Some toddlers sleep too little, some toddlers sleep too much, and some toddlers just sleep at the wrong time. But far and away, the toddler sleep hiccup that seems to cause parents the most stress is when their toddler naps too little. So, why is it that your little cave kid won’t nap…even when it’s super clear that they need it? And how exactly can you get them to nap? I’ve got answers—and advice!

Why won’t my toddler nap?

It’s hard for grownups to believe anyone would refuse the opportunity for some blissful shuteye in the middle of the day, but that’s a toddler for you—always keeping you on your toes! Your toddler’s refusal to nap is not without reason. The main culprits for your toddler’s nap refusal is likely one of these issues:

Your toddler won’t nap because they’re overtired.

Is your toddler falling asleep in the car, slumping over well before naptime arrives, and/or cranky and bleary-eyed at dinnertime? These are clear signs that your tyke is overtired. And when a baby or big kid is overtired, that triggers their fight-or-flight response, which unleashes cortisol, a hormone that keeps kids alert.

Your toddler won’t nap because they’re overstimulated.

Sometimes, even dedicated nappers get too overstimulated to sleep. If your sweetie played a game of “tickle my tummy” right before naptime—or had a shot of caffeine from an after-lunch  piece of chocolate, they’ll likely have a hard time noticing that they’re tuckered out.

Your toddler won’t nap because they’re busy exploring!

“Say what? You want me to nap, with all this excitement?” Your swashbuckling little explorer may fight naps simply because they’re having so much fun discovering the world…and they doesn’t want to miss a thing!

Your toddler won’t nap because they’re napping at the wrong time.

It’s hard to go to sleep if you aren’t tired! And, like we learned above, it’s also hard for kids to sleep if they’re too tired! The key is finding a naptime that hits your tot’s sleepytime sweet spot. Consider tracking your child’s nap times and lengths for a little bit to discover the best time to put your tot down.

How to Get Your Toddler to Nap

If your toddler is throwing out a whole lotta “no” at naptime—only getting more tired, more rigid, more hyper and irritable—take comfort in the fact that this is a normal and natural consequence of toddlerhood. Does this mean your toddler will never nap again? Not at all! Instead, try tweaking your approach to naptime.

Rethink the timing of naps. If being overtired is keeping your tot from napping, try putting your bub down 20 minutes earlier. Many kids just do better if they’re naptime is after two or three hours of play even if they don’t seem sleepy. Think of this as 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 them a happy napper.

Enjoy some quiet play together. Engage in quiet play in your child’s room. Do this a couple of times a day, including 30 minutes before naptime. That way, your toddler won’t only associate their room with “un-fun” naps, making it easier to simply get where you need to be for naps.

Turn on some white noise. About a half hour before naptime, put on soft white noise in the background as a subconscious clue that sleepytime is coming. Once your toddler is tucked in, crank the white noise up to a stronger, rough rumbly white noise. If your house is active, you may even need to start it a little louder than a shower. It’s important to know that whooshy fans, air filters, and wave sounds often fail to help toddlers sleep because they’re too mild to screen out possible sleep disturbances. (SNOObie is a white noise machine that plays just-right white noise and doubles as a nightlight and OK-to-wake sleep trainer.)

Darken your tot’s room. When it’s time to rest, darken your toddler’s room as well as you can. Blackout curtains are great because they block the light and help to muffle outside sounds.

Introduce a lovey. Loveys are terrific for toddlers! These special stuffed toys or silky blankets are something that your tot can bond with in order to feel comforted and secure during times of stress, separation…and sleepytime! Plus, when you continue to offer a lovey at nap and nighttime, it’ll become a great sleep cue, just like white noise. (By the way, my SNOObear does double duty as a responsive white noise machine and a lovey.)

Try some magic breathing. Part of your before-nap routine can include some meditative breathing to help lull your bub into sleepy relaxation. Lead your toddler through a couple of fast breaths (two counts in, two counts out) and make a little whooshy sound as the air flows in and out. As you both breathe in, let one hand slowly rise, then on the exhale, allow it to slowly drop. All the while, praise your toddler with “good breathing!” and narrate how your body feels while you’re doing this. (“Mommy’s shoulders are so much looser when we do our magic breathing.”) Practice daily before naptime, and gradually lead them through more and slower breaths (aim for at least five breaths at a sitting). 

Start gossiping. Praise your toddler when naptime is successful using gossip. Gossip, in this case, means saying positive things near your child, so they can overhear. For instance, while they’re in earshot, say to your partner, a stuffed animal, or whomever: “Wow, Benjamin did a great job staying in bed for his whole nap. I was so impressed!” Your tot is more likely to believe your compliment—and want to hear it again—if they overhear it, than if you told them directly. For even more impact, gossip in a whisper! (Learn more about how to make gossiping work for your toddler.) 

How long should toddler naps be?

Typically, toddlers sleep for one or two 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, toddlers who nap a lot end up needing a later bedtime…or they wake more often at night. That’s fine if it suits your life schedule—but if you’d like to shift some of that daytime sleep to the nighttime, it’s pretty easy to do.

Say your child naps a lot and their bedtime is 8pm...but they’re awake and chatty at bedtime and don’t actually fall asleep before 9:30pm. If this sounds familiar, try shortening the afternoon nap by 15 minutes so they’re a bit more tired at night. At the same time, starting your toddler’s  bedtime routine at 9pm. Then, if that goes well, shorten naptime once again and slide bedtime 15 minutes earlier. That should nestle your kiddo  into the schedule you want. (You’ll know you’re shrinking your toddler’s nap too much if they get cranky in the early evening.)

What time should toddlers take a nap?

While all kids are different, right after lunch is often a great time to put a toddler down for a nap. By the way, most tots drop the second nap between 12 and 24 months. (For help figuring out when you should transition your child from two naps to one, check out my advice.) 

How much sleep do toddlers need?

During the toddler years, total daily sleep gradually drifts down to 11 or 12 hours (with naps of one to two hours) for a 2-year-old. And then drops to 10 or 11 hours (with no naps) for a 5-year-old. 

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

If you’ve tried all of the above tips and you’re still struggling to get your toddler to nap, you can find extra help in The 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 my bestselling The Happiest Toddler on the Block, which is all about taming tantrums and boosting cooperation during the toddler years.

More on toddler sleep:

About Dr. Harvey Karp

Dr. Harvey Karp, one of America’s most trusted pediatricians, is the founder of Happiest Baby and the inventor of the groundbreaking SNOO Smart Sleeper. After years of treating patients in Los Angeles, Dr. Karp vaulted to global prominence with the release of the bestselling Happiest Baby on the Block and Happiest Toddler on the Block. His celebrated books and videos have since become standard pediatric practice, translated into more than 20 languages and have helped millions of parents. Dr. Karp’s landmark methods, including the 5 S’s for soothing babies, guide parents to understand and nurture their children and relieve stressful issues, like new-parent exhaustion, infant crying, and toddler tantrums.

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Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider.