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Toddler Sleep Problems

The Toddler Nap Transition

By Amalah

Hey Amy,

Just found your site and response to “toddler rebellion” question about a woman’s son not going to sleep until very late. Loved your response. Having the same issue here – if he naps during the day (sometimes he does, something he doesn’t!) then he’s up until 10:30-ish. He’s now in the “big boy bed” with his old crib also in his room but hops out of crib if I try to contain him ;).

So, my question is, how do I make him stay in bed with books, etc. and not come out? I would be fine with that but problem is he runs out of room to hang out with me and he’s so happy and playful and we do this thing where we make a deal that he’ll stay in his bed and I’ll bring him more books etc etc etc but he just won’t stay there. Just wants to talk and play and he’s so excited about life these days (it’s precious!) but by 8pm I’m beyond tired, let’s be real. I also have a 5 month old. By the way, he’s almost 2.5 years old. And when he doesn’t nap during the day he passes out mid-sentence around 8pm. But I kind of believe in letting his body do its thing- not waking him up after an hour nap for example (which often turns into a 3 hour nap). Help!

Thanks!
R

Hello! And welcome to Nap Transition Hell. You’re not going to be happy with anything I’m about to write, but here goes:

Your son probably isn’t going to be napping all that much longer. He’s showing signs of being almost done with the daytime nap, but not quite totally there yet, and it’s impossible to predict just how long you’ll be playing this maybe/maybe not transitional song and dance routine.

Signs a toddler is ready (or close to ready) to say goodbye to the nap:

  1. Daytime naps are inconsistent, both in length and whether they happen at all. Some days they’re down for the count and out for hours; other days they’re not tired at all and fight the nap all afternoon.
  2. When they DO nap, it blows bedtime all to hell. They’re not tired and stay awake for hours and hours.
  3. When they DON’T nap, they can make it to a reasonable bedtime without too many ill effects (mega grouchiness, crying over nothing, falling asleep in the middle of dinner, etc.)

#3 is usually the last sign to appear, while most toddlers in nap transition display #1 and/or #2 for awhile but still show signs of over-tiredness at bedtime on no-nap days.

But the solution is NOT, actually, to figure out a way to “force” him to stay put in bed when he’s fully napped and super amped and pumped up. That’s an exercise in futility for a high-energy toddler. An older child can understand the directions/rules of staying in bed/staying in their room, but it’s REALLY tough for a freshly-out-of-the-crib 2 year old who just. Isn’t. Tired. ATALL. And even if he DOES stay in bed (or at least his room) and give you some peace and quiet, there’s still the issue that 10:30 p.m. is just too late of a bedtime! It’s likely his nap + overnight sleep hours aren’t adding up to the full amount he needs in a 24-hour period. (It’s about 12 hours total, on average.)

I would cut the afternoon nap down to an hour, hour and a half tops. I know this sounds like you’re not letting his body “do it’s thing” but just like the sleep regressions of the baby days of yore, toddler bodies in the midst of the nap transition aren’t always doing the right thing on their own. Those three-hour long naps are more than likely a result of the late-night antics, and by allowing them you’re accidentally creating a messy cycle of overtiredness day after day and night after night. (And I say this as a fully guilty parent who has been there and done just that!) Keep his daytime sleep shorter and you should see more signs of sleepiness (or at least a willingness to stay in bed without Energizer Bunny levels of excess energy) at bedtime than you are now.

You say he falls asleep mid-sentence by 8 p.m. on no-nap days — is he also a completely miserable little grump leading up to that moment? Or is he otherwise his pleasant happy self who just zonks out? If so, I’d maybe even consider dropping the nap entirely (like, letting an hour here and there happen if it happens, but stop pushing to make it happen every day), and start his bedtime routine earlier so he’s getting tucked in right around the 8 p.m. mark. Then see what time he wakes up in the morning: If he sleeps until 7:30/8 a.m. or later, I’d say that’s a pretty clear sign that he’s ready to be done with napping entirely and can get the sleep he needs at nighttime alone.

If he wakes up much earlier, plan on a nap that day, but again, try to keep it on the shorter side. And this advice also applies if you answered “OMG YES” to the miserable little grump question. That’s still a kid in nap transition, who still benefits from A nap, but not necessarily a LONG nap, and whose sleep needs might just vary a bit from day to day, week to week for now.

Good luck! And may the Nap Gods bless you with (short) afternoon breaks for at least a little while longer.

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

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 amyadvice@gmail.com.

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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Comments

  • April U

    Yes. Naptime might be almost done. Both of my kids stopped napping at 2.5 years which felt so early compared to all of their similar-age friends. With the first child I tried to keep the nap going for awhile (after all, I was about to give birth to baby #2!), which led to a frustrating hour before each nap she actually took and then at least an hour of shenanigans at night when she wouldn’t go to bed. Then once the nap was gone, 7pm bedtime was not a fight at all. Naptime switched to an hour of quiet time or PBS TV time. When the second one started showing signs of dropping the nap I just dropped it with no fanfare, and it was fine. Good luck!

  • If your toddler falls asleep in the car, I suggest running errands before naptime, and let them get a cat nap in the car on the way home. Juuuuuust enough to get rid of the crankies, not enough to spoil bedtime.