Toddler Won’t Nap

Some toddlers sleep too little, some too much and some just sleep at the wrong time. But, by far and away, the most distressing of these is napping too little.

Why Do Toddlers Fight Sleep?

Your little cave-kid may struggle so much with naps that his room starts to feel to you like an Ultimate Fighting ring. The main reasons your toddler won’t nap during day are:

  1. They are overtired.
  2. They are distracted and overstimulated (by noise, light, the TV, roughhousing, foods, caffeine or medications).

We go into more detail about toddlers trying to wriggle out of sleep time in a separate post. Here’s a quick look at each problem and how to solve it.

1. Your toddler is overtired and can’t sleep.

The ultimate sign of whether your toddler is napping enough is how tired she gets during the day. Is she: Falling asleep in the car? Slumping over well before naptime arrives? Cranky and bleary-eyed at dinnertime?

If so, try putting her down 20 minutes earlier for the nap. Many kids just do better if they’re put down after 2 or 3 hours of play even if they don’t seem sleepy.

Think of this as like eating lunch before you’re really hungry. Often when you sit down to eat, you realize, “Hmm…I didn’t know it, but I guess I am hungry!” Similarly, anticipating your tot’s need for sleep can keep her a happy napper.

2. An overstimulated toddler won’t sleep.

“Say what? You want me to nap, with all this excitement?”

Sometimes, even dedicated nappers get too overstimulated to sleep. If your sweetie just played “tickle my tummy” with her dad or had a shot of caffeine from your breast milk (or a piece of chocolate), she may have a hard time noticing that she’s tuckered out.

And your swashbuckling little explorer may fight napping because he’s having so much fun discovering the world…he doesn’t want to miss a thing.

So how do you get your toddler to nap?

Getting Your Toddler to Nap

Enjoy some fun quiet play with your child in his bedroom a couple of times a day. (Some kids resist going into their rooms because this means they’ll have to stop playing and go to sleep.) That way, he won’t only associate his room with “un-fun” naps.

Thirty minutes before naptime, engage in some quiet play and put on soft white noise in the background as a subconscious clue that sleep time is coming.

Then, for the nap, darken the room—as well as you can—and crank up a stronger, rough rumbly white noise—if your house is active, you may even need to start it a little louder than a shower. (Remember that whooshy fans, air filters and wave sounds may totally fail because they’re just too mild to really screen out disturbances.)

Your Toddler May Fight Naps Because They’re Napping Too Much or at the Wrong Time

While too little naptime sleep is the biggest complaint I hear, some kids actually sleep too long during the day…and others sleep at oddball hours that don’t work with their parents’ schedules.

How Long Should Your Toddler Nap?

Typically, kids nap 1 or 2 hours at each naptime. If your child is snoozing longer but still sleeping well at night, congratulations! You’ve hit the parent jackpot. But more often, kids who nap a lot end up needing a later bedtime…or wake more often at night. That’s fine if it suits your life schedule—but if you’d like to shift some of that day sleep to the nighttime, it’s pretty easy to do.

For example, say your child naps a lot and her bedtime is 8 p.m., but she’s awake and chatty then and never falls asleep before 9:30 p.m. Try shortening her afternoon nap by 15 minutes (so she’s a bit more tired at night) and starting her bedtime routine at 9 p.m. Then, if that goes well, shorten her nap again and slide bedtime another 15 minutes earlier. That should nestle her into the schedule you want. (You’ll know you’re shrinking her nap too much if she gets cranky in the early evening). 

Final Thoughts: What to Do If Toddler Won’t Nap

If you’re still struggling getting your toddler to nap, then you may find some extra help in Happiest Baby’s Guide to Great Sleep. It’s full of my best tips and lessons to help babies and toddlers sleep, or take a look at Happiest Toddler on the Block, which is all about taming tantrums and boosting cooperation during the toddler years.

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