Naps: When is a child ready to give up naps?

My six-month-old daughter seems ready to give up her nap. She used to sleep two or three hours during the day, but now she goes from dawn to dusk. Other friends have children that didn't give up naps for two or three years. I feel worn out. Is there anything I can do to restore nap time?

Question:

Most likely she is not really ready to give up her nap. When children are ready to give up their naps, it is generally a more gradual process. If she was sleeping between two and three hours a day, it is unlikely that all of a sudden, she needs no sleep during the day.

Babies and toddlers periodically resist their naps for a time for a number of reasons. The most likely reason for a six month old is that she is or is becoming mobile and she is just too busy and interested in everything to stop to sleep. Sometimes children stop napping if there is a big change in their life, like moving. Older toddlers sometimes resist nap when they begin to understand that they might miss out on something if they go to sleep.

When children are really ready to stop napping, they usually cut back the length of the nap and then start skipping naps every few days. Here are some things you can try to ensure that your daughter gets the rest she needs.

  • Continue to put her down for nap, even if she didn’t sleep the day before. If our children miss one nap, we may think they are done with naps and give up trying to put them down. Maintaining the rhythm of going down for a rest will help her body remember how to rest during the day. If she doesn’t get a chance to try, her body may lose its natural napping rhythm.
  • Make the transition to nap consistent. All of the activities that lead up to nap can help a child begin to relax and prepare to sleep. If those activities are familiar from day to day, they will help clue your daughter that it is close to time to sleep. Songs, stories, nursing, rocking and music are some of the things that families have discovered which help the resting process.
  • Create (or maintain) a consistent nap time. Human bodies have rhythms. Even young children develop a pattern for their days and nights and an expectation of that pattern in their bodies. Even though some children in some families sleep well just by going down whenever they are tired, if you are trying to help a resistant napper sleep, it is useful to keep the time consistent every day.

If you feel like she needs to change her nap time, observe her for a few days to see when she seems to be getting sleepy. You can then try to adjust her naptime to a more appropriate time.

  • Create a restful place for nap. Some children really like it dark when they are going to sleep. If your child is one of those, you can help her by putting up darkening shades. Some children do better when it is relatively quiet when they are resting. Getting to know what your daughter needs will help you create a resting place for her.
  • Remember that children need to rest, even if they aren’t sleeping. Ultimately, we don’t get to choose when or if our children sleep. This can be very frustrating for parents who feel like it is their job to make children sleep. It can also be exasperating to be with a baby who is not sleeping when you need a break yourself or are concerned and confused about what is going on with your child. Parents may communicate that frustration, anger or impatience to their children, which, in turn, makes it harder for a child to relax or sleep. If you find yourself getting tense and impatient, you may want to leave her for awhile to see if you can both discover how to rest. You will have better success helping your daughter find sleep if your goal is to help her find peace and rest.

Once you have created a peaceful place and time for your daughter to rest, she may need to figure out, herself, how to find sleep. On the other hand if you and she enjoy being together and can stay calm and relaxed while she is going to sleep, that’s another fine way to do it.

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