Updated: Aug 4
Ah toddlerhood. Toddlers are so wonderfully expressive, imaginative and …. strong-willed! It’s their job to test boundaries and learn what is acceptable, how to assert their authority and what the limits are. You may find as your toddler continues to navigate their way through life that one particular boundary they push is around sleep and naptime. Nap time - a parent’s treasured quiet time is now being compromised. And this can be frustrating. So let’s look at a few different factors around naptime and how we can approach this with our toddlers to ensure there’s some time to rest and restore.
Some factors we want to look at are:
The approach to naptime
In general, we don’t want toddlers to be completely done with naps until 3 years of age at the earliest. If your toddler is napping well beyond 3, that’s great, but make sure that the nap is well-timed so that it is not impacting night-time sleep. We always want to prioritize night sleep so that our child is going to bed at an appropriate time (by 7:30, 8p at the latest). The reason is that the first half of the night is when our children get their deepest most restorative sleep, so we want to prioritize this first and foremost while getting in some daytime rest.
The Approach to Naptime
I suggest reframing the language used for naptime. If a toddler thinks they’re being forced to do something, in this case sleep, it’s more likely that they will protest. You can use words like quiet time and rest time - language that conveys the message that it’s quiet time to rest our bodies.
If you’re finding it difficult to transition your toddler to quiet time and actually get them into their room, I highly suggest trying a countdown clock - here’s an example. This is a great way to visually represent time so that they can see how much time they have until they need to go to their room.
Try to limit screen time an hour before quiet time as it can wire their brains to be alert and awake, making it harder for them to actually fall asleep.
Aim to have your toddler in their room for at least one hour of ‘quiet time’’. Have a special basket of toys (soft toys, books, etc.) that only comes out during this time. If you want to be creative have some fun with it - find a basket with stars and moons, pick out some cuddly owl toys. If your toddler is still wide awake after an hour, it’s ok to end the quiet time. If they are showing signs of laying down, being quiet and resting, leave them for another 30 minutes. If your toddler does fall asleep, I suggest waking them by around 2:30p to give enough time during the afternoon to get activity so that they are ready for bed at an optimal time.
We want to setup our toddlers for success and having a sleep environment that’s conducive to sleep is critical. It would be hard to expect a toddler to fall asleep in a bright room, when it’s too early in the day, with tons of toys surrounding them.
Key elements that make the room optimal for sleep are:
Darkness. Try and get the room as dark as you can. If you need a night light, that’s fine, just avoid lights with a blue tone as that can stimulate the brain to be awake. Darkness helps to stimulate the sleepy hormone melatonin and also minimizes distractions.
White noise. I always encourage a white noise sound to drown out distracting outside noises and provide a calming environment. I suggest white noise over lullabies and songs which your toddler may find stimulating and playful.
Gate at the door. Since we have less time during the day to enforce quiet time, we want a gate that provides a physical boundary to the room and prevents a lot of back and forth with your toddler coming out.
Morning Wakeup Time: To set the day up for optimal daytime rest and bedtime, I always suggest waking your child up by 7a. If you let them sleep too late, then it’s likely that they may not be tired enough for a nap until later in the day which can then impact that optimal bedtime.
Rest/Naptime: Aim to have your toddler setup for their nap/quiet time between 12:30-1p. Again no later as we don’t want to push bedtime too late.
Bedtime: This really depends on whether or not your toddler slept. If they did not sleep, I strongly encourage having them in bed for sleep no later than 6:30p. Let’s catch them up on that good restorative sleep early in the night and avoid overtIredness. If they did sleep, a bedtime between 7:30-8p is more reasonable as they may have a little more energy to burn off.
These factors can all help to ensure that your toddler is at least getting some time in the day to rest. There is one other critical piece in all of this… you and your consistency. I cannot emphasize enough that consistency is key. You don’t want to offer quiet time some days and not others. This is non negotiable rest time that we build into each day. Sure there may be special events here and there in the weekend, but make sure you are consistent and you may see that your toddler goes with the plan and protests less.
If you are having continued issues with your child’s sleep and need a little more 1:1 help, let’s connect - reach out to me and I’ll help to build a customize plan for your child and your family to help reduce the strsss around your child’s sleep and get everyone the rest that they need.