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Dropping the day nap

Is it time to ditch the day nap?!

No one wants to lose their toddler’s day nap. That blissful time of the day when you know your super active, full on energetic toddler is out of your hair for a couple of hours! However, sometimes that nap can have a bit of a knock-on effect on other areas of sleep and it's time to trim it back or ditch it completely.

I wanted to share a little story about my own experience when our twins were just over 2.5 years of age. We started to struggle with some bedtime battles. My twin tornadoes were taking HOURS to fall asleep, sometimes still wide awake partying till after 8 pm! No matter what we were doing, going in and growling, adjusting bedtimes, trying lots of positive reinforcement – nothing was helping them settle more easily at bedtime. It was one gigantic party for them and one stressful headache for us as what we needed was a bit of a break and time to ourselves in the evening. However, on the plus side, they were napping amazingly for me during the day and I’d actually be going in and waking them from their lunchtime nap! Waking them from their good nap was becoming increasingly more difficult. They were so groggy, lethargic, and hard to rouse making for a pretty feral late afternoon. They seemed so tired, so surely a long lunch nap was a good thing right?! Sure, it was good for me as I was a stay-at-home mum who needed every chance I could grab to get organised, prepare the next meal, have a cuppa in peace, go to the loo alone, etc so that nap was GOLD. BUT, what I started to realise was that day sleep was robbing them of a good couple of restorative hours of their nighttime sleep. When they started waking really early in the morning too, I realised the nap had to be trimmed right back as the day nap was interrupting their night sleep quota.

Now, whilst having a deep restorative nap is exactly what we wanted with our babies, what can happen with toddlers, is that it starts chewing into their nighttime sleep quota and compensates for the loss of night sleep. We tend to think, ahhh, they are so tired, they need more sleep, so we may let them nap longer. Or we may find they are really sleepy before midday due to their early start, so put them down for an early nap and they may nap for 1.5 hours. The trouble is that a 1.5 hour day nap is actually compensating for the sleep they missed at night. Over the course of a few weeks, their body clock has shifted, telling them they can afford to have less and less sleep at night and wake earlier because they can catch up during the day! This just reinforces and encourages them to continue the pattern of falling asleep late, waking through the night, and then rising earlier the next morning.

Here are some key signs your toddler may be ready to drop their day nap:

1) Bedtime battles occur – there's a delayed onset of sleep in the evening. They may appear hyperactive and ready to party

2) They start to refuse the nap altogether

3) They take a long time to fall asleep at nap time which can push the nap out too late in the day

4) They begin to wake earlier in the morning refusing to resettle

5) They are really hard to wake from their day nap and seem to crave a longer, deeper nap

6) They may seem really irritable and groggy after a nap taking lots of coaxing to fully wake up

7) They start to suddenly wake through the night out of the blue, sometimes for a couple of hours appearing wide awake and ready to play!

If you realise your toddler ticks a lot of these boxes then start by trimming their nap back to 30-45 minutes before dropping it completely and see how they adjust. If they are over 3 years of age then I would remove the nap completely and bring bedtime earlier – even 6pm to help them get through. When we don’t get the right amount of sleep it tends to have a knock-on effect on other areas so getting the balance between day and night time sleep is important. If you haven’t seen any improvements after a couple of weeks, then offer a short nap every second day or ditch it completely. Have some grace while they adjust – it can take weeks for them to manage without a day nap!

WARNING: On the days your toddler has managed no nap avoid late afternoon trips in the car at all costs or too much of a lull in front of tv - if they fall asleep too late in the day it will have dire consequences for bedtime! Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

NOTE: If your toddler sleeps well at night and is coming up to 3 years still managing with a day nap then keep going! You don’t need to change anything – enjoy the nap and quiet time while it lasts. This information is for those parents who have suddenly noticed a change in their toddler's routine.

If you need some extra help and support with your toddler's sleep then I’m here for you! We can turn things around and have your toddler settling easily and just loving their sleep! Click here if you’d like to work with me. For free toddler, bedtime cards click below.

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