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Of Naps & Nighttimes

Of Naps & Nighttimes

By Amalah

Hi Amy,

I need some help making a firm nap decision once-and-for-all.

My 2.5 year old son still naps in the afternoon for about 1-2 hours. And this is a problem because 1) when he naps it takes him HOURS to fall asleep at night (in bed at 7pm, asleep at 9-9:30pm), which is a problem because 2) my 5-year-old daughter shares a room with him (we only have 2 bedrooms) and can’t go to bed until he’s asleep. With her going to bed at 9-9:30pm and me going to bed at 9:30-10pm, I’d get a whopping 30 minutes to relax and have some time to myself before bed, if that. After reading a blog you posted about putting your sons Noah and Ezra down at the same time and basically closing the door and leaving the rest up to them, I tried it too. And they would stay up even later, until 10-10:30pm Every. Damn. Night. Which wouldn’t be as big of a problem if he’d sleep in later in the morning, but he’s up at 7am regardless and wakes up my daughter too. We gave it about 3 months and finally had to pull the plug because my daughter was exhausted.

Lately we’ve not been letting him nap and night time is SO much easier. He’s in bed at 7pm, asleep by 7:15pm and then my daughter can go down at 7:30pm. When I calculate total hours of sleep he’s actually getting more on the days he doesn’t nap.

BUT, I feel really guilty taking naps away. I feel bad when I see him getting tired and cranky around nap time and I feel bad when he turns into an overtired jerk in the evenings and his appetite for supper is almost non-existent.

I feel like I need to make a choice, he suffers or everyone else suffers, and I don’t want anybody to suffer. Are there other options that I’m not seeing?

Thanks in advance,

So I was totally with you on the no nap thing for like, one whole paragraph there. Because yeah! Do what you gotta do! More sleep for everyone! Some kids are ready to give up the nap at 2.5 or 3, so whatever! Thanks for solving your own problem for me, there, OP! Let’s wrap this up and head to happy hour.

And then you described the crankiness and the overtired jerkiness and the not eating dinner. All clear signs of a kid who’s just not ready to stop napping. Whomp whomp.

I’m not sure how long “lately” is, or if there’s a chance that he’ll power through the transition and get used to it eventually. My oldest was also basically forced to give up his nap due to scheduling — in our case, an afternoon preschool program — and it took him a couple weeks to adjust. (He’d fall asleep in the car on the way home, or during/right after dinner, or just exhibit the previously mentioned overtired jerkiness.) Then again, he was almost FOUR. It was kind of ridiculous that he was still napping at all.

2.5 is admittedly a little young. Not unheard of, by any means, but if “lately” has stretched past the two-week mark and he’s still really tired and not eating dinner, it might be time to go back to the shared-bedroom-scheduling drawing board.

Could you try moving his nap forward a tad? Like 10/15 minute increments every couple days? Then waking him up without fail after an hour? Just to put as much distance between him and bedtime as possible? Likewise, what about moving bedtime back? 7 pm might just be too early for him, so he’s got too much energy and then plays for so long that he misses his own window to lie down and sleep when he’s ready, thus every night becomes some kind of overtired, extended sleepover LET’S POWER THROUGH AND STAY UP UNTIL WE PASS OUT scenario.

Personally, 8/8:30 pm has always been my kids’ best target for bedtime, especially when they were still napping 1/2 hours (or more) during the day. They are also prone to playing/reading/singing for a bit before settling down for the night, but I’ve found that by 8 or 8:30 they are genuinely sleepy enough to keep that time limited. Going to bed earlier can run the risk of them coming out for a million drinks of water/potty breaks/questions and getting all hopped up and fighting it because they’re! Not! Tired! At! All! Maybe that’s what’s happening with your little guy?

And while you experiment with moving HIS bedtime back, what about switching up the order and putting your daughter to bed first? You say she can’t go to bed until he’s asleep but don’t specify why — is she a crazy light sleeper or is it just a fairness thing for being the big sister? Since putting them to bed at the same time doesn’t work, what would happen if you sent her to bed first at 7:15/7:30 and then waited to put HIM in bed until 8 (or whenever she was asleep or super close to it)? This might mean changing up his routine and reading stories in the living room instead of bed (if that’s part of it), but it MIGHT help your daughter get her full night’s rest…while also accommodating your son’s needs for both a short afternoon nap and a slightly later bedtime.

If your daughter balks or protests, try explaining that her brother sleeps during the day and thus goes to bed one hour later. She doesn’t sleep during the day, so she goes to bed one hour earlier. It won’t always be this way. You could also talk up the idea of her getting the room all to herself at bedtime, and give her the “special privilege” of reading her favorite book, listening to her favorite song or playing one special game with you before bed. There’s no rule that says birth order must always dictate bedtime order — particularly when you’re dealing with shared bedroom situations and kids with wildly different sleep needs and schedules.

Again, I want to stress that this is all contingent on the definition of “lately.” A couple nights? Meh. Swat the guilt away and give it a little more time to see if his body adjusts. Maybe try some variation on “quiet time” when you notice the afternoon slump — in his room with books but not in bed (get him a little beanbag or tent or cozy chair!), or on the couch watching a very peaceful, calm show. But if a full week or two has gone by and he’s still exhibiting signs of a missed nap and not eating? Okay, fine. Maybe try yet another rejiggering of the schedule. Nap forward by 10/15 minutes, bedtime backward by the same. Or push HIS bedtime backward by whatever his nap length was, and keep hers the same, even if it means having her go to bed first.

Worst case, you can always try the no-nap thing again in a couple months or so. It might take better then. And luckily, once the nap is gone, it’s GONE, and you’ve been given a glimpse of how glorious that will be, when he’s really ready.

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • Lisa

    June 9, 2014 at 1:31 pm

    We have the exact same scenario going on here…same ages, same sleep schedule issues. What has been working is to skip the nap 2 or 3 times a week. It’s actually kind of fun to not have to plan the day around the nap, so we do special stuff on those days and that helps my son power through the crankiness. As a result he goes to bed fine and has no problem napping the NEXT day, etc…

    • Karen

      June 9, 2014 at 5:25 pm

      Same problem here and same solution. except I work and daycare won’t skip his nap but we often go napless on weekends and it works like a charm.

  • MR

    June 9, 2014 at 2:13 pm

    My girls (6 and 3) share a room, and I gotta say, are their beds on the same level? By that I mean, if little sis is in her toddler bed, and big sis is in just a twin bed at normal height, little sister will bug big sister by climbing on her bed, poking her, etc, so big sister cannot sleep even if she wants to. We got a bunk bed that allows for room under the bed, cut about a foot off (so it wasn’t so high), and just put little sister’s toddler bed under it. Having them at different levels, and little sister knowing she is not allowed up on big sister’s bed, has eliminated all of that! They will chat some, but they don’t keep each other up for hours. And big sister falls to sleep pretty quickly, while little sister plays in the room until she gets tired. When little sister needs a bigger bed, we are just going to get a mattress and put it on the floor under big sister’s bed.

  • Melinda

    June 9, 2014 at 3:57 pm

    I’d say don’t let him nap as long! 30 min-1 hr nap in the early afternoon/ late morning and hopefully that helps. 

  • JCF

    June 9, 2014 at 6:16 pm

    Another thing you might try is putting one kid to bed in your room, and once everyone is good and asleep, move that kid to their own bed. We did that for a while when shared rooms were causing us bedtime issues. We have also had a parent sit in the room quietly against a wall to make sure the kids stay in bed and quiet. This helped move sleep along for us!

    • Jenfromboston

      June 12, 2014 at 2:51 pm

      I do this exact thing (I have 18 mos and almost 4). My older one gets to hang out in our room, as the younger/light sleeper goes down first.  We then transfer the older one around 9 or so… I do look forward to when I can just put them down in the same room at the same time though.  That sounds like a drea,

  • Olivia

    June 9, 2014 at 6:25 pm

    My daughter was closer to 3.5 when I stopped having her nap because it impacted her bedtime. I’d say it was at least a couple of months of transition. She’d fall asleep in the car or crash on the couch a couple times a week, but eventually she stopped doing that. She falls asleep now in about five minutes.

  • sarah

    June 9, 2014 at 8:05 pm

    What about putting your son to bed in your room and then moving him when it is time for bed and your daughter in her bed? That way he is not keeping her up.

  • Meaghan

    June 9, 2014 at 9:09 pm

    I have found with my three-year old, when we skip naps, we have to put him to bed  MUCH earlier. Bedtime at my house is 7:30, though if he has napped – he fools around in his room until 8:30-9 and puts himself back into bed. But on days he skips nap, we tend to do an easy supper and he goes to bed by 6, sometimes 5:45. And he still sleeps until his regular wakeup time, sometimes later.

  • Charity

    June 9, 2014 at 10:52 pm

    My 3-year became a problem sleeper because of his afternoon nap, but was also not ready to go all day without rest. Cue the cat nap. 15-20 minutes refreshes him, without making him groggy and doesn’t eat into nighttime sleep. Something to consider!

  • Ann

    June 9, 2014 at 11:25 pm

    We changed naptime to snack time when’s daughter went through this which helped give her
    More energy to last through the rest of the day. She also preferred eating a “snack” to eating her dinner even if it was the same content 😉

    • Kate

      June 19, 2014 at 12:00 am

      Ah yes, the magic of “snack.” My kids have declared every moment of food consumption other than breakfast to be “snack” which is fine with me. 

  • Caroline

    June 10, 2014 at 10:31 am

    Hmm… the dilemma indeed…

    okay…suggestions; first off, let him nap and limit it to 45 mins absolute maximum. Then move bedtime to 30 mins later, so they are both in bed, asleep by 8pm. That might well work.

  • Hillary

    June 10, 2014 at 1:04 pm

    We have a nearly 2yo and a nearly 4.5yo sharing a room and we just put them into the Ikea Kura bunk bed. They chatter a bit, but go right to sleep, possibly because we make the room utterly pitch black (the older one has a toddler clock that has a nightlight function). There isn’t much to do in a pitch dark room, especially if you’re on different levels. I agree, though, that if you just made the nap shorter in the day (1 hour max) you might have some success.

  • BMom

    June 10, 2014 at 11:50 pm

    We did both the shorter naps, and then the not-every-day naps while my daughter (now 5) was transitioning out of naps between 3 and 3.5. Both worked well for us. Even now at 5 she has an hour of “quiet time” in her room where she listens to CDs, looks at books and plays Playmobil… it really helps her decompress and often fixes the cranky!

  • Kim too

    June 11, 2014 at 1:41 am

    We still have this problem with my 7 and 4 yo.  The 4yo had sleep apnea,so her sleep cycle was all over the place.  We’ve been transitioning out of naps for nearly two years now (she’s 4 1/2, actually.) Folks would tell me to wake her up after an hour, but it was  – and is- extremely difficult to do – she is not a happy camper.
    We do do the staggered bedtime, especially if the 4yo napped late. We have also done the bedroom switcheroo. And just now, I did the “Stop talking and go to sleep before I get mean” thing, which, crossyourfingers, seems to have actually worked, by golly!) And we have bunk beds.
    This too shall pass, I keep telling myself.

  • Niki

    June 14, 2014 at 10:06 pm

    I like both the idea of trying for a much earlier bedtime and a much later time (possibly with sis down first).

    Earlier/no nap: My 4-year-old has been transitioning away from her nap for almost a year now. Especially in the early days, no-nap meant she was down by 6:30. Nowadays on napping days she is down around 7:45-8:30. (Bedtime takes 1-1.5 hours due to poor transition tolerance, so on no-nap days, dinner would be at, like 5.)

    Later/nap: As Amalah suggested, we foind that putting her down a long time before she was ready to sleep just led to her getting amped up and blowing past the sleep window when it did hit.

    Something to keep in mind: apparently we have a wakefulness rhythm that leads to sleepiness at the 1.5-hour mark (much stronger in children than adults, YMMV in terms of the exact cycle). You might aim to have your son settled in bed about 10-15 minutes before the 3- or 4.5-hour-post-nap mark. I know this seems at odds with the “same bedtime every day” advice, but it helped at least give us some guidance on where to aim for bedtime on the rough days.

  • Leslie

    June 16, 2014 at 9:23 am

    I’m going to suggest something totally different… my two boys (now 6 & 3) share a room and always have.  The three year old WON’T sleep unless his brother is in the bed next to him. 

    For us, putting them down at the same time results in less trips up, less crying, and an earlier fall asleep time.  If the older is away at camp or grandma’s, we actually have a harder time getting the small one to go to bed and stay there.  They chatter for  few minutes, then just drop off 🙂