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Nap Time Basics

Sher Warkentin
June 24, 2015

Sleep consultants reveal all you need to know about your child's nap time needs.

If you find yourself asking other moms how many naps their kids take and for how long, don't worry. You're not the only one losing sleep over sleep! Figuring out if your baby's nap time is adequate may seem confusing. Here's what you need to know about nap time basics, so you can spend less time stressing and more time relaxing when your baby actually does sleep.

1 – 2 Years Old
At 1 year old, your baby is likely taking two long daily naps, which average about one hour in length. Between 15 and 18 months, your toddler will likely drop from two naps to just one, which is about one and a half to two hours long. Most times, your baby will "tell" you when it's time to drop a nap by refusing to take one four or more times per week, explains Nicole Johnson, a baby sleep consultant and the owner of The Baby Sleep Site. Other signs include repeatedly staying awake too long in the middle of the night, waking too early or having trouble falling asleep at bedtime.

As babies get older, be watchful for the signs that they're ready to sleep. If your baby consistently fights going to sleep despite being tired, you may be waiting too long to put him down for a nap and he's becoming overtired, says Dr. Carey Chronis, a pediatrician and the author of "Dr. Carey's Baby Care." With toddlers, watch for signs like aggressive or feisty behavior, which generally indicates that they're ready for sleep -- and you're probably ready for a break, too!

2 – 3 Years Old
By 2 years old, winding down for a nap may become more challenging. Consistency is still key and maintaining an environment that induces sleep is also important, says Dr. Chronis. As your child grows, you may need to adapt your routine to fit her needs. For example, you can add steps to your nap time routine, like reading books, Johnson suggests. If you have already transitioned your child to a toddler bed and she is climbing out, you may want to try returning her to a crib for nap times, says Diana Julian, a child sleep consultant and the founder of Big Sky Lullaby.

Every child's internal schedule is different, so if kids are resisting nap times, you may need to re-evaluate and adapt to their needs, explains Dr. Chronis. Encourage naps as long as they are willing and ready to sleep. "After 30 minutes if they haven't fallen asleep, however, you're probably done trying," says Dr. Chronis.

3 – 5 Years Old
Those days of quiet, blissful nap times sadly don't last forever. At some point between ages 2 and 5, your child will drop nap times entirely. Although the average age is 3 to 4 years old, every child is different.

To help your child transition, it's helpful to set up a quiet time in lieu of the regular afternoon nap. "Start with 15 minutes of independent, quiet time and build to 30, to help take the edge off until bedtime," explains Julian. You may need to adjust your child's bedtime to make up for the loss of daytime sleep. As a general rule of thumb, if your child falls asleep within 20 minutes at night, then that's the right bedtime, says Julian.

Creating routine is key to successful napping, but remember that kids' schedules will vary and change as they grow. Every child is different and nap times can range anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours, says Dr. Chronis. Adapt nap time to fit with what works best for your own child.

Read The Importance of a Bedtime Routine to learn more.

Shahrzad Warkentin is a freelance writer with several years of experience covering parenting, health and lifestyle topics. She's a stay-at-home mom in Los Angeles.

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