Napping is a perfectly natural (and, indeed, necessary) part of your child’s development, particularly around the infant and toddler stages. As any parent knows, even minor sleep deprivation can result in crankiness and tantrums, and even has the potential to disrupt an entire household. In some ways, naps are a great time for busy parents to get things done without interruption.
Napping can sometimes represent a cause for concern for parents, however, and can raise several questions. Are naps harming your toddler’s ability to sleep through the night? Why are naps so important? When do toddlers stop napping? What are the best times for naps?
To dispel any myths surrounding naps and help you to improve your toddler’s sleep habits, we’ve put together a comprehensive guide to napping. Read on to find out how to nurture a well-rested child and, indeed, maintain a sense of tranquillity in your household.
Why Is Napping Important?
Sleep is one of the most important factors in helping your child stay fit and healthy. Young children, in particular, need a good deal of sleep to help them get through fundamental stages in their mental and physical development, as it allows them time to rejuvenate and grow.
Naps are also vital if you want to prevent your child from becoming overtired. Indeed, as well as causing crankiness and irritability, sleep deprivation can hinder a child’s ability to fall asleep at bedtime.
Finally, of course, napping is an important factor in helping parents look after their own health. Children with sleep issues tend to keep their parents awake at night, leading to a host of mental and physical problems associated with sleep deprivation. This can sometimes create a vicious cycle that needs to be addressed with a better sleep routine.
Getting To Know Your Child’s Sleep Requirements
Children need different amounts of sleep depending on their age. Toddlers and infants, for example, need to sleep and eat a tremendous amount to provide their body with enough energy to grow and develop.
As toddlers grow, they will gradually start to eat and sleep less. Of course, individual needs tend to vary between children. Whilst some toddlers sleep for long 13-hour periods during the night and avoid prolonged daytime napping, others will sleep for around nine hours at night and require solid naps during the day. If you need a little help determining how much sleep children need on average, however, we’ve put together a brief guide:
Napping For Newborns Upto Six Months Old
Infants require between 14 and 18 hours sleep in total every day. Very young infants are inclined to sleep on and off throughout the day and night, waking every one to three hours for nourishment. As the infant approaches four months, however, their sleep rhythms will start to level out and they will sleep for a longer period of time uninterrupted. Most babies sleep for around nine to 12 hours during the night, usually with a break for feeding. They also usually have two or three naps in the day that can last anywhere between 30 minutes and two hours. Understandably, this can be a tricky time for parents as it tends to compromise their established sleep routine. To combat this, don’t be afraid to take a small nap of your own during the day if you can afford to!
Napping For Children Between 6 And 12 Months
Babies over 6 months old tend to sleep for a total of around 14 hours. They usually nap two or three times a day, with sessions lasting anywhere from 20 minutes to a few hours. At this age, nighttime feeds may no longer be necessary. However, separation anxiety can set in once these feeding sessions stop, so parents may continue to experience sleep disturbances.
Toddlers Aged Between 1 And 3 Years Old
Toddlers usually need between 12 and 14 hours of sleep per day, a few hours of which are usually taken in the form of an afternoon nap. Toddlers on the young side may still need to take a couple of naps in the daytime. However, it is important that they do not nap too close to bedtime as this can stop them from falling asleep at night.
Pre-School Children Aged Between 3 and 5 Years Old
Children aged between three and five tend to need around 12 hours of sleep at night, as well as a short afternoon nap. By the time they reach five years old, however, most children stop their napping habit.
School Children Aged Between 5 and 12 Years Old
Young school-age children tend to need between 10 and 11 hours of sleep a night. If your child still requires a nap during the daytime, this could be a sign that they need to go to bed earlier or stick to a more rigid routine.
Establishing A Healthy Nap Routine
Although the guidelines laid out above may seem fairly straightforward, in practice they can be very difficult to attain. Generally speaking, it is a good idea to let naps occur naturally. In earlier infancy, nap patterns are constructed according to feeding schedules and can help shape some kind of routine. In this way, making sure that you feed your child at a similar time every day will encourage them to fall into a rhythm.
If your child attends a pre-school or daycare facility, it may be a good idea to adapt your child’s napping schedule with the one set out by the daycare providers. This will avoid any disruptions on the days that your child is at home. Start by having a chat with the carers that look after your child - they will probably be more than happy to help.
Eventually, your child’s napping routine will start to wear itself out and they will be inclined to sleep only at night.
Is Your Child Getting Enough Sleep?
Whilst every child is different and it is important not to be too prescriptive about how much sleep your child should be getting, it is easy to underestimate the amount of sleep they actually need and to miss the signs of sleep deprivation. Signs that your child needs more sleep include:
- Appearing fatigued during the day: If your child struggles to stay awake whilst playing with toys or interacting with friends, they may need more naps or an earlier bedtime.
- Crankiness and irritability during the afternoon: Frequent tantrums are not healthy and may reflect issues surrounding your child’s sleep routine.
- Difficulty getting out of bed in the morning: This can be a sign that your child has not had a long enough sleep.
- Aggressive, impatient, hyperactive or inattentive behaviour: Although these symptoms can signal certain types of disorders, it is important to rule out the possibility of sleep deprivation before jumping to any conclusions.
- Issues focusing on schoolwork or tasks that require concentration: You may be surprised at the extent to which rest can affect a child’s performance at school.
If your child experiences any of the above symptoms, it is worth visiting your doctor to ascertain whether they could be missing out on vital sleep.
How To Know When Your Child Requires A Nap
The signs of sleepiness displayed by children are not always as obvious as you might think. They can also vary widely depending on the child. Some children, for example, just sit and stare into space, whilst others may start crying or getting angry.
Subtle signs include rapid blinking, eye rubbing, yawning, grouchiness, or simply zoning out. Once you’re able to spot these cues, you will know that a nap is on the cards.
Don’t worry about sticking too tightly to a nap schedule. If your child simply isn’t sleepy or wants to get on with other things, simply let them. You can always incorporate a shorter or later nap if need be.
Where Should Your Child Be Napping?
Generally speaking, it is a good idea to put your child in the same space for every nap or, at least, a similar environment. Allowing your child to nap in their cot on one day and in a bed the next will disorient them and be obstructive to sleep. Placing them in the same spot will provide them with a cue to sleep and will encourage them to drop off much faster.
To create an environment conducive to sleep, try to ensure that there are not too many distractions in the room and that no one will be around to distract your child. The room should also be relatively dark, peaceful and cool to help them relax. Placing several soft blankets and toys in the sleeping area will also provide your child with a sense of warmth and security.
Prevent Your Child From Napping While Travelling
Whilst allowing your child to nap in their stroller or car seat can be convenient, it can also be dangerous. Indeed, these kinds of travel accessories are not designed for sleeping and their many buckles and straps can cause accidental suffocation, strangulation or entanglement. If your child tries to fall asleep while on the move, try to distract them with fun games.
Should Nap Times Be Limited?
This is a tricky question as it depends very much on the individual child and their personal needs. Some young infants can end up confused about the distinction between day and night, sleeping longer during the daytime than during nighttime hours. If this is the case, you may want to consider limiting daytime naps to no longer three or four hours in total. Afternoon naps, in particular, should be limited as they can make it much harder for your child to fall asleep in the evening.
If you’re worried about your child napping for too long as they grow older, try to remember that everyone develops at different rates. Whilst most babies grow out of morning naps by the time they are around 18 months old, some take a little longer. Ultimately, you should allow naps to drop out of your child’s routine naturally. If you can identify precisely when your child is tired (as described above) this process should be relatively painless.
What If My Child Is Tired But Refuses To Nap?
Occasionally, babies and toddlers go through phases during which they resist the idea of napping even if they are very tired. If this appears to be the case, try shifting your child’s bedtime either a little earlier or later. This can sometimes help to readjust their sleeping patterns and encourage them to take daytime naps when necessary.
Ultimately, ensuring that your child gets an adequate amount of sleep during the day is a fine art that is very difficult to get right. Try not to feel frustrated or guilty if some days are rather difficult - this is a natural part of your child’s development. Persevering and cutting your child some slack will help them to grow into older children and teenagers with a healthy approach to sleeping. If you have any particular concerns or worries about your child’s sleep patterns, however, it is important to talk with your doctor.
The Importance Of Quiet Time
In today’s switched-on world, even young children can find it difficult to calm their minds and stay away from distractions. In this way, implementing quiet time before a nap can help nurture a healthy sleep regime that prevents restlessness and distraction. You may be surprised how quickly quiet playtime or reading sessions can lead to restful naps.
Try To Use The Same Sleep Routine During The Day As At Night
Children often respond well to certain rituals, so keeping these consistent during day and night may help your child to fall asleep quicker. This could include reading a simple picture book or rocking your child before putting them down to sleep. If you lack consistency during the day and night, your child may feel disoriented and be resistant to the idea of sleep.