Should I Wake My Toddler From a Nap?

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For some toddlers, napping is a crucial part of their day. But, if you don’t have a solid routine, napping can lead to sleep issues.

You’ve done it. Your toddler is down for a nap, and you are doing a silent, celebratory jig in the hallway. You can finally have some uninterrupted time to check a few things off your to-do list.

After a while, you notice that your house is still quiet. It’s approaching 4 p.m., so you sneak to your child’s room and see them asleep. This is a terrifying moment for any parent.

The thought of waking up your sleeping toddler can cause you to break out in a cold sweat. One, because you aren’t ready for the child-free time to end, and two, because not much tops a grumpy toddler.

Knowing when to wake your toddler from a nap can make a big difference in their sleep patterns. This affects your sleep too. 

We will dive into what makes for a successful nap time routine. But at the end of the day, it’s going to come down to your child and your family’s unique rhythm.

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    When Should I Wake My Toddler from a Nap?

    Sometimes you should wake your toddler from a nap, regardless of the grumpy vibes that will follow.

    Affecting Night-Time Sleep

    The goal for parents of young children is to get a solid 8 hours of sleep. For that to happen, your toddler needs to be sleeping through the night.

    Now, some of you might have those unicorn children who sleep 10-12 solid hours each night. But for the majority of parents, sleep is a precious commodity during toddlerhood. So even if your toddler sleeps well, there is a good chance that you will experience broken sleep at some stage.

    When your toddler’s daytime nap routine starts affecting their nighttime sleep, it’s time to step in. Most toddlers need 10-12 hours of sleep per night. So if your child has an extra long afternoon nap, they may struggle to fall asleep at bedtime. If your toddler is napping for more than 1.5-2 hours in the afternoon, you should wake them up.

    The alternative is to push their bedtime. This can cause your child to sleep in later the next morning, which will have a ripple effect on their sleep routine. It may be a good idea to wake your child up and aim for an extra nap rather than throw out their routine.

    Sleeping Too Much During the Day

    Kids need a lot of sleep at night because this helps their bodies perform restorative functions vital for their development.

    Because they sleep 10-12 hours at night, it makes sense that they are awake between 10-12 hours during the day.

    If your child uses their awake time to sleep, they will have met their sleep needs and may begin sleeping less at night. Not only is this detrimental to their development, but it also has a negative impact on you.

    Toddlers need 1-2 naps per day; by the age of two, that nap should be at most 2 hours. You may find your toddler consistently taking long naps during the day. In that case, you may need to cut down the number of naps they have or wake them up from a nap after 1 hour.

    Understanding Your Toddler’s Sleep Cycle

    Like adults, toddlers have a sleep cycle. You can help them nap better by understanding their biological rhythms.

    Circadian Rhythms

    By the time your child reaches toddlerhood, dark-light cues control their sleep cycle. That means it is more critical when they nap than how long they rest.

    Most toddlers should nap between 12:30 and 1 p.m. Any later than that will affect their nighttime sleeping. 

    Studies show that 25% of toddlers struggle with bedtime. This is because they may not be physiologically ready for sleep. At night our bodies secrete melatonin that helps us wind down and get ready for sleep. Some toddlers have a later melatonin release than others, so you may need to set a later bedtime.

    Is bedtime a time of resistance, tantrums, questions, or unsettled movement? It’s possible that your child isn’t ready for bed yet, and you need to push their bedtime out later.

    Keep a Sleep Journal

    A sleep journal for your toddler can help you identify their sleeping rhythms. It can give you a better understanding of when to wake them from a nap, if at all.

    Keeping a sleep diary is one of the best ways to track sleep habits, according to world-renowned sleep expert William C. Dement. Try and track their sleep and awake times every day for a week. Make a note of their behavior and emotions so that you can gauge whether they are getting enough sleep. You will also get a sense of whether the rhythm of their days is working well for them.

    How to start a sleep journal

    If your child is not getting enough sleep, you may notice the following:

    They are easily frustrated
    They are quickly irritated
    That they don’t eat as well
    They lack impulse control
    They are moody and emotional
    They are more prone to tantrums

    Why Rhythm and Routine are Sleep’s Best Friend

    Even when your child has had a longer nap than they should, waking them up can be difficult. Having a consistent rhythm or routine for your toddler can help avoid unnecessarily waking them up from a nap.

    Regular bedtime for toddlers is anywhere between 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. It’s essential that your toddler gets between 10-12 hours of nighttime sleep, so you should work backward and adjust their day naps to help them sleep better at night.

    Why is Consistent Sleep So Important?

    A consistent routine means that your child will have better sleep. This is crucial for their development and emotional well-being.

    Sleeping can help make a difference in how much your toddler learns. For example, napping up to 4 hours after learning something helps toddlers encode new memories better.

    Not only is it beneficial for their cognitive development, but a consistent sleep schedule will help your toddler’s body learn good sleep rhythms. For example, when your toddler naps well during the day, it gives their mind and body a break to process all the new information they are constantly taking in.

    This will also help them not be overtired at bedtime, allowing them to fall asleep quicker, sleep deeper, and for longer at night. Not to mention that a toddler napping during the day gives parents some breathing room to recalibrate and reset.

    Prep for Nap-Time Success

    Napping can be easy when you have healthy sleep rhythms for your toddler.

    Here are some things to consider to help you have a happy nap time.

    • Change your toddler’s diaper or take them to the toilet beforehand.
    • Keep their room dark and let them nap in the same place they sleep at night.
    • Make sure that they are cool and comfy.
    • Do a pre-nap activity that helps them wind down, like reading.
    • Be consistent and nap at the same time every day.
    • Provide your toddler with a pre-nap transition so they know what to expect leading up to nap time.
    • Avoid technology or screen time at least an hour before a nap, as these can stimulate a toddler’s brain.
    • If you need to wake them up, try and do it as they move into lighter sleep. This usually happens after 1 hour. 

    Avoid the Post-Nap Slump

    If you have had to wake your toddler up from a nap, there are a few things you can do to help them transition from being groggy to tackling an afternoon of fun.

    I’m sure these symptoms of sleep deprivation are familiar because most parents experience them at some stage during those early years of parenthood.

    If you have had to wake your toddler up from a nap, there are a few things you can do to help them transition from being groggy to tackling an afternoon of fun.

    Wake them up with natural light and gentle sounds rather than you shaking them awake.
    Allow them time to wake up slowly and offer them cuddles and compassion. We’ve all been there. When your toddler has come through at 4 a.m., ready for the day, and you are not.
    Set up an activity ahead of time so that it is ready for your toddler once they wake up. Sensory activities work well because they are open-ended, inviting, and stimulating.
    Have a snack ready to help entice your toddler out of their groggy, grumpy state.

    Successful Sleeping Looks Different for Everyone

    Should I wake my toddler from a nap?

    Yes, you definitely should if it impacts their nighttime sleep, which is also detrimental to your sleep.

    But there are ways to avoid waking your toddler up from a nap. By creating a daily rhythm, you can help them nap at the right time and give them the best chance of success at night.

    Children are unique, and all have different sleep requirements. So, give yourself grace and show compassion as you learn how best to work with your child’s individual sleep needs.

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