The best toddler nap mat is the one your toddler will actually sleep on -- not beside it or under it, but actually on top of it. Often used in daycare centers and preschools, a nap mat makes it a little bit more comfortable for your tot at nap time. It's also a cleaner alternative than sleeping on the floor with a blanket.
Most nap mats are 19 inches by 45 inches, which folds to 15 inches by 19 inches for easy storage. Cheap mats, the ones you usually find in discount department stores, are usually about ¾-inches thick, which explains why your toddler prefers to sleep under it; it really isn't any more comfortable than the floor. Try to find one that is at least an inch thick, and if you really adore your child, opt for the premium or heavy-duty mat, which is 2-inches thick or more.
Look for a neutral, solid color, preferably a soft hue; soothing colors are calming and inviting. Over the past few years, as nap mats have come into vogue, an assortment of patterned mats with Sponge Bob Square Pants, Spiderman and assorted dinosaurs and monsters have come on the market. For some children, these colorful mats may be distracting or even scary.
Inexpensive mats are vinyl -- cheap vinyl that without a blankie will make your toddler sweat and wake up uncomfortable and smelly. Look for a mat with a breathable 100 percent cotton cover than can be removed for washing. You will have to go high-end to find one, but it's well worth the extra money. Mid grade mats have a permanent embossed vinyl cover that can be wiped down and disinfected. Pass on the mats with phthalate -- a chemical used to make the mat surface softer and more pliable; it stinks, which is probably why your toddler sleeps next to it, and not on top of it.
Sleeping-Bag Type Nap Mats
Designed more for home use than a daycare setting, fabric nap mats are similar to a comforter, with quilted channels and cotton or polyester stuffing. Usually made of 100 percent polyester, you can often find higher quality mats that are 100 percent cotton in high-end department stores. These mats are about 43-inches long by 24-inches wide. They often come with an attached pillow and adjustable straps; you can roll it up and your child can carry it like a backpack — although most toddlers generally drag it along the floor, seriously shortening its life expectancy.