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Nap Refusals & What They Could Mean

Updated: Jul 3, 2023


Nap Refusal

Ahhh nap time! My second favorite time of the day, not to be surpassed by my favorite– BEDTIME!


If you’re a mom, I know you’ve been here before.



You’ve put your baby or toddler down for a nap and are all set to do every single thing on your to-do list in record time (or just chill out and watch T.V. for a hot minute). Ten minutes into sorting your laundry, doing your dishes, or pressing “play” on the latest Netflix series, you hear that cry.



You know which one I’m talking about- the cry that instantly says “no way, Mom I’m not taking this nap no matter how many prayers you say to the sleep gods.”


Every once in a while, nap refusals happen. It’s a normal part of sleep. Humans aren’t robots, so we can expect that our little ones may have an off-day with sleep. However, if you’re experiencing consistent nap refusal, let’s talk about what it means and how we can solve it.


Nap Refusal in Infants (0-4 Months)


Infants are notorious for erratic sleep schedules! Naps occur at unpredictable times and for unpredictable lengths. They are also still sorting out their days and nights because circadian


rhythms have yet to be developed.


The best way to keep infants rested is to not allow them to be awake for too long in between naps.



As a general rule, for babies 0-8 weeks old, do not let more than 45-60 minutes of awake time elapse. For babies 8-16 weeks old, do not allow more than 60-90 minutes of awake time.


Your infant will likely sleep better when you are holding them for a nap, because they are used to the comfort of the womb, and that’s okay! Snuggle that baby!!


If you need a break, make sure you are swaddling them and white noise machine near their bassinet or crib in order to recreate the womb environment. You can also baby wear to help with contact naps, which will allow you mobility to get things done around the house.


Nap Refusal in Babies (4-6 Months)



Naps take quite some time to sort out, and usually are not 100% consistent until about 6 months of age. While nap refusals at this age are developmentally appropriate, if they are happening all of the time or are still only 30-45 minutes in length, this could be a sign that it’s time to put baby on a consistent schedule.

You have a few options here:


1) If you feel your little one does better with 4 naps (can’t stay awake longer than 2 hours, or consistently takes 30-45 minute naps), then you can offer naps at 7:30 a.m., 10:00 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 3:00 p.m., with a bedtime of 6:00 p.m. and wake up time of 6:00 a.m.


2) If your baby is ready for 3 naps (they stay awake for longer than 2 hours and take at least


one long nap during the day of at least 1-1.5 hours), then you can offer naps at 8:30 a.m., 12:00 p.m., 3:30 p.m., with a bedtime of 6:00/6:30 p.m. and a wake up time of 6:00/6:30 a.m.


A more consistent schedule will not only help elongate naps, but will help your little one rest during times when their body is naturally ready for rest, which helps with nap refusals. Plus, you’ll have more structure in your day!



Nap Refusal in Babies (8-10 Months Old)


If you begin to see nap refusal (particularly the 3rd nap of the day) in babies between 8 and 10 months old, this is their way of letting you know it’s time to drop the 3rd nap.


This should be happening consistently for at least 1 or 2 weeks before you make the leap to 2 naps.


The schedule will the shift a little. Their 1st nap will be at 9:00 a.m. and their 2nd will be at 1:00 p.m.



This will also cause bedtime to shift earlier while their body adjusts to taking 2 naps per day. Offer an earlier than normal bedtime (around 6:00 p.m.) and slowly shift back to their usual bedtime as they successfully adjust to 2 naps.


Nap Refusal in Toddlers (15-18 Months Old)



Your child will drop their morning nap sometime between 15 and 18 months. The tricky part of this transition is that all children refuse a different nap when they are transitioning. Sometimes, they will take the morning nap and refuse the afternoon nap.


If this is the case, start capping the morning nap at 1 hour and see if this helps them take the afternoon nap, which is the most restorative of the two. If capping the morning nap still does not help to keep the afternoon nap, then drop the morning nap altogether.



The start time of the nap will shift to around 11:30 a.m. and slowly shift closer to 12:00/12:30 p.m. as their bodies adjust to being on 1 nap.


If your child is consistently refusing the morning nap, or it’s starting so late that it pushes the afternoon nap to start much beyond 1:30 p.m., it is time to either cap the morning nap or drop it altogether and transition to 1 nap using the directions above.


Nap Refusal in Toddlers (2-3 Years Old)


If you have a toddler in your house who just will not lay down at 12:30 p.m., you can feel the refusal in your bones. Every toddler in America should be nominated for an Academy Award for their dramatics.



However, this push back is not sign that they are done with napping. They are simply pushing limits, testing boundaries, and want to see if you’ll let them get away with no nap.


It’s important to have a firm mindset going into a toddler nap refusal. Do not engage in a power struggle. Set your expectations, which are that they need to rest their bodies for at least 1.5 hours every day around 12:30 p.m.


It is your job to offer them the space and opportunity to sleep, and it is their job to fall asleep. If they don’t, offer an extra early bedtime. It is important to push through this phase and maintain the nap at all costs!


The nap should not be dropped until at least 3 years old.



Nap Refusal in Pre-Schoolers (Ages 3 and up)


If you’ve scrolled this far down the page, and are hoping and praying that I have some magical formula to keep the naps for your 3, 4, or 5 year old…


I’m so sorry to say that I don’t.


Nap refusals after the age of 3 typically mean they don’t need to nap any longer.


As long as their nighttime sleep is solid (10-12 hours with no wakings), it is appropriate to drop the nap.



However, I would still offer a “rest time”!


This will help while they make the transition to no naps. Some days they will fall asleep, some days they won’t. You can choose what to offer during their rest time- books, quiet toys in their bedroom, and dare I say as a mom of 2 non-nappers who just needs an hour to herself….let them watch T.V.!


If taking a nap pushes bedtime very late (past 8:30 p.m.), then try not to let them fall asleep during rest time. If they don’t take a nap, offer an extra early bedtime while their body adjusts to having no naps during the day.


Take Aways



Children go through so many phases and transitions during the early years. As soon as you feel like you have a handle on things, they switch it up. This happens often with sleep. I hope these general guidelines will help keep naps on track!




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