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How to Figure Out the Best Nap Schedule for Your Preschooler

Image Source: Thinkstock
Image Source: Thinkstock

We all know the value of a nap for little kids. Research tells us that when preschoolers nap, they process information better, form sharper memories, and have a leg up on regulating their emotions.

Naps often get disrupted by the life of a preschooler, though: half-day preschool programs, afternoon schedules that interfere with the siesta hour, and in the case of full-day programs, the transition to sleeping with 15 buddies on cots around you. Thankfully, all these challenges can be overcome with a bit of thought and planning.

Here’s how to figure out the best nap schedule for your preschooler, decide when she’s ready to drop the nap, and help her smooth the way.

Does my preschooler need a nap?

There is no set age when little kids are ready to go the whole day without sleeping. When yours is ready will be determined by:

  1. Her total sleep needs. For a preschooler, that’s about 12-13 hours a day, whether she naps or not. Some kids can get all the sleep they need at night, while others don’t sleep quite as much at night and make up for it with a longer nap.
  2. Her mood and behavior. How does she do without a nap?
  3. Nighttime sleep schedule. If your preschooler takes a nap, she might go to bed at 8 PM or even 8:30 PM, but if she doesn’t nap, it’s more like 7 PM.
  4. Your family set up. What time do you get home from work? How many other after-school activities and other children are involved? For some families it works perfectly to start bedtime routines after an early dinner and make the 7 PM bedtime — that might make for a 12-hour night of sleep for the child and no nap the next day. For other families, that’s not realistic, so the daytime nap is important. Make sure if your little one isn’t napping, you can commit to the early bedtime.

Try for a morning preschool program.

If your preschooler is taking part in a half-day program, see if you can make it the morning shift (or get on the waitlist for the morning). If the program ends at noon, you’ll have time to come home for a nap. If the nap starts to drift later because of preschool hours, it’s okay to put your child down and wake her up by about 3 PM to make sure she’s ready for bed later.

Look at the school’s napping practices.

Most full-day preschools are experts at respecting and supporting nap schedules (if they aren’t, it’s not a good sign!). The school should have very consistent and reassuring practices for the kids around naps: allowing for a security blanket from home, keeping the location of the naps the same, darkening the room, and so forth. Make sure your school is nap-friendly and if it’s not, speak up. If your preschooler is napping at school and it’s a good quality program, you might be surprised at how well and how quickly she falls asleep.

Protect bedtime.

Try not to let your preschooler nap later than about 3 PM or it will make it hard for her to fall asleep. If she’s napping at school, you can ask the teachers to keep to the same timing.

Heather Turgeon is co-author of the book The Happy Sleeper: The Science-Backed Guide To Helping Your Baby Get a Good Night’s Sleep (Penguin). She and her partner Julie Wright run a Los Angeles-based sleep consulting practice for babies and little kids.

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