Baby and Kids

Toddler Naps and Quiet Time (and Tips From A Sleep Consultant)

Some people love sleep. My toddler is not one of those people. She would rather stay up, play, and learn – her brain is truly incredible. “Can we play? Is it raining? Is it nighttime? Do you got a robe on? Is your hair dry? Can we go downstairs just for a tiny little bit? Can we choose just one more thing to do?” Just some of the questions she’ll ask before bed.

When it comes to sleep, we had wildly different experiences with our girls. I’ve hesitated to share this but know it’s something many parents go through and I know this might help someone else. Margot did sleep through the night for almost a year and she has pretty much always hated naps. In fact, at three, Margot still wakes up a few nights a week, but it’s something we’re working on with Michele of Peaceful Littles. Bedtime is already so much easier thanks to Michele. Meanwhile, Kate goes down pretty easily and has been sleeping through the night for the last eight months. If I’ve learned anything as a mom, it’s that you can do everything “right” but in the end, we can’t always control the outcome, especially when it comes to sleep. But there are things you can do to make it better, and I honestly wish I had found Michele sooner.  

Here’s how we got our toddler to embrace quiet times and naps.

I wanted to share what worked for us along with some tips from our sleep consultant, who helped us with both our girls. I took a sleep course and after having two babies, realized that there is not a “one size fits all” when it comes to sleep. Michele had me share what was most important to us, and wanted to work with us to find an approach that felt comfortable for me as a mom, while sharing strategies that I could implement if they felt right. 

Right around the time Margot turned two, she hated going in her crib and would only nap if she was asleep on one of us. Then treatment started and we did everything we could to make sure she felt safe and comfortable. With some trial and error, and tips from Michele of Peaceful Littles, we got Margot to start with “quiet time” and eventually, just as Michele said she would, Margot fell asleep. But the fact that she willingly stayed in her crib without screaming and eventually, did the same with her toddler rail up felt like a huge win. When she napped twice during the month of April, I was sure naps were over for us, but she’s back to napping a few days a week. 

In order to get Margot to willingly go in her crib, we started with the shades open and plenty of books to keep her entertained during “quiet time” and most important, emphasized that it was not nap time. This first step = got her comfortable on her own in her crib. A few weeks in, she finally fell asleep. I went from leaving shades open to cracked, to eventually closing them when naps were taking place most days. Slowly but surely, on days she was very tired, I could tell her I needed her to take a nap and she did ok!

Michele suggested keeping things consistent and predictable. A schedule really helped us. Margot knows that we have lunch at 11:45 and that after lunch, she can play for a little bit, and then it’s time to get in bed. Before nap or bed time, I’ll give Margot a heads up and let her know she can choose one more thing to do before going to sleep.  When she seems really tired, I’ll call it nap time and tell her she needs rest. Otherwise, I’ll just have her hang out for an hour. 

 

Tips from my sleep consultant

By age two, nap time should end by 2:30PM

By age three, naps should be capped at one hour of daytime sleep to prevent bedtime resistance, night wakings, or early morning wakings. This was a game-changer for us. Margot’s naps were way too long. 

It is beneficial to give your toddler an advanced warning that nap time is approaching, instead of abruptly ending the activity they are enjoying. This will lead to a smoother transition into nap time, with less resistance. As I mentioned earlier, we’ll let Margot know she can choose one more thing to do before nap or bedtime.  

 

A sample nap time routine for a toddler includes:
going potty (if applicable), putting on pull up/diaper (if applicable), reading 1 book in their room, turning off the lights, turning on the sound machine/OK to wake clock, singing a quick song & tucking him/her in to their crib/bed.

It is helpful to use an “OK to wake clock” for nap time. Explain to your toddler that once the clock turns a different color, nap time is over. We use this – it’s worked wonders for us. 

Some toddlers drop their nap as early as 2.5 years old, but it is more common to transition out of naps between 3-5 years old. There might be a period of time where your toddler naps some days and not others (this happened to us) this is normal.

If your toddler is consistently playing through their nap/refusing the nap altogether for 3+ weeks or is napping but is not tired at bedtime, these are signs that they might be ready to transition from nap time to quiet time. 

 

Tips for transitioning from nap time to quiet time: 

Start by explaining to your toddler that you are now going to practice quiet time instead of nap time. Have quiet time take place in their room, since this is a familiar calm space and some days they might still decide to doze off for a short nap.

Create a quiet time box that includes activities such as magna tiles or puzzles (think low stimulation). Designate these toys in the box just for quiet time, so they remain special.

Use an OK to wake clock to signal to your little when quiet time is over.

Slowly increase the amount of quiet time to a total of 60 minutes. It is ok if takes a week+ to work up to a total of 60 minutes. You could start off with 20 minutes and add time each day.

If your little is resisting being alone for quiet time, you could start by modeling a quiet time activity with them in their room and slowly fade your presence.

** It is important to remember with these suggestions that toddlers are not robots. If your little is going to bed at night without resistance, waking up at a reasonable hour, and napping for a longer duration than suggested during the day, no need to change. I would consider them to have high sleep needs, and that is more than ok! **

If you have any questions, leave them in the comments below. Michele and I will be happy to help. She also does a Q&A on instagram every Sunday and shares lots of tips, so be sure to follow her

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  • Love this post! I’m currently going through this with my 3 year old and let’s just say it hasn’t been a fun process. She basically went from happily napping almost every day to screaming if I tried doing our usual routine. Right now, we’re trying quiet time but I’m reeeeeally hoping it’ll turn into her falling asleep because she’s so cranky in the evenings. It’s like night and day when she has a nap. Did Margot resist when you started closing the blinds? Since this all started, we’ve had one day where she told me she was tired and needed a nap but otherwise if she even thinks I’m trying to get her to nap, it’s major meltdown. Not loving this transition!

    1. Hi! Margot seemed to do ok. It was gradual! Some days she would say she didn’t want a nap but once she started taking them again, I would tell her that her body really needed a rest. It took a few weeks to get to that point though. Saying it’s quiet time vs nap time was really helpful to start — it took away all the pressure to sleep. She also only took 3 naps the month of april so there’s that!

    2. Hi Kelly,
      I would suggest staying consistent with calling it quiet time vs nap time, like Danielle mentioned. Give her some limited choice within the quiet time routine, such as toy options or if you are using an Ok to wake clock, what color it is. It is also really important on the days she does not nap to move bedtime earlier, as you want to avoid her becoming chronically overtired. If you are needing further assistance, please let me know. Happy to help.

      -Michele

  • Thank you for this post! My daughter was a pretty good sleeper until she turned two. We transitioned her crib into a toddler bed and she was sleeping really well through the night and napping. However, the last 2 weeks she has been waking up every night at exactly 3am. She runs straight to our room and crawls into bed with us. We calmly take her back to her bed but it can take up to 3 hours for her to go back to sleep! It’s draining us and we know it may just be sleep regression at this age so we are waiting to see what happens in a few weeks. In the meantime, do either of you have any suggestions? Thank you for taking the time to read this! I appreciate you both 🙂

    1. Hi Hera,
      How old is your daughter now? Middle of the night wakings can be tiring & frustrating on your end… you are doing the best thing by silently walking her back to her room. It might seem like it is not working, but by staying consistent within two weeks you should see improvement. You could also reassure her that if she stays in her bed, you will be back in 5 minutes to check on her. After 5 minutes come back and peek your head in her room and saying “good night, just checking on you.” I would also check with how much she is napping, at her age I would suggest she is awake from her nap at 2:30 PM. Depending on her exact age, I would also recommend utilizing some simple “bedtime rules.” Create a bedtime rules chart & hang it on the wall in her room.