Cass was around three and a half when the sleep troubles started. What had previously been a 30-minute bedtime routine was now stretching out over two or more hours every night. “It really stressed me out,” says Abi Dennis, Cass’s mom. “I resented that I was being robbed of my precious hours of adult time.”
When another mom posted on social media that she was going through the same thing with her preschooler, Dennis was relieved to find out she wasn’t alone. Many parents of three- and four-year-olds experience bedtime battles that seem to come out of nowhere. Often, there’s a seemingly simple solution to getting those few hours of post-bedtime relaxation back: Drop the afternoon nap. But what if your kid is in a daycare where after-lunch quiet time is enforced?
“Kids typically lose their naps at around age three or four,” says Alanna McGinn, founder of the Good Night Sleep Site. “But they still need 10 to 12 hours of sleep over a 24-hour period.” A two-hour nap at daycare can mean a child might only require eight hours overnight—which ex-plains why they may not fall asleep until 11 p.m. if they normally wake at 7 a.m. “It became a bad cycle,” says Dennis. “Cass would nap at daycare and then he’d be up late that night. Then he’d be tired the next day, so he’d nap at daycare—and so on.”
But aside from you losing out on a chance to unwind or connect meaningfully with your partner (even if it’s over Netflix), it’s also unhealthy for kids to go to bed so late. At this age, “a 10 p.m. bedtime, even a 9 p.m. bedtime—whether they’re sleeping during the day or not—that’s late,” says McGinn. “The sleep we get from seven or eight until midnight is good-quality, restorative sleep. If we’re putting kids down later, they miss out on several hours of the best sleep they’ll get that night.”
Snooze control: An age-by-age guide to naps
So this is when you just ask the daycare to let your child skip the nap, right? It’s not always that simple. “When parents ask us to cut the nap, we want to respect their wishes, but sometimes kids are just too tired to make it through the afternoon,” says Marla Charney-Askenasi, a Toronto-based registered early childhood educator (ECE) with more than 35 years of experience running daycare programs and teaching ECEs. Another challenge: In some provinces, legislation means quiet time is mandatory, though the way it’s handled can vary among daycares. And it can be hard for child-care workers to accommodate the nappers and the non-nappers, as required child-to-teacher ratios and staff breaks must be maintained.
Start by talking to the daycare teachers. They tend to be willing to try to shorten the nap, or cut it out altogether. There may be a few kids—especially those who will be graduating to kindergarten soon—who are already playing quietly in another area or even outside during the rest period. Ask if your child could join that group.
In some daycares, preschoolers are expected to play quietly on their cots during quiet time, but two hours can be a long stretch for a four-year-old—or anyone, really. “If I was lying down in a quiet, dark room after lunch, there’s no way you could keep me awake,” says Dennis.
If that’s the case at your child’s daycare, you could ask the teachers if it’s OK for you to provide a special “quiet time” box. Go to the store with your child and let them fill a box with various toys and activities, such as colouring books, puzzles and playdough. This box should make quiet time less of a bore (as long as you remember to change it up regularly). Even if your child does end up falling asleep, it’ll be for a shorter time. Another option is allowing the nap, but having them spend time outdoors or even run around a mall for an hour before dinner, rather than heading straight home from daycare and then being frustrated while bedtime drags on for hours.
If you drop the nap (or any time you change your kid’s sleep schedule), watch for behaviour that suggests your child is sleep-deprived. “If they’re melting down quickly, withdrawn or not happy, those are usually signs,” says McGinn. “You may need to keep things restful for a month or even just two weeks. This is not the time to jam the week full of activities.” You’ll want to work towards an earlier bedtime—no easy feat, especially for parents who work outside the home, and it may mean a month of quickie meals and less time with your child in the evenings. But eventually, you’ll be able to start moving bedtime back a bit.
For Cass, now four and a half, kindergarten is right around the corner. Since he won’t nap there, his mom is looking forward to getting her nights back. For now, her strategy is to just roll with it. “I try not to get too freaked out if he’s staying up a bit later,” she says. “There’s an end in sight, and in the meantime, I’m getting in some nice snuggles with my son at bedtime.”