You probably look forward to when your toddler naps each day, if only for the break it gives you from keeping him from climbing the furniture and dragging out all your pots and pans. Most toddlers need an afternoon nap to supplement their nighttime sleep. Adequate sleep is important for growth and development. Knowing when to time his nap is an effective way to ensure your toddler gets enough shut-eye without interfering with his bedtime.
A consistent nap schedule is the best way to help your toddler get the most out of naps, according to MayoClinic.com. So, if your toddler's nap occurs at 12:30 p.m. each day, waiting until 2 p.m. is probably too late. Once he finishes a two- or three-hour nap, it will be so close to bedtime that he may have trouble falling asleep that night. While the occasional change of schedule likely is harmless, a regular later-than-average nap can interfere with your toddler's sleep-wake cycle.
Length of the Nap
Most toddlers give up a morning nap and only take an afternoon nap. This usually occurs around his first birthday. When that happens, you might have to start his nap earlier to ensure he's ready for bed after dinner and a bath. If your toddler's afternoon naps lasts three hours, getting him started right after lunch ensures that he'll wake up a couple of hours before dinner and be tired enough to fall asleep when it's time to hit the hay. On the other hand, if his nap only lasts for an hour or two, you can likely wait until a bit later in the afternoon to put him down. This way he doesn't get too cranky before bed.
If your child is almost always ready for bed by 7 in the evening, letting her nap at 3 p.m. is probably going to interfere with her sleepiness at bedtime. If your toddler stays up later in the evening, however, a later nap might be necessary to keep him from getting too tired before you can finish your evening routine. If your toddler takes a later nap, which might happen if he's in day care, you might need to adjust his bedtime a bit later. This ensures that he gets enough sleep at night, but isn't too wide awake to fall asleep when nap time comes.
Many toddlers are ready to transition from two naps per day to one after they reach their first birthday. While this is common, it doesn't mean your toddler will be prepared to make the switch. If his behavior and mood indicate that he still needs to nap in the morning and the afternoon, you'll have to time the naps so they don't interfere with each other or bedtime. Family Education recommends a morning nap at 10 to 11 and an afternoon nap around 3. The two naps will likely be shorter than if he's moved to just one nap, but limiting each to an hour or two ensures that he'll fall asleep when you put him to bed.