Gone are the days when your little one would peacefully drift off to sleep in your arms. When the preschool years arrive, your child's naps might become shorter and her protests of "I"m not tired!" grow louder. Though you know your child's sleep needs best, it's important to pay attention to her cues when considering whether to drop her daily nap. Trying to force a child to sleep when she doesn't need to will only leave you exhausted.
Preschooler Sleep Basics
It's impossible to predict the exact age at which your child will no longer need an afternoon nap, but the typical child will drop this afternoon ritual somewhere between the ages of 3 and 5 years old. A child in this age group typically needs between 11 and 13 hours of sleep per night, according to the National Sleep Foundation. The amount of sleep she gets at night and the strenuousness of her daily schedule will contribute to determining her nap needs. Even after she drops a daily nap, she might need a rest on extra-busy days. After a morning of swim lessons and play dates, a child who hasn't napped in months might doze off on the car ride home. A child new to kindergarten might find the structure tiring and need extra afternoon rest as she adjusts to the new schedule.
When to Drop a Nap
Pay attention to your child's afternoon and evening behavior to determine whether she still requires an afternoon snooze, says pediatrician Dr. William Sears. If she fights you about taking a nap, and if she struggles to fall asleep and is wide awake at bedtime after napping, she's probably ready to drop her nap. On the other hand, a child who is groggy or irritable in the early afternoon and melts down by dinnertime on nap-less days probably still needs a daily rest period. There's no rush to abandon nap time: as long as she has the necessary stamina when the time comes to get through a day of kindergarten without dozing off at her desk, there's no reason your child shouldn't continue her nap routine.
Ending Nap Time
You might opt to wean a preschooler off naps, gradually waking her up earlier and earlier each day; KidsHealth.org says one hour of daytime sleep is sufficient for most preschoolers. A child who fights naps each day might also be past the point of needing daytime sleep at all, so you might opt to drop naps, but some quiet time in the afternoon is still important. Make her former nap period a time to watch videos or do quiet activities like puzzles. Expect some changes in your child's behavior in the post-nap era. You'll likely notice that she's cranky or listless soon after dinner and is ready to climb into bed before the sun goes down. You may want to move bedtime up by one hour or so, but keep it flexible as you see how she adjusts.
Just because her preschool classmates no longer take an afternoon nap doesn't mean your child should abandon hers too. After all, children of all ages -- and surely adults too -- still need naps sometimes. If you think your 4- or 5-year-old still needs a daily nap but she resists, institute an afternoon rest period. Say something like "It's quiet time now. You don't have to sleep but you need to be still." Ask that she heads to her bedroom or curl up on the couch with a blanket and pillow for quiet time. If her body still requires a nap, she'll show it by dozing off. And if she keeps her eyes open, she'll still have the chance to unwind and gear up for the rest of the day.
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