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Most children under the age of 1 take two naps a day — usually one in the morning and another in the afternoon. By 18 months, most have given up the morning nap but still need an afternoon snooze to make it through dinner without a meltdown.
Even when you've kissed the morning nap goodbye, your toddler's likely to continue needing her afternoon nap for quite some time. At age 4, more than 50 percent of children are still taking naps. And even though the majority of children (about 70 percent) stop napping at 5 years, 3 in 10 still need a nap at this age.
That said, every child is different. Much depends on how many hours your toddler sleeps at night. Toddlers need approximately 12 to 14 hours of sleep in each 24-hour period. So if, for example, your child goes to bed at 8 p.m. and doesn't get up until 8 a.m., she may get her full quota of rest all at once, giving her no reason to need a nap. But if she doesn't get 12 hours at night, then ideally she should get some zzz's during the day.
Total sleep isn't the only factor affecting naps, though. Younger children tend to have a stronger "sleep drive." This means they have a stronger urge to break up their waking hours with some sleep — in other words, they can't stay awake for long stretches as easily as older children and adults.
But so much for the theory. Now that your toddler's growing older, you'll most likely have a tougher time getting her down for a nap. Toddlers are so intent on discovering the world around them that they hate to miss out on anything, even if they're exhausted.
Here are some tips for hanging on to that blessed afternoon nap for as long as you can:
- If your toddler's at home, put her down for her nap in the same place where she sleeps at night. Because she already associates that spot with sleep, she's more likely to doze.
- If she goes to daycare or preschool and naps there, keep your home routine consistent with theirs. Tuck her in with the same stuffed animal or lovey she usually sleeps with at school.
- Figure out when your child gets sleepy in the afternoon (even if she denies it). Is it right after lunch, or an hour later? Just like adults, children have natural circadian rhythms, or sleep rhythms — watch for signs that your toddler's naturally drowsy. Build a nap routine around this time of day, working backward from when you first see her yawn or rub her eyes.
- If your child gives up her naps altogether before she's 4 years old, at least offer her some quiet time every day. Tell her that children rest after lunch so they'll have enough energy to play later on. Let her take some toys and books to bed with her, then dim the lights or draw the curtains and leave the room. Although she won't feel as well rested as she would had she slept, spending an hour or two not involved in active play will definitely do her some good.