How to Help Your 3 Year Old Nap: 5 Tried and True Strategies

3 year old nap

The 3 year old nap is a thing to behold.  So many kids have stopped napping by the age of three.  But so many still require their nap. 

Is your three year old on the cusp of ending naps?  Are you wondering how to keep the naps going because you know your child needs it?  

Learn five strategies to help your little one to keep that nap in their life.

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3 Year Old Nap: Do We Need It?

I have been on the search over the past six months for things that will help my tired three year old to sleep at nap time. 

It is clearly evident that she still needs her rest.  She’s exhausted by the time nap time rolls around.  The days she doesn’t sleep at nap time, it is very obvious. 

She still has a successful 7:00pm bedtime, even with napping.  All of these factors indicate to me that she does need to keep napping, at least for now.

I keep finding new ways to keep my daughter napping.  They usually work for about a month or so, before I have to find a new strategy.  

3 Year Old Nap: Our Set Up

My three year old is in a bedroom by herself with a her lovely toddler bed.  She has books and some toys in her room, but not a lot.  We keep a sound machine on and room-darkening blinds pulled down at nap time and bedtime.  I also keep a little potty in her room, so she doesn’t have to leave her room.  (This prevents excuses for trying to get out of her room to avoid nap.)

Every day at nap time, we do our nap time routine, which is identical to our bedtime routine.  You can read about how we do our routine here.   I have never let on that anything but sleep is an option.  

3 Year Old Nap: When They Don’t Sleep

Days my daughter doesn’t sleep at nap time usually goes something like this:  We do the nap time routine, and I tuck her in. 

I look on the monitor a couple minutes later, and she’s rolling around the bed, sometimes talking to herself. 

About twenty minutes later, she starts reading or playing with some toys in her bed.  Is this familiar to you?

When this happens, I usually just let it go.  The time by herself helps to recharge her, just not as much as a nap does. 

She definitely benefits from alone time, and she is happy to have it. 

I do anticipate pivoting to quiet time when she ages out of naps. I just don’t think we’re ready to give up on the naps just yet.  Especially since we so often have success with it.

So how have I had this success?

Five Ways to Continue Napping

  1. Get outside.

We get outside as much as we can, especially when the weather is cooperating.  You can read here about how and why we do that.

I have consistently found that all of my children sleep better after having spent time outside.

One thing I make sure to do to help my three year old nap, is to get outside some time in the morning.  Sometimes we stay out all morning. 

If it’s rainy, we will usually do a walk in the rain.  We’ll also eat lunch and read our nap time book on the porch when it’s raining.

Every morning, I make a point to do something outside, at least for a little bit.  

  1. Take walks.

Over the winter, we really weren’t getting outside a lot, with the cold weather.  This was around the same time that my three year old began not sleeping during nap time. 

I decided to take her for a walk every day, right after lunch and before nap.  We would walk for about ten to fifteen minutes, then head in for her nap time routine.

For whatever reason, this really helped her to nap!  For the first few weeks, she would nap almost every day after our walks.  Over time, she would nap less, but the walks were still a really sweet time together.

  1. Read just one book.

Our typical nap time/bedtime routine has always included three books. 

Not that the books we read are all that long, but I found that by sitting all cozy for three books was too long at nap time. 

It was almost like she relaxed too much, and then had a hard time falling asleep for her nap.

So I made the executive decision to cut out some books.  It’s a little thing, but I have found that her naps were occurring more frequently when we cut down our books from three to one.

I will sometimes read a book or two with her after nap, so I don’t jip her on the reading.  

  1. No TV before nap.

TV is not frequently used by the kids in our house.  Our household rule is that you have to be two to watch tv.  Currently, our three year old is the only one of our three kids who meets that criteria. 

But she can’t watch it when the other ones are awake, so the opportunity for tv isn’t all that great.  Which is just fine with me.

In my quest to keep my daughter napping, I tried watching tv with her before her nap, and after her brothers were put down for nap. 

I found the same thing with reading too many books.  She would zone out too much, and then wouldn’t be tired enough to nap. 

It’s like when a baby falls asleep in the car for two minutes, but then won’t nap when you get in the house.

There’s probably a good chance that she could fall asleep watching tv, and get her nap in that way. 

I’ve considered this, but decided against it for two reasons.  First, I don’t want that becoming a habit for her at such a young age.  The second is that I don’t want to have to tip-toe around getting my things done while she’s sleeping on the couch. 

Maybe occasionally this could work, but it’s just not a good fit long-term for us.

So now another tv rule is: No tv before nap.

  1. Use a nap clock.

Our beloved sound machine has a lot of great features on it.  It has a clock and alarm clock.  It also has the “okay to wake” feature to train kids when it’s okay to get out of bed in the morning.  

I didn’t realize until recently that it also has a nap timer feature, which has really helped naps a lot lately!  The machine is one color, usually purple, when I tuck her in.  I set the nap timer for thirty minutes. 

When the time is up, the color changes to green, but there’s no change in the sound.  Typically, my daughter falls asleep when it’s purple and it’s green when she wakes.  

I implemented the following rules with the purple light:

  • Purple light on = You are laying down and not talking.
  • Green light on = You can keep sleeping, or you can read or play with toys.

This nap alarm feature has been great lately, and I’m hopeful that it will continue to serve us well.  I anticipate that this feature will be helpful when it does come time for her to graduate to quiet time.


If your three year old’s nap is suffering, try out some of these strategies.  Be consistent, and hopefully you will find some success!


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2 thoughts on “How to Help Your 3 Year Old Nap: 5 Tried and True Strategies”

  1. This is really interesting! I have a 3 year that hasn’t napped since she turned 2. Do you think that I could get her to start napping again usong these tips?

    1. Hi Camilla,
      I think it’s worth a try! I would figure out which tip you’re going to go with. Let your child know what the expectations are, and try to be consistent for about a week. See what happens, and go from there!
      Good luck!

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