11 Simple Naptime Tips to Help Your Toddler Drift Off Into Dreamland

If you have a toddler refusing to nap, but who needs some rest to survive the rest of the day, these simple naptime tips can help!

Published November 6, 2023
Toddler taking a nap

We love our little ones, but let's be honest, naptime can be one of the best times of the day. It's when we get a chance to recharge and regain just a tiny bit of our sanity. But what do you do when your toddler is refusing to go to sleep? The first step is not to fret. We have some simple naptime tips to help you get your toddler's nap schedule back on track! 

Toddler Nap Schedules

One of the first things to consider if your toddler is having trouble sleeping at naptime is their overall sleep schedule. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, these are the recommended amounts of sleep that toddlers need by age:

Recommended Hours of Sleep (By Age)
Amount of Sleep Hours
Toddlers (1 - 2 years old) 11 - 14 hours (including naps)
Preschoolers (3 - 5 years old) 10 - 13 hours (including naps)

The older your child gets, the less sleep they need. Toddlers typically drop their second nap by the age of two, if not earlier. Thus, if your child is consistently fighting sleep during the day, but getting the recommended amount of sleep they need with one nap and their sleep at night, it may be time to forego the morning nap. 

11 Simple Naptime Tips to Help Kids (and Parents)

When a toddler is refusing to nap, but needs it badly, there are easy ways to get them back on track. However, parents need to keep in mind that most sleep solutions will take a few days, if not a few weeks, to take hold. Be patient and know that you will get your mini moment of relaxation back soon!

Try to Stay on a Schedule

While getting into a regular routine with a child under the age of five is challenging, your toddler nap schedule is important. If you want this regular period of reprieve, then it's best to stick to a routine in terms of sleep.

This may mean leaving family events early or turning down social engagements. It may also require putting off shopping trips until later in the day and adjusting your daily chores to ensure silence in your home. While this can be a bit of a downer at times, the repercussions of skipping just one day of naps can be felt for weeks afterward.

So figure out your toddler's sleep windows and stick to them! Also, consistently wake up and put them down for bed at the same times every day. If you do this, they will naturally start to tire around their typical naptime and they will begin to anticipate this period of rest, which can be half the battle.

Get Active a Few Hours Before Naptime

It's hard to expect a toddler to go to sleep if they never had an opportunity to release their energy. By scheduling activities that require lots of movement before periods of rest, your toddler is more likely to fall asleep.

But let's be realistic — there will be days, like those filled with rain, where active moments can be hard to find. If this is the case, then make sure your activities stimulate their mind! 

Fast Fact

Sensory activities are a great way to get your toddler's mind working and hands moving. These also tend to have a natural calming effect on people of any age. This can be a perfect way to help to wear your toddler out on days that are a bit more sedentary.

Squeeze in a Snack

Portrait of little girl eating fruits in the kitchen

Who wants to go to bed hungry? You can't bank on your toddler drifting off into dreamland if their tummy is grumbling! Making sure they have a solid snack before bed is another key to keeping your toddler nap schedule on track.

Need to Know

The Cleveland Clinic notes that a meal that includes complex carbohydrates like whole grain toast or crackers, along with a lean protein like chicken, turkey, or low-fat cheese, can promote better sleep! Heart-healthy nut products like natural peanut butter or almonds, as well as tart cherry juice, a warm glass of milk, and foods filled with magnesium, like avocados and black beans, are also good choices.

Have Some Quiet Time Before Bed

An excited toddler is never going to want to go to sleep. Scheduling a small amount of screen-free quiet time before bed can be another quick remedy to sleep woes. Some quiet time activities can include coloring, sticker crafts, puzzles, or reading. 

Give Them a Warning & Something to Look Forward to After Naptime

As you may have noticed, toddlers love to have control. By surprising them with a nap — you know, the one they have at the same time every single day — you can inadvertently trigger a meltdown.

An easy remedy to this issue is to give them a play-by-play of the next few hours. For instance: "We are going to take a nap in 15 minutes. We need our rest because we have a busy afternoon ahead! After you wake up, we are going to go to the park and then the grocery store."

This simple warning can help them process the next step in the day and even motivate them to go to sleep! Just make sure to include an activity for them to look forward to after they wake up.

Remove Distractions

If you have transitioned your toddler to their big-kid bed, it can be helpful to keep their room distraction-free. Otherwise, playtime will never end! Thankfully, this is easy to accomplish.

With my son, we have multiple bins of toys that live in his closet. During nap and bedtimes, the closet door stays locked, with the help of a babyproofing safety latch placed at the top of the door. During the rest of the day, the lock is unlatched so he has unlimited access to fun! 

Helpful Hack

A simple naptime tip is to allow your toddler to have their most precious babies or lovies along with three books that they get to select each day. This gives them a choice, which allows them to feel like they have some control, but limits their activities once naptime begins.

Make It Cool, Dark, and Quiet

Boy sleeping in dark room

According to safe sleep guidelines, 68 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit is the safest temperature to keep your child's room, but this is also key to keeping your toddler under the covers. Also, you want to make sure that naptime feels like bedtime, which means making it dark and quiet.

Blackout curtains can be an easy solution if your child isn't a climber. However, if your child is like mine, and thinks they are a monkey, blackout window film is a much safer alternative.

For blocking out sounds, I cannot say enough good things about Medify Air Air Purifiers! Not only do they help your little one breathe easier, which is extremely important for little ones with allergies, but it also blocks out background noise. We have it situated just outside the baby gate at his door so that wires are not a worry. 

Start a Pre-Sleep Routine

This is one of my favorite things! My husband started the routine with our son and now we use it for goodbyes at bedtime, when dad leaves for work, and when I drop him off at early preschool.

It starts with hugs, then kisses on each cheek, then high fives, and it ends with us blowing kisses at each other. Then, we say "I love you" to each other and "See you after sleep" or "See you in the morning!"

Choose whatever pre-sleep routine you like best and start using it every day at nap and bedtimes. This may seem silly, but it focuses all the attention on them for a brief moment, which makes them feel important and loved. It also lets them know that you WILL be back, which can be a worry for little ones. 

Say "Sleep Well" and Then Walk Away

This not-so-simple naptime tip can be important. If you have taken the time to feed them, wear them out, brush their teeth, change their butt, give them one last drink of water, and love and hugs, you can feel confident saying "See you after sleep" and walking away. If they request another hug or a snack, ignore them.

This can be hard, but if they know that you will keep coming back, then they will most likely keep calling. Give them 15 to 20 minutes to settle. If they don't fall asleep in this time, go back specifically to check that their diaper isn't the problem or if they feel like they are hot, then lay them back down, and walk back out. 

Avoid Co-Sleeping if You Want to Encourage Independent Napping 

Mother and Child Comfortably Sleeping

Snuggling with your little one is magical and an activity that has a very limited lifespan, but if you become the equivalent of their lovie, it can be hard to get them to go to sleep without you. This is another hard naptime tip to accomplish, but it can help your little one to be a little more independent. If you can avoid co-sleeping, you can typically help your child become a better napper and sleeper.

Quick Tip

Every family is different so you need to find what works for you. Contact naps may work for your family until you and your child are ready to transition out of them, or you may find yourself nap-trapped at certain times, like when your child isn't feeling well or there are transitions in your family. Stay positive and just continue working on whatever nap strategies work for you and your child. 

Watch for Cues

When I had my first son, I was told, "Don't let him get too tired or he will never go to bed." This sounded idiotic. How could someone be so tired, that they weren't tired anymore? Turns out, this odd advice was true. This makes watching for cues that your little one is getting tired so incredibly important.

For my son, the sign is the zoomies. He will go from acting normal to seeming like he just snarfed down eight candy bars within seconds. When this happens, I normally have about twenty minutes to get him down.

In other words, figure out what your toddler's specific sleep cues are and make bedtime a priority when they start showing these signs. This can bring the opportunity for a quick crash so that you can get a moment to yourself!

Fast Fact

Some common toddler sleep cues include fussiness, jerkiness, sudden boredom with activities that they normally love, clinginess, and demands for attention. However, every child is different, so determining your child's cues is the key to getting them to sleep on time.

Repetition Will Help These Simple Naptime Tips to Work

It takes a minimum of two weeks for a change in sleep routines to take hold. This means that for these simple naptime tips to work, it's best to stick with them! Also, remember that even with the best routines, toddler nap schedules can be interrupted when regressions occur.

These typically happen when new skills emerge, more teeth come in, big changes happen in their life, like starting early preschool, potty training, or a new sibling's arrival, or if they start having nightmares. Know that these interruptions will pass and if you stay the course and stick with your schedule, you will get back on track more quickly!

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11 Simple Naptime Tips to Help Your Toddler Drift Off Into Dreamland