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Transition from 1 Nap to No Nap – It’s Called Nap Purgatory!

Transition From 1 Nap To No Nap –  It’s Called Nap Purgatory!

From here on out, I expect that everyone is going to refer to that yucky, dreaded transition between your child needing a nap and not needing a nap as… nap purgatory!  (OK, I get that not everyone is going to say it, but a girl’s gotta dream). The transition from 1 nap to no nap is pretty tough.  Quite blunt, nap purgatory SUCKS.

Tell me, oh tell me, do any of these sound familiar?  The reasons why the transition  from 1 nap to 0 naps is anything put a picnic:

  • You are never sure if your child is going to nap or not (forget about making plans).
  • Your child is too old to nap every day, but too young to not nap every day.
  • Your child is not tired in the early afternoon, but a hot-mess by the late afternoon (conveniently right as you are trying to put dinner on the table).
  • Your child wakes up cranky like a bear when they take too late of an afternoon nap.
  • Your child looks at the car and falls asleep making it IMPOSSIBLE to go anywhere in the afternoon.
  • Even if that little car nap is less than 5 minutes, you can forget about getting your child to bed at night.
  • When your toddler naps, it is difficult to get your child sleeping before 9 or 10 at night. (Hey, what happened to a peaceful bedtime?)
  • Nap time is the time that YOU get things done (insert visual of all the amazing things you do when your kids nap). You don’t want to give it up.

Yup, you’re in Nap Purgatory.

Unlike other nap transitions (4-3, 3-2 and 2-1) that could last weeks or a couple months, this is the longest transition of all.  It’s the mother of all nap transitions.  Imagine, you may be in nap purgatory for a year or more (eek)!

Right around 3-5 years old, we see that toddlers naturally give up their naps.  For some children you may see signs of an earlier transition tied to neurological development. Sleep science aside, for some kids the transition into the “no nap club” is easy-peasy, but not for everyone. Oh no, not everyone (including me and my 4.5 year old).  Our transition is long and arduous. Just like every child has their own unique sleep needs, we find that the transition can go smooth for some but others it’s not.  It’s normal and very much a part of the ups and downs of raising a toddler or preschooler.

For many parents, the biggest issue with keeping or eliminating your child’s nap is the effect that it can have on bedtime.  The bedtime shenanigans, the constant curtain calls not to mention taking forever to fall asleep, all make nap purgatory so special.  It’s when all the sudden your beautiful child gets all crazy and resists what is most parents favorite part of the day (bedtime)!

As parents we can’t force our children to sleep, but we CAN respect our child’s need for sleep with these tips:

Take the Stress Away

Once your child starts fighting their nap, the worst way to get them to nap is to make them nap. It’s OK, if your child misses it a day or two in a row.  But you should still offer a nap .  Just take the pressure off.  Words like “time for your rest time” go over better than “you better nap”.  If they choose to nap, it’s their choice but you’re offering the opportunity each day.

Find the Right Nap Length

So many parents think that once they start getting bedtime battles, it is time to ditch the nap.  Hey, there were viral articles spreading the message that your child doesn’t need a nap after age 2.  But don’t take those headlines at face value since giving up a nap too early can cause developmental or behavioral issues. When you start getting challenges (picture a huge drawn out war to get your child to bed at night), it’s time to play with the nap timing first.  Many toddlers have naps that are 2 to 3 hours long which are too long as daily sleep needs decrease.  First, start capping the nap down by 15 minutes from the natural duration.  Or, you can start at 1.5 hours and see the difference that makes.  From there you can cap further, all the way down to 1 hour or 45 minutes.  Think slow and steady when you’re making changing to your child’s natural body clock.  Every three days, you can cap the nap further to find the right time.

Since I’m a huge fan of the right sleep environment to get great naps in the first place, I give you permission to go against my advice of a dark room. A natural way to shorten the nap, is to raise the shades in your child’s room.  You don’t want the room super bright (since it may prevent your child from falling asleep in the first place) but, natural light coming through the windows can be an easy alarm clock.

Play with Nap Timing

Similar to the nap length, you have to find the right time for your child to nap.  If your toddler or preschooler, magically always used to fall asleep at 1pm and now you see that they are messing around for 15 – 30 minutes, it’s OK that the nap may naturally shift. 1:30 or 2pm may be your new optimal nap time.  But, now you have to focus on the time that your child’s nap ends.  If she wakes up like a cranky bear, the timing may be a little later and sometimes that later wakeup means even more bedtime shenanigans.  The nap timing definitely will affect bedtime so play with it find the right time for your child.  As a general rule of thumb for a 3 or 4 year old, try to start the nap no later than 2:00pm and by 2:30 ish, don’t allow your child to nap if it messes with the night.  If your child does fall asleep, end the nap around 3:30pm to preserve a reasonable bedtime.

Offer Rest Time

With all the hustle and bustle, you will actually want your child to have some down time to get through the day.  Help your child reset from the busy day by offering your child to rest in their room.  Pinterest has a ton of great ideas to create busy bags and quiet bags as seen here.  If you’re not in the DIY mood, you can buy this great craft box that can entertain your child and give them the down time they need.

Figure Out How Often to Nap

Before you get rid of all naps, figure out the right number of naps that your child needs each week. If getting rid of your child’s nap every day leads to a hot mess child and his wakeups continue to get earlier, it’s a good indication that your child needs a nap every couple days or once a week.  Try and figure out the number of naps per week that is optimal for your child.  To start, I suggest trying to nap your child every other day or every second day to start.

And, if you have the kid that begs to take a nap, it’s OK to offer one even if you dropped the naps.  Consider that a catch-up nap is a nice way to fuel the sleep tank.  As long as bedtime issues, don’t creep back, continue with the catch-up nap as needed.

Focus on an Early Bedtime

I bet you know that when your toddler stops napping that they need an earlier bedtime.  Right?  You are such a smartie pants.   Keeping a static bedtime after giving up the nap is probably the easiest way to have your child become overtired (leading to night wakes and early bedtimes).  Finding the right bedtime for your non-napping child takes a little bit of trial and error but figuring out the optimal bedtime is the first step.

Find the Best Bedtime

Most toddlers require an average daily sleep requirement of 10 – 12 hours.  Focus on the right amount of total sleep that your child needs then subtract their natural wakeup time to figure out the optimal bedtime.  Yes, I just put math into sleep.  Here it is in simpler terms.

Bedtime = Wakeup Time – Amount of Needed Sleep (working backwards)

It’s so easy to just say that your child needs only 10 hours of total sleep but make sure you are honest with yourself.  If your child is happiest and has the best behavior with 11 or 12 hours of overnight sleep, go with the higher number.  Getting an early bedtime isn’t easy especially when you have a tired toddler at bedtime.  A consistent bedtime routine will help set the expectations of sleep and make sure that you start your process real early to hit a bedtime at 6pm or 7pm.

Focus on the Bright Side

Once you are through Nap Purgatory, you will enjoy the time that you and your child can spend together throughout the day.  No running home to take naps and soon your child won’t fall asleep in the car.  You will if you have a good ol’ well rested child.  In case you’re right smack dab in the transition from 1 nap to no nap, make sure you focus on all the tips above.  If all else fails, drink lots of wine!

How did the transition to no naps go for your children?  Anyone else in the middle of nap purgatory?  I am!  Click here to Download your FREE Toddler (and Beyond) Checklist for a smooth as butter bedtime routine.  

Susie Parker

Susie Parker is founder of Sleep Baby Love and a Certified Infant and Child Sleep Consultant through the Family Sleep Institute. When Susie's not ridding the world of sleepless families, she loves spending time with her two girls that have given her a ton of real world sleep experience head on.

This Post Has 15 Comments
  1. I HATE nap purgatory. My daughter has been in this for quite some time (started at 2). We get home to late in the afternoon for her to take a nap and it be anything but complete torture on the entire household. Regardless of if it was 15 minutes or an 1 hour and 15 minutes, she woke up with a nasty attitude and it lasted until bedtime. Then she was as pleasant as could be and would not go to bed. Great post!

    1. It’s the worst!!! You are telling every example of why it is the worst. If it’s any consolation, we’re going through it too! MAKE. IT. END!

  2. My youngest just gave up napping all on his own one day. But my oldest was much more difficult. He went to half day kindergarten in the morning and still came home and took a nap. The summer inbetween k5 and 1st grade it tried weaning him off them, and he would lay down and go to sleep on his own in the afternoon. He finally stopped napping when he was in school all day and had no choice.

    1. Yes! Wow, you had quite the sleeper! I wish we could keep our nap without recourse. We’re only 4.5 and it seems like we’re one of the last nappers standing! Thanks!

  3. Oh yes we’re right in the middle of this messy purgatory puzzle. My daughter is only 2 1/2 but she started fighting her nap around her second birthday. The only way is pushing the buggy around for about an hour, or half an hour in the car. I’m in my last trimester of pregnancy and the long walks are becoming too difficult for me. Do you think it’s possible that some children just don’t need it for as long as others? I don’t want to give it up as she gets so cranky but I’m struggling to carry on now, let alone with a newborn in tow! Niki

    1. Hi Niki, You’ve said it yourself. She gets cranky and since she’s falling asleep in the buggy, it goes to show me that she still needs the nap! Positive limit setting is really helpful at this age to get her the sleep she needs!

  4. My daughter turned 4 last month and started transitioning off of naps a couple of months ago. But lately, I’ve noticed her being really whiny, which is not like her at all. I didn’t connect this to the nap transition until just recently when she was so tired one day she went and laid down at dinnertime and slept for an hour, (Well, I got her up after an hour so she would still go to sleep at night,) I started searching to see how long this transition stage would last and happened upon this article. It confirms my thought that the whiney-ness is likely due to not getting enough sleep with dropping her nap. She gets up around 7am and goes to bed around 8 – 8:30pm, and she will still nap about once a week or so.

  5. As of the last 3 weeks, this has become my life. Thank you for msking me feel like I’m not alone. My 2.75 yo is following everything you’ve written precisely- ugh. My question is, how do you maintain the consistent routine everyone says you need, when you have 2 drastically different sleep totals day to day? Do you keep a consistent bedtime? Surely that causes overtiredness on no- nap days and/or delays and extra shenanigans on nap days… we used to cut my son’s nap at 1.5hrs, which made all the difference for a time. Now experimenting with 45/50min, since waking mid sleep cycle seems to make him sòoooooooooo upset. Does that mean I target a 45min later bedtime on nap days and just have to flip flop constantly. Also, while I have tracked his sleep since birth, and know what his ideal sleep requirement WAS, he is currently chronically overtired, and I’m not sure I would know if that’s changed. 🙁

  6. Hi
    My little girl is 4yrs 9 months
    And just recently she started saying she wants to stay up like a big girl

    We had previously tried it but it always resulted in Way Later bedtime( still in bed with lights out at 8 but only falling asleep at 9/9:15/30pm!!!)
    Or totally passed out by 7:45pm but awake at 5:15am( when normal wake up is 6:15/30/45am )

    This is driving me nuts we’re headed into Grade R next year so many more after school activities etc & currently no idea how to do this

    Do I alternate 1 day on 1 day off
    On nap days how long can she nap I aim for 2/2:15pm put down time
    And on off days ie no nap
    What time do I put to sleep at ? To avoid a 5:15am wake up

    Urgh it’s tough but glad I’m not the only one battling this

    1. She is way overtired, resulting in falling asleep late and waking early. She needs 11 or 12 hours of sleep, and can only be comfortably awake for about that time as well, so you need to put her to bed much earlier than 8pm. I would suggest starting at 6:30 or 7pm. Sounds counter intuitive, I know! But she’s almost 5, it’s definitely age appropriate to phase out naps.

  7. Thank you for this article! You perfectly described what we are going through! I am happy we are not alone but wish this is over soon 🙂 My son is almost 3. He is very very active. He wakes up at 8.30am. We usually spend all mornings with activities out of the house,then I’ll let him rest before I make a lunch and a little to play before a nap. Then I say he must be exhausted around 2pm because I am too 🙂 However recently he just doesn’t want to take a nap and then gets very over tired = night terrors. He still naps once a while, always 3 hours.I can’t wake him up earlier cause then he is cranky the rest of the day. Sometimes he doesn’t make it to his bed time at 7/8pm without a nap and falls asleep around 5 or 6pm but wakes up and goes to bed at his “second bed time” around 11/12pm. He sleeps around 12h/day so I guess it’s ok.I wish we can keep a nap longer cause I need to recharge and I think he needs it too 🙂 or at least have consistent days 🙂

  8. It’s awful. Been going on for a year now. She nearly 3. If she naps she goes to sleep late and actually gets less sleep overall but if she doesn’t she wakes up in the night. Last night it was for three hours! I’m a wreck and starting to get cranky.

    I’ve tried walking her in the buggy to get her to sleep but it stopped working now. I’m at a loss.

    When will it end!?

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