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When Do Toddlers Stop Napping (and Is My Free Time Gone Forever)?
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This morning, your child stripped your bed to build a fort. Then, at lunchtime, your budding artist painted the table and wall with pasta sauce. But you didn’t bat an eye, because your pride and joy will be peacefully asleep for two hours this afternoon, and that’s more than enough time to clean the kitchen, make the bed and even sneak in a power nap yourself.

But what happens when your child declares a ban on midday slumber? It’s a hard pill to swallow, but alas, kids don’t nap forever. Your child’s temperament, activity level and nighttime sleep are all factors that influence when that nap will be dropped, but experts agree that most kids stop needing their nap between the ages of 4 and 5. So depending on your child’s age, your nap conundrum might call for acceptance. But don’t panic—the experts have some sage advice on how to make that transition smoother for you and your child.

Are Naps Important? 

Sleep is…everything. Naps are important because they help children meet their total sleep needs, and the amount of shut-eye kids need in a 24-hour period has everything to do with their age. The World Health Organization released a report that breaks down the requirements for sleep in children under age 5 (and completes the picture with recommendations for sedentary time and physical activity).

How Long Should a Nap Really Be?

Good question. The WHO report doesn’t separate the requirements of nighttime sleep versus naps, because there’s no cut-and-dry answer. Your kid needs X hours of sleep and, as WebMD explains in its article on toddler naps, “Some of this sleeping is done with naps, while some takes the form of nighttime sleep. Exactly how it’s divided depends largely on the child’s age and developmental stage.” Instead, when figuring out how long your child’s nap should be, or if it should even still be a thing at all, your best bet is to pay attention to the bigger sleep picture. 

When Is It Time to Say Goodbye to Naps?

According to the National Sleep Foundation, “about half of all 4-year-olds and 70 percent of 5-year-olds no longer nap.” (Eep.) Of course, you don’t have to be proactive about showing nap time the door, but if you’re the parent of a 4- or 5-year-old and want to know the signs that daytime naps are done, “consistently taking 45 minutes or more to fall asleep for a daytime snooze or getting 11 to 12 hours of sleep overnight are two big ones.”

Scenario 1: “I don’t want to nap!”

If your pre-K kid is just not feeling it anymore, be flexible. The nap power struggle will likely make you more exhausted than just going with the flow. Plus, this is one fight you’ll probably lose, because you can’t make someone sleep if they’re not into it—and that very well may be the reason for the protest.

Scenario 2: “I don’t need to nap.”

Since naps are just one part of the overall sleep picture, they can be an ally or an enemy when it comes to your child’s sleep schedule. You didn’t really win the nap power struggle if your only reward is a child who’s wide awake at midnight. Even if there is no struggle at nap time, if you notice the naps are negatively affecting bedtime, it is probably time to bid them adieu.

How Do My Child and I Adjust to Life Without Naps?

If you see signs that the nap days are numbered, it’s OK to go slow. “Napping does not have to be an all-or-nothing proposition,” says the NSF. In fact, making the change from one to none gradually can help ensure that your child doesn’t end up accumulating a sleep debt. Try a few days without a nap, and then have your kid catch up on sleep with a siesta on day four.

As for you, mama, the loss of nap time doesn’t necessarily mean the death of downtime. Skipping an afternoon nap doesn’t mean your child is ready for constant action from morning to night. Instead, quiet time can be put into effect for the hour(s) that nap time previously occupied. Your kid gets some time to engage in a screen-free, independent activity (looking at books, drawing pictures, not asking for stuff) and you can still get your well-earned window of chill time too.

RELATED: The ‘Toddler Whisperer’ Shares Her Best Tips for Dealing with People Under Five

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