Does a 4 Year Old Need a Nap? Maybe Yes, Maybe No

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  • March 24, 2011

“I am struggling. Does my 4 year old need a nap? On weekdays, she goes to 1/2 day preschool, naps afterwards in her room with dim lights and a sound machine from about 12:45pm until between 2 and 2.45, and I to put her to bed between 7.30 and 8pm but she stalls/makes excuses, etc. and sometimes ends up staying up until after 9 (in her room, keeps coming out to pee or something else). Most weekdays she naps easily, but usually 1 day/week she will come out 20 minutes after I tuck her in saying she is not tired and “will just go to bed early tonight” (this is unpredictable and inconsistent). 

On the days she doesn’t nap,  I put her to bed by around 6.30pm.  Without the nap she falls apart and we rush at the end of the day.  We are stuck in a cycle since when she naps for 2 hours,  she struggles at bedtime, resulting in too late a bedtime, resulting in exhaustion the next day, too long of a nap, then the late bedtime again.  Is 11.5 hours enough sleep for her (if she skips the nap)?  Or do I wake her after an hour of naptime and try to salvage a reasonable (7.30ish) bedtime?  Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thank you, Jessica N.”

Does a 4 Year Old Need a Nap?

This is a common question about a 4 year old…to nap or not to nap?!

The average sleep needs for a 4 year old are 11.5 hrs. at night. Of course her behavior matters even more than numbers. I would start by shortening her nap to 1.5 hrs. and if even that is too much — causing a late bedtime — then shorten it to 45 minutes.

Once the “I will just go to bed early tonight” chant (love that – shows how smart she is!) becomes a regular occurrence or you notice that even a short daily nap results in a delayed bedtime then I would put her down for a nap every other day and have quiet time on the opposite days. This helps a child when they are weaning off a nap altogether.

I often find that there is a “personality change” for the worse after 3 days of no naps. This can include increased temper tantrums and meltdowns at dinner time. Alternating naps with quiet time can help this transition.

Transitioning Toddler Naps to Quiet Time

Naps to quiet time can bring a big transition for the whole family! Many families ask me at what age do children give up their naps. On average children give up their afternoon nap at 4 years old. That being said, I have worked with many 3-3 1/2 year olds who successfully give up their daily afternoon nap (these children are sleeping through the night). Watching your child’s behavior is of course more important than averages.

Younger Kids Still Need Naps

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 also remain essential for older children who aren’t sleeping through the night or who are obviously tired during the day. Even when your child stops napping, quiet time in the late afternoon or before dinner is a must for three and four-year-olds, and a wise idea for five-year-olds, unless you actually like watching your child melt down.

If a 4 year old needs a nap some days, he or she can have quiet time on other days

Keep Track of Sleep and Sleepy Cues

The simplest way to tell whether a preschooler or kindergartner needs a nap is to watch him. If your child is getting about eleven hours of unfragmented sleep at night and seems well rested, cheerful and easy going 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).

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. 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.

What is Afternoon 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 and, to a lesser extent, their minds. It helps pave the way for a peaceful dinner hour and easy bedtime. Good activities include looking at books, watching an age-appropriate, calm children’s video (leave fast-paced, action-packed cartoons for another time), coloring, or playing in their room with dolls, trains, trucks, or the like. The activity should not need a lot of adult interaction or mentorship, so make sure the child is in a safe place. Some parents use a timer or alarm clock in their child’s room or in the hallway so their child knows when quiet time is over.

Remind your child that in all-day preschool, all children have to lie down on a cot for quiet time- to read, relax their body and brain or snooze if they need to! Don’t forget quiet time can be a powerful tool to recharge parents, too! Make sure you take time to practice what you preach and enjoy the quiet time away from your child. Dishes and laundry do NOT recharge our minds and bodies no matter how hard we try! Find a quiet space to go to and enjoy your own piece of peace!

Kim West
Kim is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has been a practicing child and family therapist for more than 24 years, and the creator of the original gentle, proven method to get a good night’s sleep for you and your child. She is the author of The Sleep Lady's Good Night Sleep Tight, its companion Workbook and 52 Sleep Secrets for Babies. Click here to read more about her.

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  • desperatemom says:

    I have a 3 year old who is refusing to take nap unless I physically stay in the room with him to make sure he doesn’t climb out of his bed.  Every time I walk out of the room, he would start to play, jump on his bed, and all sorts of activities which I would not call quiet-time.  If he doesn’t nap, he would be very cranky the whole afternoon and I would put him to bed at 6:30 and he would still for 12 hours.  But even with 12 hours of sleep he still seems cranky in the morning.  What should I do?

  • […] make sure that quiet time goes smoothly, try introducing it gradually, much like The Shuffle. Set the ground rules (no loud instruments, […]