Why won't my toddler nap?

Updated Mar 21, 2024
Why won't my toddler nap? | Huckleberry

As a parent of a toddler, you may be all too familiar with the struggle of getting your little one to take a much-needed midday nap. You know your little one needs sleep, but they seem determined to resist at every turn.  If you're struggling with a nap-resistant toddler, you're not alone. Nap refusal is a common concern among parents of this age group, especially when you consider that the midday nap plays a crucial role in supporting a toddler's overall well-being and development. Research has shown that napping can improve children’s overall learning experience [1] and help them retain more information. In this article, we'll explore the reasons behind nap resistance and provide strategies and tips for successful toddler naps.


Understanding toddler sleep needs

Common reasons toddlers resist napping

Tips for encouraging successful naps


Toddler won’t nap FAQ

Before we dive into the reasons why your toddler might be resisting naps, let's take a closer look at their sleep needs. Toddlers require a significant amount of sleep each day to support their rapidly growing bodies and minds. 

Disclaimer: Sleep needs vary individually. The following recommendations should be viewed as general guidelines, and a toddler may need more, or less, sleep. It's also important to look at mood and energy levels when determining whether a child is well-rested.

The recommended total daily sleep duration varies by age: 

  • At 12 months old, we recommend aiming for about 13.25 hours of total sleep in a 24-hour period, with naps accounting for over 2 - 3 hours. 

  • At 2 years old, our pediatric sleep experts recommend aiming for 10 - 12 hours of nighttime sleep and 1.5 - 2.5 hours of daytime sleep to be well rested.

  • For 3 year olds, we typically recommend aiming for at least 11.5 hours of total sleep, which may or may not include a nap.

Most children transition away from a daily nap between 3 - 5 years old. Until then, napping contributes to this total daily sleep requirement and is essential for cognitive, emotional, and physical development. During sleep, the brain processes and consolidates new information [2], memories are stored, and physical growth and repair occur. Skipping naps can lead to overtiredness, which paradoxically makes it harder for toddlers to settle down and sleep well at night. This can create a cycle of sleep deprivation that affects mood, behavior, and overall health.

Now that we understand the importance of napping, let's explore some of the common reasons why toddlers might resist this much-needed midday rest:

As toddlers become more mobile and curious about the world around them, they may be more resistant to slowing down for a nap. They are also discovering their place in the world and their voice, and they will use it to express what they want and do not want. 

Toddlers are becoming increasingly aware of their surroundings and may fear missing out on exciting activities or time with family members. Your child now understands that while they are in the room napping, you are outside doing “fun” things.  The desire to stay engaged and involved can override their natural sleep cues, leading to nap resistance.

As they grow, toddlers are also more capable of resisting the urge to sleep and tolerating longer wake windows, making it easier for them to resist a nap even if they desperately need one. 

At around 2 years old, toddlers experience numerous developmental achievements, including mastering skills like speaking and asserting their autonomy. These exciting new abilities may sometimes interfere with their ability to unwind and transition smoothly into sleep, potentially causing temporary setbacks in their established sleep patterns, especially naps. This can contribute to sleep setbacks, a phase commonly referred to as the 2 year sleep regression.

As toddlers grow and develop, their sleep needs and patterns naturally evolve. Many toddlers transition from two naps to one between 14 - 18 months of age. This shift can be challenging for both toddlers and parents, as it requires an adjustment to the daily routine. While this transition happens, it is not uncommon for young toddlers to completely miss an afternoon nap and require an early bedtime.

At around 2.5 - 3.5 years old, some children begin skipping their nap altogether, as their bodies start preparing for not needing one anymore and drop it completely by 3 - 5 years of age

Toddlers are very aware and sensitive to their surroundings, and now they understand that not everyone takes a nap when they take one. If there is too much noise outside of their room, their room is too bright, or they are distracted by their surroundings (think toys or books), this can interfere with a toddler's ability to fall asleep.

Teething, ear infections, allergies, or other illnesses can make it difficult for toddlers to settle down and nap. If you believe nap resistance is due to discomfort, there are likely signs during wake time of that discomfort.

If your toddler consistently resists naps and seems uncomfortable or unwell, it's worth checking in with your pediatrician to rule out any underlying health concerns. While unfortunate for parents and their little ones, it is very common for toddlers to start getting sick more frequently than before as they start getting exposed more to other children in daycare or playdate environments. 

While nap resistance can be frustrating and exhausting for parents, there are strategies you can implement to help your toddler get the daytime sleep they need:

A soothing and predictable routine helps signal to your toddler that it's time to wind down and prepare for sleep. This could include quiet activities like reading a story, singing a lullaby, or cuddling with a comfort item. 

Aim to keep the routine short (around 10 - 15 minutes) and do it in the same order each day. If your child is having trouble transitioning from play to the nap time routine, consider implementing a visual timer.

Experiment with adjusting nap times earlier or later to find the sweet spot that works best for your child. Both under-tiredness and overtiredness can make it harder for your child to settle down and fall asleep. If your child is resisting their nap, make sure that their schedule is fitting for their sleep needs. 

Ensure your toddler's sleep space is cool, dark, and quiet. Consider using blackout curtains or a white noise machine to block out external stimuli. A comfortable mattress, breathable bedding, and a favorite stuffed animal or blanket can also help create a cozy and inviting space for napping. Depending on your child’s age, you can involve them in the preparation of their room and ask them what feels comfortable for them to sleep. 

Toddlers crave independence and control. Offering limited choices, such as which stuffed animal to nap with or which story to read, can help them feel more in control of the nap routine. Be sure to keep the choices simple and manageable to avoid overwhelming your toddler. If your little one learns better through visuals, consider using a visual routine to help them prepare for sleep. 

Establishing healthy sleep habits takes time and consistency. It's important to stick with your nap routine, even on days when your toddler resists. For some families, introducing a toddler clock to visually show your toddler when naptime begins and when it ends has helped reduce naptime resistance. It is very normal for toddlers to have tantrums at naptime. Remain calm and patient, offering comfort and reassurance as needed. Remember that this is a phase; with time and consistency, your toddler will learn to settle into a regular nap schedule. 

Nap resistance is a normal and common challenge for many parents of toddlers. By understanding your toddler's unique sleep needs, identifying the reasons behind their resistance, and implementing consistent and soothing strategies, you can help your little one get the vital daytime rest they need. 

Remember that every child is different, and what works for one may not work for another. Be patient, flexible, and willing to adapt your approach as needed. Prioritizing healthy sleep habits supports your toddler's overall well-being, growth, and development. With persistence and a little trial and error, you'll find the nap routine that works best for your family, and this challenging phase will eventually pass.

Toddler naps can be tricky! If you’d like personalized step-by-step guidance handling your little one’s sleep issues, consider submitting for a custom sleep plan through Huckleberry Premium.

Toddler won’t nap FAQ

Q: Why is my toddler refusing to nap?


There are several reasons your toddler might be refusing to nap, including developmental milestones that make them more curious and active, the natural transition from two naps to one, and physical discomfort from teething or illnesses. Additionally, external factors like noise, light, or distractions in the sleep environment can interfere with their ability to settle down.

Q: How much naptime is normal for toddlers?


The recommended total daily sleep duration for toddlers varies by age and child. For children 12 - 18 months old, we typically recommend around 13 - 13.5 hrs of sleep in a 24 hour period. For 18 - 24 month olds, this requirement drops to 12.5 - 13 hrs of sleep in 24 hours. As they grow, most 24 to 36 months old, will only need around 12 - 12.5 hrs of sleep. Napping contributes to this total daily sleep requirement, and the number and length of naps will change as your toddler grows and develops. Most commonly, 1.5 - 2.5 hours is considered an appropriate nap length for most toddlers.

Q: What are signs that my toddler is ready for a nap?


It's important to watch for sleep cues and initiate the nap routine before your toddler becomes overtired, as this can make it harder for them to settle down and fall asleep.

Q: Should I transition from two naps to one, and when is the right time?


Many toddlers naturally transition from two naps to one between 14 - 18 months of age. During this transition, it's not uncommon for young toddlers to occasionally skip an afternoon nap and need an earlier bedtime. Every child is different, so be patient and flexible, and follow your toddler's cues to determine when they are ready to make the switch to one nap per day.

Q: What environmental factors may be affecting my toddler's nap?


Several environmental factors can interfere with your toddler's ability to nap, including noise, light, temperature, and other distractions in the sleep environment. Creating a cool, dark, quiet space with comfortable bedding and a favorite comfort item can help promote relaxation and make it easier for your toddler to drift off to sleep.

Q: Are there strategies for improving the quality of my toddler's nap?


Yes, there are several strategies you can use to improve the quality of your toddler's nap. Establish a consistent, calming pre-nap routine that includes quiet activities like reading a story or singing a lullaby. Create a conducive sleep environment that is cool, dark, and quiet, using tools like blackout curtains or white noise machines if needed. Offer your toddler limited choices to give them a sense of control, and be consistent and patient in implementing your nap routine, even on challenging days. If necessary, use visual aids and a toddler clock to emphasize routines and nap timing.

Note: The content on this site is for informational purposes only and should not replace medical advice from your doctor, pediatrician, or medical professional. If you have questions or concerns, you should contact a medical professional.

2 Sources


  1. Horváth, K., & Plunkett, K. (2018). Spotlight on daytime napping during early childhood. Nature and Science of Sleep. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5851571/

  2. Belia, M., Keren-Portnoy, T., & Vihman, M. (2023). Systematic Review of the Effects of Sleep on Memory and Word Learning in Infancy. Language Learning. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/lang.12544