Last updated on May 26th, 2024

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Kim West, MSW, Mom of 2, creator of The Sleep Lady Shuffle

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Naps for Preschoolers: Your 3 and 4-Year-Old Nap Questions, Answered

I have received LOTS of questions about naps for preschoolers and late bedtimes for 3 and 4 year-olds. I chose the most wide-reaching to answer here!

Late Night Bedtime Cycle

Parent Question: My son will be 4 in September and has generally been a great sleeper thanks to your book (given to me by a thoughtful friend). I will put him to bed between 8-9pm after a usual routine, but most nights I find him still awake around 10PM. He’s quiet and does not get out of bed. He does still nap in the afternoon from about 12:30-3. He’ll fall asleep for his nap within 10 minutes. I try waking him from his nap early to ensure he will be sleepy at bedtime, but then he is a bear because I woke him. How do I get us out of this cycle?

Sleep Lady: Make sure you are not missing his bedtime window since 9pm is late for his age. Also I would try waking him after 45minutes for his nap….he may be less cranky.

Is My Child’s Nap Ruining Nighttime Sleep?

Parent Question: I have a three year old that still needs a nap. However, if he sleeps too much or too late in the day i.e. after 2pm or for more than 1 hour, he won’t fall asleep at a decent hour (8:30, 9pm) at night. Help!!!

Sleep Lady: It seems you have read your three-year-old well. Naps for preschoolers can be tricky! He still needs a nap, but no napping after 2pm or for more than an hour. Depending on when he wakes up I would put him to bed earlier than 8:30-9pm and try for closer to 7:30-8pm.

Is it Time to Drop the Nap for My Preschooler?

Parent Question: How do you know when your 4-year-old is ready to stop napping?

Sleep Lady: The simplest way to tell whether a preschooler or kindergartner needs a nap is to watch him. If he gets a lot of nighttime sleep and is cheerful and easy going during the day, he probably doesn’t need to nap.

If he is cranky or teary or frequently melting down, he probably needs at least a few naps a week. Car behavior is also a good clue. If he conks out every time you start your engine, he probably still needs that afternoon snooze.

Is your child resisting naps?

Get answers to your top naptime questions with our free guide!

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My 4-Year-Old is a Night Owl!

My 4-year-old acts as if he could stay up longer than me at night (10:00) and is up at 7:00, ready to go! He’s still nsapping 2 hours in the afternoons; if he doesn’t, he is either a monster or asleep at dinner. Is he ready to forgo naps? What can I do to get him to go to bed earlier?

Did you know that sleep averages: 3 year olds: 10.5 at night 1.5hrs during the day. 4 year olds: 11.5 hrs at night?

Sleep needs shift year to year for this age group. As their naps shrink and disappear, they need to sleep a little longer at night. You’ll have to adjust bedtime, unless they naturally begin to sleep in a little later in the morning. Even when they stop napping, quiet time in the late afternoon or before dinner is a must for four-year-olds, and a wise idea for five-year-olds.

More nap questions?
Read: Baby Nap Basics for All Ages: Your Daytime Sleep Questions Answered

Do Toddlers Still Need to Nap?

With the two and a half or three year old, you still need to be vigilant about daily naps. He can skip an occasional one, but put him to bed earlier that night.

Naps for preschoolers remain essential for older children who aren’t sleeping through the night or who are obviously tired during the day. You may have to nap coach.

The Shuffle works for naps in this age group, or you can just put him in his room and check on him every ten to fifteen minutes. Every day, promise that you will come get him as soon as his nap is over. Make him stay in his room for an hour, every day. He may protest, and you may have to put a gate on his door. Some parents sit outside the gate at naptime with a book; it helps the child stay calm and get to sleep. Don’t let him nap too late. Leave at least four hours between the end of the nap and bedtime or he’ll have trouble falling asleep.

Got a 4-year-old and have a nap question?
Read: Toddler Naps: Nap or Not to Nap for My 4 Year Old?

You may find that your child no longer needs a daily nap but still needs a “nap day” every three or four days. My older daughter, napped daily until age five, and slept every other day after school for the first few months of kindergarten. That’s longer than most children, but I could tell by her behavior that she still needed that extra sleep in the afternoon. My second daughter, in what was probably a more typical pattern, stopped napping at home when she was about three and a half but still napped at preschool.

naps for preschoolers
If your child is getting about eleven hours of unfragmented sleep at night and seems well rested during the day, it may be time to go from naps to quiet time.

Consider Quiet Time instead of Naps for Preschoolers

If your child is getting about eleven hours of unfragmented sleep at night and seems well rested during the day, it may be time to go from naps to quiet time.

You might want to cut out naps every other day, rather than eliminate them completely, or you may find that he naps great on the days he’s with his sitter or at preschool but won’t nap on days he’s with you (or vice versa). Children who were good nappers but who now take a very long time to fall asleep in the afternoon may also be ready to phase out the nap and start quiet time.

Quiet time is exactly what it sounds like, about forty-five minutes of structured, solitary play, preferably at about the same time every afternoon. It’s a time for children to rest their bodies their minds. It helps pave the way for a peaceful dinner hour and easy bedtime.

Good quiet time activities include looking at books, coloring, or playing in their room. Make sure the toys and books you choose don’t require adult supervision. That way they won’t need interaction from you, and they will be safe.

Want to know more about quiet time?
Read: Dropping The Afternoon Nap — Transitioning To Quiet Time For Toddlers

Author: Kim West, MSW, Mom of 2, creator of The Sleep Lady Shuffle

My name is Kim West, and I’m the mother of two beautiful girls, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has been a practicing child and family therapist for more than 21 years, and the creator of the original gentle, proven method to get a good night’s sleep for you and your child. My sleep journey began when I started experimenting with gently shaping my daughter’s sleep by not following the conventional wisdom at the time. After having success (and then more success with my second daughter!), I began helping family and friends and my step-by-step method spread like wildfire, exactly like an excellent night of sleep for a tired parent should!