They come up with excuses like needing a drink, wanting another book, or needing a snack to get out of sleeping—anything they can think of to put off the inevitable. 

If your toddler is starting to resist their naps or seems to not need naps anymore, you might wonder what you can do. Here’s what you need to know about toddler naps—including how much sleep they need, why they need naps, when they can stop naps, and what you can do if they put up a fight.

How Much Sleep Does My Toddler Need? 

As your toddler grows, they do not need as much sleep as they did when they were small babies. Yet, they still need some daytime sleep to thrive.

“In general, 1- to 2-year-olds need between 11 and 14 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period,” says Tyanna Snider, PsyD, a pediatric psychologist who works in an integrated primary care setting and specializes in early childhood behavioral health, including sleep issues. “Preschoolers—ages 3 to 5 years—need between 10 and 13 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period. These time frames include daytime naps and nighttime sleep.”

While every child has different sleep needs, most younger toddlers nap 2 to 3 hours a day, split between two naps—one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Eventually, as your toddler gets older, they will transition into one longer afternoon nap of about the same time length.

“Children are growing and developing a lot during their first few years of life,” says Dr. Snider. “Naps give the body time to rest and recharge. Good naps can even help toddlers sleep better at night. Toddlers who do not nap might be overly active, irritable, and have a hard time going to sleep at night.”

Sample Nap Schedules

Two-Nap Schedule

  • 7:00 a.m. Wake-up and breakfast
  • 9:30 a.m. Start of 1-hour- to 1.5-hour morning nap if still taking one
  • 12:00 p.m. Lunch
  • 1:00 or 1:30 p.m. Start of afternoon nap of 1.5 hours
  • 5:30 p.m. Dinner
  • 6:30 p.m. Start bath/bedtime routine
  • 7:00 p.m. Bedtime

One-Nap Schedule

  • 7:00 Wake-up and breakfast
  • 12 p.m. Lunch
  • 1:00 p.m. Start afternoon nap
  • 5:30 p.m. Dinner
  • 6:30 p.m. Start bath/bedtime routine
  • 7:00 p.m. Bedtime

It is important to recognize that every child is different. Pay attention to your toddler's cues as you consider your family's schedule when developing a nap schedule that works for your family.

Why Do Toddlers Need Naps?

Naps allow toddlers to meet their sleep needs of about 11 to 14 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period. Because very few toddlers can sleep that much during the night, naps help them get the sleep they need for their brains and bodies to grow and develop.

“Sleep is essential," says Renee Turchi, MD, MPH, FAAP, medical director of the Pennsylvania American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Medical Home Program. "It is like a vitamin that helps children stay healthy. Lack of sleep can affect their ability to learn and their mood. If they are tired and cranky, they might tantrum more. It also can impact their overall learning and development.”

Renee Turchi, MD, MPH, FAAP

Naps are important because they ensure that our toddlers are giving their mind time to rest and recharge.

— Renee Turchi, MD, MPH, FAAP

Toddlers who do not nap during the day tend to be crankier, more prone to frustration, have more tantrums, get injured easier, and have less of an appetite. They also will run out of steam and will not be able to explore as much as they would if they were rested.

“Toddlers are like little sponges,” says Nikki Smith, MEd, NCC, NCSC, CSWC, a certified pediatric and adult sleep specialist. “They are learning constantly but need to be well-rested. There is a consolidation of that knowledge that happens when they are sleeping. Having well-rested tiny humans can really help with learning.”

Smith adds that growth hormones are secreted during sleep. “While they are sleeping, their body also repairs itself so that they can be healthy and happy,” she says.  

What If My Toddler Refuses or Skips Naps? 

Resisting nap time is pretty common among toddlers. They are developing a sense of autonomy and may start pushing boundaries. Nap time is a perfect time for them to test out their budding independence, Smith says. 

Before addressing their resistance to naps, it is important to evaluate how much sleep they are getting overall. Make sure your expectations are realistic and that you aren’t still expecting them to sleep as much as they did as an infant.

“It is important to remember the age-appropriate sleep patterns,” says Smith. “Parents need to make sure they are not expecting too much and that their toddler has enough wake time before their nap and before bedtime.”

According to Smith, toddlers between 15 months and 3 years need about five to six hours of wake time before bedtime and a little less than that before their nap. It also is common for toddlers to begin transitioning to one nap a day around 14 months old, she says, although some will hang on to two naps a little longer.

If you are experiencing nap-time struggles with your toddler, there are some things you can do to make nap time go a little smoother.

Be Consistent

Toddlers learn through repetition and thrive on routines, Smith says. So it is important to establish expectations for nap time.

 “You don’t have to be rigid, but try to have nap time at the same time each day,” suggests Dr. Turchi. “They shouldn’t have an afternoon nap at 11 a.m. one day and 2 p.m. another.”

Also, if you make every sleep situation the same, they will know better how to respond. Try to go through the same routine at every nap time so that they know what to expect.

“Consistency is huge when it comes to naps in toddlers,” Smith says. “If the schedule is fluctuating a bunch and there is no consistency with that sleep onset, they are going to push back. They won’t know what to do or how to handle the situation.”

Promote Sleep

Do things that promote sleep. Try going through a ritual at nap time just as you would create bedtime routine at night, Dr. Turchi says. 

For instance, reading a book, brushing their teeth, and going to the bathroom are all things they can do to prepare for their nap. You can even use a noise machine, room darkening curtains, and other tools to promote sleep.

“A toddler’s sleep environment is a big thing that can help or hurt napping,” Smith says. “A toddler’s room should be like a cave—cool and dark. There should be no light coming in around the window. If there is, they feel like it is time for their body to be awake.”

Give Them Choices

Because nap struggles can sometimes be tied to their need for independence, Smith suggests giving them choices when it is nap time. Doing so allows them to feel like they have some control over the process while still getting them the rest they need.

“It is helpful to offer toddlers as many choices as you can,” Smith says. “Ask them, ‘Do you want to read this book or that book?’ or ‘Do you want to wear the red pajamas or the blue pajamas?’ Giving them choices helps them feel like they have control and autonomy.”

Accept Their Sleep Needs

There are some instances where your toddler simply might not be tired. Maybe they missed their window of opportunity for a second nap, got a second wind after lunch, or are close to giving up their naps altogether. In these situations, you might want to consider quiet time instead. 

“Remember,  you can’t force a toddler to fall asleep,” Dr. Snider says. “Try to create a quiet time when they are in their bed and have some quiet activities for them to do on their own such as play with quiet toys or look at books. Some kids fall asleep during this time, and some might not.”

Establish a Quiet Time

When toddlers do drop a nap, it is important to replace it with quiet time. Not only does it give your toddler important downtime but it also gives you a chance to recharge as well. Smith suggests starting with smaller increments and using a visual clock to help them.

“Toddlers like being able to watch how long they have until they can come out of their rooms,” Smith says. “You also can give them rewards for staying in their room the entire time.”

If they continue to push the limits and come out of quiet time repeatedly, Smith suggests looking at how you are responding. Are you gently taking them back to their room and reminding them it is quiet time or are you engaging with them or rewarding them with attention?

“If they keep coming out, you can put a baby gate up and check-ins to make them feel more secure,” she says. “Check-ins let them know that mom or dad are not going anywhere. You want to try to establish a sense of security for your toddler that they will see you again once quiet time is over.”

Can My Toddler Make Up for Lost Naps By Sleeping More at Night? 

There is usually no cause for concern if your toddler misses a nap here or there. In those cases, you might just put them to bed earlier that night. But, missing naps every day or consistently, like every weekend, is usually not advisable. Getting adequate sleep is an important part of their development.

“Toddlers (and adults) cannot truly make up for missed sleep,” says Dr. Snider. “For example, sleeping in on the weekends does not really help one make up for the lack of sleep during the weekdays.”

If your toddler misses a nap due to a family outing or other activity, try starting their bedtime routine a little earlier that evening. To help you decide on a bedtime, Smith suggests looking at how much sleep they are getting in a 24-hour period to determine if they are getting enough sleep overall.

“Consistency with the nap routine will set your toddler up for success," Smith says. "Overall, I suggest aiming for an 80-20 split. In other words, 80 percent of the time you need to prioritize naps. So, 20 percent of the time you can be flexible about naps, such as when the opportunity to do something as a family arises.”

When Can My Toddler Stop Taking Naps?

Although each child is different, kids usually give up their naps around preschool or between 4 and 6 years of age,  says Dr. Turchi. Some will even give up their naps as early as 3 years old and just get an extra hour of sleep at night.

Additionally, most toddlers will transition from two naps a day to one early afternoon nap. Usually, this occurs by the time they are 18 months old according to Dr. Snider.

“It’s also important to know that taking away a toddler’s nap will not help them sleep better at night,” says Dr. Snider. “In fact, taking naps away can have the opposite effect and make it more difficult for your toddler to fall asleep at night.”

A Word From Verywell

Struggling with naps is not an uncommon problem. Most parents have probably dealt with battles here and there when it comes to nap time. 

But if you have tried a variety of tactics and you’re still struggling to get your toddler to nap, then you may want to discuss your challenges with a healthcare provider, a behavioral psychologist, or even a certified sleep consultant. These professionals can help you identify the root cause of nap resistance as well as strategize the best ways to help your child get the rest they need.

Originally written by
Vincent Iannelli, MD

Vincent Iannelli, MD, is a board-certified pediatrician and fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Dr. Iannelli has cared for children for more than 20 years.

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4 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Cleveland Clinic. Sleep in toddlers and preschoolers.

  3. American Academy of Pediatrics. Healthy sleep habits: How many hours does your child need?

  4. Nemours KidsHealth. Why are naps important?.

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