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When should toddlers nap? How much sleep is too much sleep? Our toddler expert has the lowdown on toddler nap time and sleep training your toddler
Naps, like many aspects of toddler behaviour, are unpredictable at the best of times. Some toddlers will ditch the daytime nap entirely at around 18 months, while others still enjoy a daytime snooze until they're almost starting school.
The NHS recommends that two-year-olds get around 11.5 hours of sleep at night, plus 1.5 hours during the day, so that's about 13 hours in any 24-hour period. So it's likely that once your child moves beyond the daytime nap stage, they might start to sleep a little more at night.
Dropping the daytime nap is often much harder for the parent than it is for the child. As your child starts to go longer and longer without a daytime sleep, they may prefer a sleep at about 4pm. But you know that napping at this time will mean they won't go for a longer sleep until at least 10pm at night.
Swap naps for rests
When your child stops having a daytime nap, it's a good idea to retain some restful downtime in the afternoon. You could read a book together, watch a DVD or just enjoy a quiet cuddle.
Stick to a routine for good sleep habits
A daily bedtime routine is important from an early age, even if you're a go-with-the-flow type of parent who doesn't follow any other particular routines. Encouraging your child to wind down as bedtime approaches will help them to recognise that it's time for sleep, and that night-time is different from daytime.
If your child resists sleep, remember that by persisting with sleep training, you're giving them a gift for life: the gift of knowing when they are tired, and being able to get a good night's sleep. This benefits everyone!
Fi Star-Stone, childcare expert and author of Top Toddler Tips, says that while the occasional nap in the buggy is fine, it's not to be encouraged long term. 'By encouraging good daytime sleep habits, you'll find that night sleep improves too,' she says. 'By teaching your little one that bed means sleep, the routine will become second nature.'
'Try as best as you can to have the same nap time every afternoon after lunch,' says Star-Stone. 'Fill the morning with lots of activities – toddlers have a lot of energy, and an under-stimulated tot is less likely to want to go down for an afternoon nap in bed.'
Consistency is also important when addressing sleep problems. There are lots of different sleep-training methods, from controlled crying (where you let your child cry for short periods of time) to rapid return (where you pop them back into bed as soon as they get up).
Whatever sleep-training method you decide to use, stick with it. Chopping and changing will only confuse your child. Toddlers crave security and like to feel safe, and knowing what's coming next will help them to feel more relaxed and hopefully sleep better.
And don't forget to have a nap yourself – taking care of toddlers is tiring work!
By Joanne Mallon, author of Toddlers: An Instruction Manual