You just love and look forward to those little windows of "me" time like an uninterrupted shower or when your toddler takes a nap. Score two if you manage to get your baby AND the toddler down at the same time! The possibility of two hours of me-time can make a mom giddy, but what happens when your toddler resists nap time?
First, toddlers need up to 12 hours of sleep within a 24-hour period, says baby sleep expert Rachel Waddilove, author of Sleep Solutions: Quiet Nights for You and Your Child from Birth to Age Five (Lion Hudson; 2016). At about age 2, your toddler will take a short morning nap and a longer one in the afternoon; by age 3, your toddler may move to one nap a day — but he also may start fighting it.
Toddlers are notorious for their discovery of "self," Waddilove says. Once they learn that they can control certain aspects of their lives (like you, for instance) they may start fighting for what they want and this includes nixing the daily sleep routine.
But your little one's brain needs its rest.
Sleep researchers believe that your toddler's need for sleep accumulates quickly during his waking hours as his brain is not able to tolerate long periods of being awake like an older child's brain can. A 2-year-old who gets up at 7 a.m. will typically need sleep by 9:30 or 10 a.m. plus an additional nap in the afternoon.
Toddlers closer to age 3 may fight against their naps, and you need to be aware it's a developmental thing.
"I'M NOT TIRED!"
According to Harvey Karp, M.D., author of The Happiest Toddler on the Block (Bantam; 2008), the main reason why your toddler may try NOT to nap are 1) he's overtired or 2) he's distracted and overstimulated. Karp also has some sleep stats: About 20 percent of 2-year-olds have stopped all naps; 43 percent of 3-year-olds; 74 percent of 4-year-olds; and 85 percent of 5-year-olds.
If you know your little one is tired and needs a nap, Karp says to try switching him to nap mode 20 – 30 minutes before you put him down and to also create an environment conducive to napping (quiet, white noise, darken the room, turn off adjunct sounds). It also helps to tune-in to signals that your child may be ready to nap: rubbing eyes, fussiness, blinking eyes a lot.
Of course, frustratingly, sometimes toddlers fall asleep in the car if you're running morning or afternoon errands and their usual nap time is interrupted. You may think that you'll never get him down for a nap, and in this case, that may be true.
You can aim to be consistent with your toddler's nap windows by planning errands around his naps, but life happens anyway and some toddlers will fall asleep in the car even IF they've napped.
Because all children are biologically different, it may be best to let your child's napping play out naturally. Simply be aware that the first three years of his life includes a lot of growth and development and naps and stopping naps are all a part of the routine.
TODDLER SLEEP TIPS
• Aim for consistency in nap routines (but know these will change as your child gets older)
• Seize the moment: watch for signals that your little one needs sleep (rubbing his eyes; excessive blinking; fussiness)
• Quiet your child's environment 20 – 30 minutes before nap time
• Be gentle and friendly