Kids are full of boundless energy and enthusiasm—they have so much to learn and so much to do, that carving time out of their precious day for a nap seems unnecessary and boring.
Your child doesn’t understand the biological benefits of sleep—if it were up to him, he’d never take the time to catch some z’s—day or night—until he simply keeled over. Therefore, leaving the decision to nap up to your child is like allowing him to choose between vegetables or ice cream for dinner. Just as ice cream would win hands down, your little one’s unlikely to choose sleep over awake, which leaves the decision entirely up to the adults in the house.
Roughly 85 percent of two-year-olds, 65 percent of three-year-olds, 25 percent of four-year-olds and 15 percent of five-year-olds take a nap every day, or almost every day. Most children are ready to say sayonara to siestas between the ages of 3 and 5—but only if they’re getting enough shut-eye at night. Regardless of the statistics, if your little one needs a nap, he falls into the 100 percent category—100 of the kids who need a nap should spend time sleeping during the day.
Even if your tiny dreamer’s fine all day without extra shut-eye, new research suggests that naps are beneficial for human beings throughout their entire lives—so the longer you can hold off the transition to nap-free days, the better. If a nap’s not going to happen, consider switching to a daily quiet time, or hush hour, complete with a “resting nook” where she can sleep, relax or simply rejuvenate by herself.
Signs a Nap is Still Necessary
Watch carefully, and you’ll be able to tell if your child still requires a nap to get through her day. If he demonstrates the symptoms below, your little one’s probably not quite ready to give up his daytime snooze:
- He responds in a positive or neutral way to naptime, and falls asleep easily.
- He resists or fights the idea of a nap, but eventually falls asleep and sleeps an hour or longer.
- He wakes up in the morning in a good mood, but gets whiny and cranky as the day progresses.
- He has more patience early in the day, but is more easily aggravated later on.
- He cries more often or more easily in the evening than she does early in the day.
- He demonstrates coordination deterioration over the course of the day. For example, he begins falling down more, can’t manage a puzzle as well, and has trouble pulling up his pants or tying his shoes.
- He has an afternoon or early evening slump in energy, but gets a second wind later in the day.
- He shows tired signs in the afternoon or early evening such as yawning, rubbing his eyes, or looking slightly glazed.
- Late in the day, he becomes wired up or hyper-active and won’t settle down easily.
- He often falls asleep in the car or when watching a movie.
- When he misses his nap, the night’s sleep that follows is more disrupted than usual.
- He has a difficult time waking up in the morning, or wakes up grumpy and stays that way for a while.
If those signs aren’t descriptive of your child’s demeanor, he may be emotionally equipped to forego sleeping during sunshine hours. Here are more clues he’s ready to power through the day, sans nap:
- He has a consistent personality from morning until bedtime, even on busy days.
- He’s generally in good spirits, with normal ups and downs throughout the day.
- He learns new things easily and has an age-appropriate attention span.
- He goes to bed at a reasonable time and sleeps well all night long.
- When he’s put in bed for a nap, he rarely falls asleep.
- On the days when he naps, he takes a long time to fall asleep that night, or goes to bed much later than usual, or wakes up earlier in the morning—yet is still cheerful.
- He’s typically healthy and doesn’t suffer from many colds or other ailments.
- He generally wakes up on his own, and in a pleasant mood.
Children aren’t good sleepers one day and suddenly non-nappers the next—there’s bound to be a transition period of several months when your kid clearly needs a nap some days, but is fine without one on others. By identifying whether or not your child is ready to give up naps, you’ll be able to construct a sleep schedule that meets everyone’s needs—and set him up with a “hush hour” environment, complete with books, soft loveys and dim lighting for days he needs an extra hour of shut-eye.
Parenting educator Elizabeth Pantley is the president of Better Beginnings, Inc., a family resource and education company. She is also the author of twelve parenting books, including the popular "No-Cry" series.