'No, Daddy! No nap!'

It can be nearly impossible to get some children to nap. But why are naps so crucial for growing bodies?

Story highlights

  • Not every toddler requires a nap during the day
  • Scheduled quiet time instead of a nap is fine
  • Parents often use nap time for errands or sleep

My 2-year-old daughter was not happy that I was trying to put her down for her afternoon nap, and she let me know that in many ways.

She pleaded her case in my ear, although her defense primarily consisted of saying "no nap." She bopped me in the head with a stuffed bear. More than once, she squirmed away from my clutches and ran to another room to play with toys.

This has happened several times in recent weeks, but my wife and I usually placed the blame on outside factors. Who could nap when the grandparents or the air-conditioning technician were at the house? But on this day, there were no distractions. My daughter was simply displaying her right not to nap.

Since she came home from the hospital, naps were an essential part of my daughter's routine. But as she got older, that was no longer the case. By the time she turned 1, the morning nap went the way of the dodo bird. Now, the afternoon nap may become a thing of the past.

Are there any hard rules when it comes to toddlers and naps? It all depends on how much sleep tots get over the entire day.

"Sleep requirements vary greatly from one child to the next," said Dr. Vivian Lennon, medical director of primary care at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. "Although I recommend naps for both toddlers and their exhausted parents, they are not always necessary."

What does matter is the amount of sleep the toddler gets in a 24-hour period. As the child grows up, Lennon notes, their sleep requirements lessen.

"Newborns generally sleep between 16 to 20 hours a day, and that's divided equally between night and day. From age 1 to 3 years, the child needs only 12 to 14 hours of sleep."

For some toddlers, a midday nap is necessary. But for others, they can get their necessary sleep in one long stretch at night.

"Sleep requirements vary greatly from one child to the next," Lennon said. "The first thing I tell parents is that all children are different."

I learned that when my wife and I asked our friends and colleagues about when their children gave up napping. A mother of five from New Jersey mentioned that all of her kids quit napping around 18 months of age, while a neighbor proudly noted that her 3½-year-old son is "still very much" taking daily naps. A friend of my wife's recalled how her two children spent preschool "nap time" lying down on mats with their eyes open. Lennon noted that her firstborn stopped napping at just 4 months old, while her youngest kept napping until he started pre-K.

So what's a parent to do when their child stops napping, especially when they use that time to perform errands or even to snooze themselves? There is hope, according to Lennon.

"Place your toddler in their playpen with some favorite board books and toys, dim the lights, give them their favorite comfort object and play soothing music. Schedule their quiet time for the same time every day, typically after their midday meal and have had a bit of playtime."

The important goal is make sure your child sleeps soundly and without interruption during the night, so do not schedule "quiet time" too close to their normal bedtime. I tried that once, and my daughter refused to go to bed until midnight.

The day after the "nap fight" with my 2-year-old, I was driving home from the office when I got a call from my wife. I expected to hear about my daughter's playdate and lunch outing with a neighbor friend, but I was surprised to hear some interesting nap news.

"She fell asleep in the car on the way home," my wife beamed. "Please check on her when you get here."

I came up and went upstairs to my daughter's room. There she was, snoozing away in her new toddler bed. Guess she still needs the afternoon nap once in a while.

Share your child's napping story with us. When did they give up the nap, and how did you handle it?

Have you found enforcing nap time difficult in your house? Share your tips and tricks for lulling kids to sleep in the comments section below.