Toddler naps

Daytime sleep for children can be hard to master but completely necessary for young children and an area where parents may need to spend some time helping their child to develop the ability, to ensure that they are well rested both at night and during the day, which is vitally important for development.

Why is day sleep so difficult?  If we examine daytime sleep and how the body responds to being overtired, it can give us a very good insight into mastering the art of the nap.

Some Nap Basics:


Young children from birth to around 3 years of age have a biological day-time sleep need.  Daytime sleep is required as well as night time sleep, not instead of.  Just because your child may not take a nap does not necessarily mean that they do not need to sleep during the day and it is not wise to reduce day time sleep in an effort to lengthen night time sleep.

Young children from infancy have an optimum time to be awake during the day and an optimum time to be asleep.  These periods may be referred to as wake and sleep windows; they are often short in duration and can be represented by mood and behavior.

The emergence of the child’s natural sleep window may be represented by sleep signals: involuntary actions such as yawning, rubbing eyes and becoming quiet.  These signals indicate that the child’s body is getting ready for sleep.  The hormones, body chemicals and temperature are in harmony for sleep.  Given the skill set and the opportunity sleep can come easily to the child. However, if the child becomes over-tired, this may become obvious by observing the initial sleep signals accompanied by crying, whingeing or a burst of energy; in this zone the young child will typically “fight” sleep, making it hard to both go asleep and stay asleep for a decent length of time.

The amount of day sleep required for each child may vary in total, I have detailed over some general averages.  Children will differ in terms of how much they need and how much they get. Typically formal nap rhythms will not emerge until 4-6 months- That your child appears well rested and in good form, is a good indication that they are getting enough sleep.  Children should ideally wake from their naps happy and stay in relatively good form until the next sleep period is due.  Most certainly nap duration should be at least 45 minutes.  Anything less is not a complete sleep cycle and by definition, not restorative. Ideally naps would be a minimum of 45 minutes, again, mood is a great determinant as to whether your child is well rested and whether this is enough.

So the amount of sleep is important, as is the timing of the sleep and also where the sleep happens is significant too.  Motions sleep: in the buggy, in the car, or “unconventional” sleeping places such as being held, sleeping on the couch or with a parent, may not be good quality sleep and as a result your child may be getting enough sleep, but it may not be the best kind of sleep.  The best place for your child to sleep is in the cot/bed, in a suitable sleep environment, whenever possible.  Again, they may need to learn this skill if they have become used to sleeping “on the go”.

Learning Day Sleep


Developing the skill of day sleep may not emerge naturally and beyond 4 months of age, it is a good idea to really concentrate on helping your little one perfect the ability.

One of the big reasons that young children struggle with day sleep is because they are not independent for night time sleep and as a result wake frequently and are not well rested at the start of each day.  This has a negative knock on effect to the daytime structure and can make it very hard for parents to master day time sleep.  Ensure that this element is in place first and then either simultaneously begin working on naps, or at least once the night time appears more organized, then you can begin to establish healthy day sleep too.

Firstly, refer to the chart over to find out how much sleep your child may typically need.

Begin to observe when they naturally appear tired.

Create an abbreviated bedtime routine: a predictable and expected sequence of events that help to signal to your child “this is what happens at sleep time”

Make sure the routine happens in the bedroom.

Avoid stimulating activity before sleep time

Ensure that the room is adequately dark.

Block out external or sudden noises.

Ensure that your child is well fed

Make sure that they are getting outside exercise and fresh air

Consider putting them in a sleeping bag at nap time if you use one at bedtime

Regulate the room temperature, we don’t sleep well if we are too hot or too cold

Give them time to fall asleep.  It can take the body 15/20 minutes to fall asleep and longer if they are doing it for the first time. Stay and support them if they require your help. Try not to create new sleep associations that you will not be able to sustain, or that will have them waking during their natural sleep phases.

Ensure that what happens as they are falling asleep is a constant when they are asleep, so avoid music that will turn off, or constant rubbing.

In the event that you are hoping to extend your child’s sleep time, it is worth investing some time trying to get them to go back to sleep, mid nap, especially if they wake before 45 minutes and if they do not appear refreshed.


How much day sleep?


3 months-5 hours (3 naps)

6 months-3 ¼ hours (3 naps)

9 months-3 hours (2 naps)

12 months-2 ¼ (2 naps)

18 months-2 ¼ (1 nap)

2 Years 2 hours (1 nap)

3 Years 1.5 hours (1 nap)

Lucy Wolfe

I am a mum of four young children, founder and principle of Sleep Matters – Help Your Child Sleep, a private sleep consulting practice where I enjoy providing knowledge, expertise and valuable support to families across the country. I have completed extensive training and continuing professional development with leading sleep specialists and I am the European Director of the International Association of Professional Sleep Consultants.

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