Your baby’s second year of life is a time of budding independence and curiosity – who has time to slow down and rest? Add in separation anxiety plus shifting nap schedules, and all this can make daytime sleep a bit tricky. Toddlers need somewhere between 12.5 to 14 hours of sleep a day, with around 1.5 to three hours made up in naps.
If your little one is wide-awake by day, consider these tips for common naptime dilemmas:
Resisting naps: It’s completely normal – even expected – for an 18-month-old to resist sleep, even if she used to be a pro. Children this age are flexing their newfound mastery of motor and cognitive skills – testing limits around sleep is part of this growth.
The key is to respect your toddler’s feelings, but hold a consistent structure around sleep. Make her feel powerful by giving her choices as part of nap and bedtime routines: Do you want milk or water in your cup? Do you want bear or blankie with you? Do you want to read on the couch or the bed? (Notice these are choices within your laid-out sleep framework). But keep a tight ship about when she naps (a noon snooze works well for toddlers). Little kids are built to be pattern detectors and their bodies and circadian rhythms grow accustomed to consistent schedules.
Separation anxiety is common for toddlers; sometimes it’s hard to leave a baby this age to walk into the kitchen, let alone in her crib for a nap. But toddlers get a sense of security when we are predictable. When they know what to expect from us it makes them feel safe. So try to maintain the framework of your baby’s nap routine and schedule – the same soothing steps at the same time every day. Give your baby’s stuffed animal or lovie (a helpful source of comfort) a big kiss and say, “I’ve put all my kisses and hugs with your teddy now, so if you need one, you have them all right here,” before you walk out of the room.
If your child is climbing out of the crib but not yet ready for a toddler bed (most aren’t ready until at least two and a half), consider a crib tent. This is important for safety, because falling is the number one cause of crib accidents. But toddlers also tend to like the coziness of the tent.
Going from two naps to one: Most toddlers are ready to move to one nap between 14 and 16 months, but the range can be anywhere from 12 to 20 months. You’ll start noticing that your toddler will consistently resist or be unable to fall asleep for her second nap of the day, or that taking that second nap interferes with her ability to fall asleep at bedtime. When that happens for a week in a row (and you’re following the above naptime ideas), it’s probably time to drop to one nap.
For some, this transition is sticky, because your toddler might not need the second nap, but she may not be quite ready to make it happily to bedtime without it. The in-between can be hard for a few weeks as her body adjusts and some toddlers will take a short catnap in the stroller, carrier, or car off-and-on during the transition.
Start off by stretching naptime to somewhere around 11:30 a.m. (by her second birthday it will be more like 12:30 p.m.). You can do this gradually, by shifting 15 minutes later every day, or if you think she’ll be okay to jump, do it all at once. It may take a while for this nap to grow into the 1.5 to three hours it will eventually become, so don’t worry if your toddler pops up after an hour for a while. If he’s happily chatting or rolling around in the crib when he wakes up, see if you can leave him there for a bit.
While you get into the swing of one long nap, you can temporarily adjust bedtime a little earlier. Let’s say your toddler starts off napping from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., you may want to make bedtime 6:30 p.m. until the nap grows.
Late afternoon naps: Especially as toddlers grow out of their second nap, or preschoolers (who only take one nap) begin to sleep later in the day, the too-late afternoon nap starts to interfere with bedtime. Try to have your child awake for about four hours before bedtime (by 3:30 p.m., let’s say, for a 7:30 p.m. bedtime). Even short 15-minute naps too close to bed can tinker with your child’s internal clock and make nighttime more difficult.