Around age two, many children start to have periods of nap regression. In fact, I went through one with my toddler just last week. It is indeed very frustrating when your norm changes so suddenly. For the past two years, I have simply bid my daughter a nap time adieu, and she was fast asleep within minutes. Last week, I went through my typical pre-nap routine and instead she chose to happily bounce around her crib like a jumping bean for a full two hours. There has been a lot of talk lately about two year olds not “needing” a nap. To the untrained eye, what I went through 5 of the 7 days last week would likely have looked like my daughter giving up her nap — luckily, I knew better.
All two year olds are in need of a daily nap for their health, growth, development, demeanor, and your sanity (I will not bore you with the science supporting my opinion, but for details read this). There are a few causes for these nap slip-ups, and if you are committed to keeping a nap in your child’s day, these nap regressions are 100% fixable. The key to surviving the ups and downs of daytime sleep with a two year old is to know that blips in the road will occur and to have a plan in place to handle them.
Want to keep your two year old’s nap? Then read on.
Possible Nap Issue #1: The Timing is Off
With naps timing is everything. Why? Because we want your child’s nap to occur in accordance with their circadian rhythms. We all have certain times each day that our bodies want to sleep. These times change as we grow, but they are age based and predictable. If we can sleep during one of these times, we will have the easiest time falling asleep and the sleep that occurs during these “sleep waves” is the most restorative and beneficial to our bodies. Often times as our kids get older, we become more lax about their nap times, and we let naps slip a bit too late. If we miss the “window” not only will your child not have the power of this sleep wave to help them drift off, but it is likely that overtiredness will also set in. When we become overtired, our bodies release stress hormones to keep us going – think second wind. Once this happens, it is very hard for a child to settle and fall asleep because these stimulants give their bodies a jolt of energy. Often parents mistake this overtiredness for their child not needing a nap or not being tired.
Fine-tune your child’s schedule to ensure they are napping at the proper time and are able to go down before they become overtired. At age two, your child should be falling asleep for his nap sometime in the 12:30 – 1 p.m. time range. Some kids are very sensitive and missing this window by even 15 minutes can cause a skipped nap. Reset your child’s clock and aim to have him asleep by 12:30 p.m. for a solid week to see if it impacts the ease with which he falls asleep or the quality of their nap. Note – patience and consistency is critical. It is not enough to try for a day or two and then give up. Allot a solid week.
Possible Nap Issue #2: Your Child’s Need For Independence
If you have a two year old, I am sure you hear the phrase “I can do it myself” often. I must hear it 10 times a day. While I love my child’s new love for doing things on her own, it can be frustrating when we are running late and I just want to get whatever it is done! This need to be in control often also carries over to their sleep. Suddenly skipping a nap or playing during their nap becomes a power play for independence because it is a decision we cannot make for them.
A two year old’s quest for knowledge is never ending – so take that love and use it to your advantage. At dinner on a skipped nap day ask your child how they feel. Explain that the reason he feels cranky and not at his best is because he didn’t get in his nap. Talk about how sleep makes us feel healthy and great and allows us to have the energy we need to do fun activities in the afternoon and early evening. And remember that need for control? We will use that, too. Tell your child that the decision is his: he can choose to take his nap and feel great and have the energy to play and read books before bed, etc. Or he can choose to skip his nap and feel too tired to do fun things and will have to go to bed early to catch up on that missed sleep. It is his choice to make, but either way he has to stay in his bed for the full nap time. When you put the ball in his court and let him decide, they usually choose sleep.
Possible Nap Issue #3: A Developmental Leap
Many parents think that developmental leaps stop impacting sleep once their child hits toddlerhood, but anytime your child is mastering a new cognitive skill it is very common for naps to be impacted – no matter their age. At age two, you child is still mastering many concepts and his language is still in full blown growth mode. As our kids do not get a lot of alone time during the day, nap time is perfect time to be alone and master these new ideas. Some children skip their nap all together and some talk to themselves for 90 minutes before passing out just before nap time is usually over.
Do nothing. As tempting as it is, going in and telling your child to go to sleep will just exacerbate the issue and will not result in a nap. It may even cause the nap issue listed in #2 because if you tell them to sleep, as they may do just the opposite. So, just leave them be. If they do not sleep, make it up with an early bedtime so they do not become overtired. And keep offering the nap at the correct timing and eventually it will come back.
Amy Lage is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts Amherst and a Family Sleep Institute certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant. She is founder of Well Rested Baby (www.wellrestedbaby.com). She offers a host of services including in person, phone, email and Skype/FaceTime consultations that can be tailored to meet any family’s needs and schedule. Amy, her husband Jeff, their 4 year old Stella, their 2 year old Harley, and their two dogs Jackson and Cody live in Beverly Farms, Massachusetts. Please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions. Be sure to follow WRB on Facebook and Twitter for more great sleep tips!