The Importance of Naps
Nap. It's a small word, but for many parents it's one of
the most important in their vocabulary. A good nap often means the
difference between a pleasant afternoon and one to forget. It also
can help a child make an easy transition to bedtime.
What makes napping so important? Sleep is a major requirement
for good health, and for young children to get enough of it, some
amount of daytime sleep is usually necessary. With physical and
mental development at an all-time high in early childhood, naps
provide the body with much-needed downtime for growth and
Naps also help keep kids from becoming overtired, a state that
not only takes a toll on their moods but may also make it harder
for them to fall asleep at night. And naptime gives parents a brief
oasis during the day - some time to tackle household chores or just
Sleep Needs, Age-by-Age
Unfortunately, there's no one-size-fits-all answer when it comes
to how much daytime sleep a child needs. It all depends on the age,
the child, and the total amount of sleep he or she gets in a
24-hour period. For example, one toddler may sleep 13 hours at
night with only some daytime catnapping, while another gets 9 hours
at night but takes a solid 2-hour nap each afternoon. Though sleep
needs are highly individual, the following age-by-age guidelines
give an idea of average daily sleep requirements:
Birth to 6 months:
Infants require about 16 to 20 total hours of sleep per day.
Younger infants tend to sleep on and off around the clock, waking
every 2 or 3 hours to eat. As they approach 4 months of
age, sleep rhythms become more established. Most babies sleep
10 to 12 hours at night, usually with an interruption for feeding,
and average 3 to 5 hours of sleep during the day (typically grouped
into two or three naps).
6 to 12 months:
Babies this age usually sleep about 11 hours at night, plus two
daytime naps totaling 3 to 4 hours. At this age, most infants do
not need to wake at night to feed, but may begin to experience
separation anxiety, which can contribute to sleep disturbances.
Toddlers (1 to 3 years):
Toddlers generally require 10 to 13 hours of sleep, including an
afternoon nap of 1 to 3 hours. Young toddlers may still be taking
two naps, but naps should not occur too close to bedtime, as they
may make it harder for your child to fall asleep at night.
Preschoolers (3 to 5 years):
Preschoolers average about 10 to 12 hours at night, plus an
afternoon nap. Most give up this nap by 5 years of age.
School-age (5 to 12 years):
School-age children need about 10 to 12 hours at night. Some
5-year-olds may still need a nap. If a regular nap isn't possible,
the child might need an earlier bedtime.
Most parents underestimate the amount of sleep their child
needs, so be sure to watch your child's behavior for signs of
insufficient sleep. Signs of sleep deprivation can range from
the obvious - like fatigue - to more subtle problems with
behavior and schoolwork.
- Does my child act sleepy during the day?
- Does my child get cranky and irritable in the late
- Is it a battle to get my child out of bed in the
- Is my child inattentive, impatient, hyperactive, or
- Does my child have trouble focusing on schoolwork and other
If you answered yes to any of these questions, consider
adjusting your child's sleep or nap schedule. Remember that it may
take several weeks to find a routine that ensures your child gets
the rest he or she needs. Talk to your doctor if you have concerns
about your child's sleep.
Naptime Routines and Other Concerns
The key to good napping can be as simple as setting up a good
nap routine early in your child's life - and sticking to it. With
infants, watch for cues like fussing and rubbing eyes, then put
your baby to bed while sleepy but not yet asleep. This teaches kids
how to fall asleep themselves - a skill that only becomes more
important as they get older. Soft music, dim lights, or a quiet
story or rhyme at bedtime may also help ease the transition to
sleep and become a source of comfort for your child.
For toddlers and preschoolers, sticking to a naptime schedule
can be more challenging. Though many do still love their nap,
others don't want to miss out on a minute of the action and will
fight sleep even as their eyes are closing. With these children,
let common sense prevail. Don't let naptime become a battle - you
can't force your child to sleep, but you can insist on some quiet
time. Let your child read books or play quietly in his or her room.
Parents are often surprised by how quickly quiet time can lead to
sleep time - but even if it doesn't, at least your child is
getting some much-needed rest. If your child has given up daytime
naps, consider adjusting to an earlier bedtime.
Many parents worry that naptime will interfere with their
child's bedtime (and if a child takes a late-afternoon nap, this
may well be the case). But before you banish the nap entirely in an
effort to wear out your child by nightfall, consider this:
Well-rested kids are quicker to settle down at night than
overtired ones. Overtired children are often "wired" and
restless, unable to self-soothe at bedtime, and more likely to wake
through the night.
If you feel your child's late naptime is the cause of bedtime
grief, you might try making the nap a little bit earlier, which may
mean waking your child a little earlier in the morning so the nap
can begin sooner.
You might also try waking your child from a nap earlier than
usual so he or she has a longer active period before bedtime. In
other words, try to make some adjustments before abandoning the nap
- both you and your child will feel much better if there
Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: April 2006
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice,
diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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