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Toddler Sleep Problems

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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