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Changes to Toddler Day Sleeps

Changes to Toddler Day Sleeps

Day sleeps are essential for toddlers, as they burn so much energy in the day. Without enough sleep during the day, your toddler will likely get grizzly and difficult, have more tantrums and often lose the plot as the day wears on.

However it's not always plain sailing with getting your toddler to sleep during the day. Just as you get it sorted, the timing of her sleeps may change or you start to get huge resistance to having a sleep at all.

Timing of sleeps

The timing of toddler day sleeps can have a huge impact on how willing your child is to sleep. Often moving a sleep to even 20 minutes later is all the difference needed to get your child to settle without a fuss.

If your child's day sleep is too early this will lead to early waking, so try moving the sleep 20 minutes later for several days in a row and see the impact on the waking time.

If you get resistance to 7pm bedtime, have a look a what time your child is waking from their afternoon nap. If they are sleeping too close to bedtime, they will not be ready to settle till 8pm or later.

Dropping from 2 to 1 sleep

The timing of this major change varies enormously, and generally occurs somewhere between 12 and 18 months.

The main sign that your toddler is ready to drop to one sleep is that the morning sleep has got so close to lunch time that there is not really time in the afternoon left for a sleep!

If your toddler still has 2 sleeps but is really resistant to one of them, this would be another indicator to try moving to just one sleep. Often the morning sleep gets later and longer, and the toddler resists having an afternoon sleep.

toddler sitting up in bed wearing grey merino pyjamas

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Gradually move the morning sleep later, so you are putting your toddler down somewhere between 11am to noon.

On some days you will find your toddler still needs a short nap later afternoon, as they get used to just one sleep. This may be a short nap in the car when you are out or try popping them into the cot if they start to get grumpy and over-tired around 3-4pm. Just make this a short nap though, otherwise you will have a battle at bedtime.

How long should the day sleep be?

Toddlers day sleeps are often around 2 hours or even up to 3 hours.
As long as your child still settles well at 7pm bedtime, it doesn't matter how long they sleep for.
However if your child resists bedtime and bedtime is getting later and later, I recommend you have your child up by 3pm.

Dropping the day sleep altogether

This is a big step, as much for Mum & Dad as the toddler...who wants to give up their couple of hours of quiet time in the afternoon?

There are several signs that your toddler may be ready to drop their day sleep:

  • They can last all day without a sleep and don't get grizzly in the late afternoon.

  • They resist so much to having a sleep that you are fighting a losing battle.

  • You need to do so much to get them to sleep it is impacting on you, ie having to drive them round in the car.

  • They stop settling at bedtime and resist sleep until 9pm on the days they have a day sleep.

If you think your toddler may be ready to drop the afternoon sleep, just try it for a day or two. You will know straight away if it's too soon as they will be over-tired, grumpy and grizzly....and can't last the day.

If your child is OK through till about 6pm, then just move their bedtime earlier for a few weeks while they make the transition.

Only sleeps some days

This is very common while toddlers are making the transition to no day sleep. They may sleep on the occasional day, taking them self off to bed or falling asleep in the car or on the sofa.

It's perfectly natural for a toddler to still get tired on some days more than others, and many children continue to sleep on the occasional days until they are 4 years or older.

You will also notice that your child will still need a day sleep when they have been extra busy or are unwell, so be on the look out for tired signs such as eye rubbing, yawning, asking for a bottle or their comfort items, or they start crying or grizzling.

My toddler still needs her nap but just won't sleep!!!

Also a very common problem, particularly around the age of two...often when separation anxiety occurs and toddlers are also pushing their little boundaries as far as they can go!

We recommend sticking to the routine of a day sleep or rest, as often the resistance is temporary...and you may get another 6-12 months of naps if you persist! For example you may have a week or two without a nap on a single day, then all of a sudden your toddler will go back to sleeping without a fuss every day (speaking from personal experience here!!)

Try the following tips for resistant toddler nappers:

Boy wearing Pyjamas reading a picture book

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  • Try altering the timing of the sleep, around 1pm often works best with 2 year olds. Any earlier and they will likely not be tired enough.

  • Use your toddler sleeping bag for all day sleeps as well as at night.

  • Play some relaxing white noise or music for day sleeps, which helps with relaxation and also blocks out any tempting noises from outside the bedroom (especially important where there are older siblings not sleeping).

  • Read some stories to help your child wind down, as it's hard to stop playing and immediately feel sleepy! Put your child in their cot or bed, and say you will start the story once they have their head on their pillow. Stop the story if they are jumping around!!

  • If your child won't stay in bed, try lying in bed with them and read some stories or listen to music together. You might even want to keep an arm over their tummy to help them lie still and relax.....often getting a toddler to lie down and relax is most of the battle. This is also a good technique if you are pregnant and also need an afternoon rest, and it's far more relaxing than battling with your toddler to get them to stay in bed.

  • Try a change of scene, ie an older siblings bed or your bed may be much more appealing for the day sleep on occasions.

  • DARKNESS!!!! I found that using a blackout blind made the biggest difference when trying to get our 2 year old back to sleeping in the afternoons. As soon as we introduced a blind, he was back to settling easily and sleeping for at least 2 hours every day. If the room is too bright, it may feel like it's still playtime!!

Quiet time for older toddlers

Even when day naps are a thing of the past, it's a good idea to continue the routine of having quiet time every day after lunch. If you continue the routine of a rest every day, your child will expect it and may also sleep when they do need it.

Everyone in the family benefits from this quiet break, including parents who need a rest, you get a break from looking after demanding toddlers and it's handy if you need to get a few jobs or work done.

Even once toddlers don't need a sleep, they still get very tired and 30-60 mins of quiet time will recharge their batteries and help to avoid tantrums and demanding behaviour.

Here's some ideas for quiet time:

  • Into bed to listen to a story on CD, and 'stay in bed until the story has finished'

  • Into bed with a large pile of books, and 'stay in bed until you have read them all'.

  • Chill out on the sofa and watch a DVD.

  • Hang out in parent's bed or on the sofa reading stories together.

  • Make a hut in the lounge or under the table that includes a comfy camp bed, and read a big pile of books.

  • Stay in bed listening to some music.

If your toddler is really tired, they will likely fall asleep if they need a sleep.