Sunday, September 12, 2010

Weekly Column: Nap-Free Doesn't Mean Rest-Free

Once upon a time, there was a little girl who napped. In the middle of every day, she laid down her sweet head and closed her eyes, resting up for the afternoon and evening ahead. She slept peacefully. She slept deeply. She slept consistently.

And now she sleeps no more.

At almost 5 years old, my preschooler is no longer a napper. For the past year, her naps have been growing less and less certain. If she happened to fall asleep, she might be wired until 9 o’clock that night, ruining my hopes of a normal bedtime. But if she didn’t have time to rest, she became crabby by dinner.

The transition was confusing and ended up in many weeks of no-win options, but it did eventually work itself out. Unfortunately, though, it worked out into No More Naps. Part of me is comfortable with this development; as a growing girl, she needs more stimulation during the day, meaning she can still thrive with nothing more than an early bed time. But the other part of me – the exhausted part – clings to the memory of mid-day naps.

Not only were those naps restful for my child, they were also restful for me. They gave me time to sit still in silence, work uninterrupted, or even take a nap myself. To say I’ve mourned the loss of her nap is no lie – but I’ve also come to some other, more positive conclusions.

Just because she won’t sleep doesn’t mean some downtime in the middle of the day is unnecessary. Our mornings are packed with errands, activities, appointments, and adventure. Our afternoons and evenings are busy with chores, meals, and rough-housing with daddy. With so much on her little plate, my preschooler certainly benefits from a time of rest. But I had to figure out some guidelines for making a mandatory rest period a reality.

First, we approach it like a regular nap time. We make her bedroom cool and dim, quiet and cozy. We read a few stories and take a potty break. Then, into her room she goes, with the door shut firmly behind her.

While in her ‘quiet rest time’, she has a wealth of choices alongside a few strict rules.

Rule Number 1: No exiting the room. Everything she needs should already be there.

Rule Number 2: If she gets too loud, she has to lie in bed for the remainder of the rest time and forfeit some beloved evening activity or treat.

Rule Number 3: Mom doesn’t help with anything during rest time; if she can’t accomplish the task on her own, she’ll just have to keep trying or wait until wake-up time.

To make the time go more smoothly, I try to place a few quiet options in her room: matching games, dolls with tiny accessories which are usually hidden out of the toddler’s reach, coloring sheets and markers, favorite storybooks, or special toys that have been stashed away for whatever reason. But she can play with anything in her room, as long as it’s quiet enough. I make sure she can read her digital clock, and when it shows 3:00, she knows ‘quiet rest time’ is over.

The magical part is that sometimes, she does fall asleep. If she’s particularly worn out, she might crawl into bed to play with some Barbies and just go down for the count. The point is that she’s getting a stretch of quiet, unstructured time to re-group, without me forcing her into an unnecessary nap.

And I still get to cling to my own – highly necessary – mid-day rest.

[Online version here.]


  1. AMEN to that post. My almost 4 yr. old is at that stage where she most likely will NOT nap, but then be crabby by suppertime. Oh what fun.... 2 yr. old still napping soundly and very happily for me! Now a newborn on the scene and.... WOW. we def. must have quiet time!!

  2. I did this with all my girls and it worked wonders. They still like to have "their quiet time" on the weekends when we are home. It keeps everyone in a much better mood throughout the day!

  3. Wonderful, I love it! I get really scared Savannah is ready to give up her nap on days she has a hard time going down (thankfully these days are few and far between). I am NO WHERE ready for that! I'm just waiting for the two of them to consistently nap at the same time!

  4. We did the same thing with Addie when she turned 4 and I didn't really want her to sleep b/c then she couldn't fall asleep at night. Luckily, she loves books, so I just had to put a stack of books in her bed and she was all set for a good quiet time! Great column! :)

  5. Penelope's nap schedule was totally interrupted this summer while we were in transit and now that we're settled into our new house I've been having trouble getting her to rest consistently again. I almost gave up, but seriously, this article inspired me to try, try, try again and she ended up taking a great nap this afternoon. Thank you, Sarah! I know she needed it--and I needed it, too!--so I think you're right, consistency is key. And maybe she'll still be resting when she's five! (What a dream!)


Hmm...And how did that make you FEEL?