When Does a Toddler Stop Napping Completely?

Gavin is 22 months old and lately, he’s been giving me quite a bit of grief when it comes to going to sleep – whether it’s his afternoon nap or bedtime.  The last time he was this difficult with sleep was when he was dropping from two naps a day to one nap.

According to Baby Center and most other books I’ve consulted, the average two year old needs anywhere between 11.5 – 15.5 hours of sleep a day (naps plus overnight sleep).  My target has been to get Gavin to sleep at least 11.5 hours a day (nap plus overnight sleep) because of the evidence showing the negative effects of insufficient sleep on brain development, growth and other physiological effects.  Additionally, a cranky, overtired baby is also very difficult to manage.

Gavin normally sleeps 10 hours a night plus a two hour nap during the day, although this varies from day to day.  I usually find that if I want him to settle down for his afternoon nap, then taking him out for some vigorous play in the playground or a run around a shopping mall can do wonders to wear him out.  By the time he gets back into the car, he’s ready to knock out on the way home.

Recently, however, I’ve noticed that Gavin has been pushing past his usual limits.  Ordinarily, he’s ready to nap by four to five hours after waking up in the morning.  Between waking up from his nap and going to bed at night, he usually only lasts about six hours, and at the maximum seven hours.  Lately, he’s been pushing six hours between waking up in the morning to afternoon nap and sometimes even longer.  Between his afternoon nap and sleeping for the night, he’s been consistently pushing seven hours.

Even taking him out during the day doesn’t do much for wearing him out.  No matter how tired he looks at the shopping mall or the park, he no longer falls asleep in the carseat on the way home.  When we get home, he can be running around for another hour or two before settling down for his afternoon nap.  If I really want him to sleep earlier, I have to carry and rock him to sleep (usually to his protests if he isn’t ready to sleep).  Although I don’t usually mind the rocking, sometimes, I can’t help wondering as Isil does of her own child – when will Gavin be able to fall asleep without needing to be rocked or to be on the breast?  Even now, sometimes he doesn’t even fall asleep on the breast any more, unless he’s really tired or if I’ve already wound him down considerably by carrying him around the room first.

All of these signs are typical of the time when he dropped his morning nap so I wondered if he might be ready to drop his afternoon nap, too.  Barely even two, I felt it seemed a bit early for it so I checked up on the average age that toddlers stop napping.  According to Baby Center, some toddlers stop by the age of three, while other push on until five or six.  When I check a couple of forums (MedHelp and Momsview), I found that there were Mums whose toddlers had stopped napping altogether by two and some even before that.

There is a wide variation and the important thing to remember is that every toddler is different.  Baby Center also states that some toddlers may skip their afternoon naps if they are already getting sufficient sleep overnight – e.g. 12 or more hours.  In such cases, the afternoon nap is no longer so critical.  Children who sleep less than 12 hours a night are the ones who need to continue their afternoon naps.  However, Baby Center also recommends giving children under the age of 4 some quiet time during the day if they refuse to sleep.

So far, I’ve allowed Gavin to skip his afternoon nap twice.  In the first instance, he had slept more than 12 hours overnight so I felt he had slept sufficiently.  He went to bed much, much earlier than normal (7:30pm as opposed to 10:30pm-12am as he normally does).  The night went well and he slept 14 hours that night.

Today, when Gavin was resisting his afternoon nap again, I allowed him to stay up and tried to put him to bed earlier.  He fell asleep quite easily but awoke about two hours later crying.  I presumed he was having a night terror which suggests he hadn’t had enough sleep from the previous night.  Although he did go back to sleep and has been sleeping pretty well since.  Admitedly, he probably only got about 10 hours of sleep the night before which might explain the night terrors.

I guess from here on forwards I’m just going to have to work on a day to day basis, playing by ear to see how he goes.  At least now I know that there exists the possibility that his difficulties in falling asleep may be due to him attempting to give up his afternoon naps altogether.  The fact that he dropped his morning naps fairly early on is also a good indication that this could very well be the case.  As long as he’s catching enough hours overnight, I’ve decided not to stress about it.

The only other downside to losing the afternoon nap is that I no longer get a chance to sneak off and do my own thing during the day.  If only he were like my god-daughter – three years old and still sleeping solidly during the day, any time and any place.

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About the author

Shen-Li Shen-Li is a stay-home mum to two boys who have been the inspiration for her interest in early childhood development and early child education. She searches for the balance in child development methods and the educational philosophies that will enable the nurture of happy, confident and successful children. She shares her views and findings at Figur8.


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Comments

  1. Hi Becca,

    Our son eventually dropped his day time nap completely at about 3.5 years, if I recall correctly. We still enforce a nap if we’re planning to go out at night but otherwise he doesn’t nap at all. It works better for us as it means he gets a proper night’s rest and is ready for school the next day.

  2. My son sounds very similar. My husband and I were just talking.about experimenting with a nap drop. Tonight it took 90 minutes for him to fall asleep and his naps are.getting later and later. I guess we can take it day by day. At 22 months I’m sad to see them go.

  3. Jack seems to nap one day and skip the next.