Healthy nap expectations from your toddler

Healthy Nap

By Sarah Bibi Patel – Good Night Consultant

As mums, our focus is always aimed at how our children are sleeping.

Are they sleeping too much? Are they sleeping too little? What is too much?

Sleep plays an important role in the everyday lives of young children and influences their lifelong development and health. A child who is well rested is better able to concentrate, take on new information, interact positively with others and deal with conflict and challenges. During sleep, learning is improved and biological changes occur that help children to grow, develop and stay healthy. Children with poor quality or insufficient sleep are less able to regulate their emotions and behaviour and can have difficulty concentrating.

When it comes to sleep, it is also important to distinguish between your toddler’s day sleep needs versus their night sleep needs. Their day routine and naps will depend on their age. However, their night sleep will remain the same until the age of 5 years. All children until the age of 5 years, will need between 11-12 hours of night sleep. All toddlers should and CAN be sleeping through the night (from 12 months of age), without any night feeds. In fact, to keep having night feeds at this age can be do more harm than good.

Nap lengths will change as your toddler gets older:

12 months

At this age, we always recommend keeping your toddler on a 2 nap routine. Whilst every baby is different, most toddlers will still need 2 naps at this age. Your toddler should be sleeping between 2-3 hours in the day.

13-15 months

This is a bit of a “grey” area. Some toddlers still do well on 2 naps (which is great!), whilst others do seem to be ready for one nap. Keep in mind when introducing a one nap routine, that you do it gradually over a few weeks, moving nap one later every 3 days, to help your toddler get used to this transition. On those days when your toddler is having just one nap, don’t be afraid to bring bedtime earlier. This is an adjustment for your little one and they do tend to get tired after the long stretch of being awake. If they are having just the one nap, try and ensure that they sleep for as long as possible. Most toddlers will sleep between 2 to 3 hours for the one nap routine.

On the flip side, if your toddler is still having 2 naps at this age, then remember that their night sleep does shorten, as often, the 2 nap routine will mean a slightly later bedtime. Just make sure that bedtime does not become too late.

16-18 months

Most toddlers at this age are definitely ready to transition to one nap. It is easier to transition them at this point, as they are older and able to handle that longer stretch better. Having said that, it’s important to remember that this 2-1 nap transition does take time. Your toddler’s night sleep will lengthen, as the one nap routine automatically garners an earlier bedtime.

18 months – 2.5 years

Life gets much simpler at this point, as toddlers will have a fixed nap time, happening at around midday. Mums can focus on a clock-based routine, where awake time and bedtime can happen at the same time every day. The earliest age that a toddler can drop a nap is 2.5 years old, but most toddlers at that age, still do well with a nap.

3 years – 5 years

This is the age where your child will drop their nap. Just as with every transition, it’s important to look for the signs and make the transition when your child is ready to do so. Like all other transitions, it takes time to completely drop that nap. There will be days when your toddler will still have that nap and days when they don’t. You can have a nap on alternate days and then eventually work towards not having a nap on a daily basis.

Whilst keeping the above age appropriate routines in mind, one of the most vital aspects of toddler sleep is to remember that SLEEP BECOMES A DISCIPLINE. Your toddler is an individual, with their own personality. They are getting better at communicating and in expressing their own opinions about what they would like to do. All of this is completely normal. The challenge for parents is to still allow our toddlers the gift of choice and exerting their own sense of independence, whilst still keeping boundaries in place. This is often the most frustrating aspect of sleep with toddlers. Consistency is key – it is the best teacher, but also take the time to understand your toddler, so that you can ensure that you are communicating with them effectively.

The toddler years are a beautiful time – to witness your baby grow into their own being and develop their unique personality. It is the joy of being able to connect with them, through their words and actions. It is those moments when you look at them in awe, simply amazed at them, and the fact that they are YOURS.

It might not seem this way right now, but the time does indeed go too fast. In all the worrying and anxiousness that we experience as mothers, don’t forget to enjoy the small moments too.