Sleep – or at times, the lack of it, appears to be an almost constant parenting challenge. Just when you think you’ve survived the months of sleep deprivation, teething and sleep regression, along comes another challenge…. Nap resistance.
As your toddler gets older, it’s actually quite common for them to consolidate several short naps into one larger nap time, usually in the early afternoon. For parents, this can be a real treat – the opportunity to switch off, have some alone time, catch up on household chores or simply enjoy an undisturbed hot drink.
All appears to be going well, when suddenly, your toddler starts point blank refusing to nap at all, fighting sleep, despite quite obviously being tired. The result? A cranky and overtired toddler who struggles to stay awake until bedtime. Worse, they reach ‘danger nap’ territory, finally conking out late afternoon and then struggling to get to bed at their normal bedtime as a result.
The good news is that if your child is under three, it’s unlikely they will be revolting against nap time forever. The bad? It may be a bumpy ride!
Here are some reasons why nap resistance occurs and what you can do to help.
Why do toddlers resist their naps?
As crazy as it may seem to us sleep-deprived parents who would do anything for an extra hour in bed, napping can actually start to lose its appeal as your toddler gets older.
There are a few main reasons why toddlers may be resisting their naps:
Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)
As toddlers get older, they start to realise that things happen when they’re asleep and quite frankly, they don’t want to miss out. To them, sleep is an inconvenience. They are also starting to learn that they are a completely separate entity from their parents, showing signs of independence and seeking more control over their world.
To a toddler, having fun is way more important than sleeping – but it’s fair to say, they don’t fully understand the impact of not letting their body rest.
Whether they’ve just been playing with a new toy, returned from a play date with friends, or have been singing along to their favourite nursery rhymes, overstimulating your baby too close to naptime can actually prevent them from switching off. Ideally, the time just before their nap should be calm and quiet, helping create conditions more inducive for napping.
Yes, it really is possible for your baby to be ‘too tired’ to get to sleep. If you’re out and about and don’t get your toddler to bed at their normal time, you may find getting them to sleep far more challenging as a result. If a baby gets overtired, they can not only become cranky and irritable, but their body can go into ‘fight or flight’ mode – releasing the cortisol hormone that keeps them more alert.
A consistent routine can be important here, helping slow the pace and send mental triggers that it is time for your toddler to sleep.
What if they still refuse to nap?
If your toddler still refuses to sleep, try and get some quiet time instead. Head upstairs to the bedroom, turn off noisy toys or stimulating songs and instead cuddle, read books or play with simple wooden toys. If they are genuinely tired, the quiet time should calm them enough to make them sleepy. If it doesn’t work, then at least they’ve had some calm time to tide them over until bedtime.
Bring nap time forward
Switching the nap times and bringing them forward by around 20 minutes or so may help prevent your child from getting overtired, particularly if they’ve only recently ditched the morning nap. Moving their nap time earlier can prevent them from becoming overtired and be far less of a bedtime battle as a result.
Darken the room
Daylight seeps can be confusing for toddlers, especially as they are starting to make more sense of their surroundings. When they can see it’s still light outside, they may be far less keen to nap. Black-out blinds and thick curtains to darken the nursery or bedroom can help provide a more comfortable sleeping environment.
Tire them out
Having a busy morning and arranging high-energy activities can help wear them out and ensure a much better chance of them naturally nodding off after dinner.
Nap resistance, as with any other sleep regression can be challenging. Stick to your routine and stay positive, the rhythm will soon return.