Recent research suggests that children over two years old not only do not require a nap during the day, but it may actually cause them to suffer from poorer sleep quality.
No more naps, you say?
As a mum of two exceptional sleepers I try not to be smug when it comes to sleep issues. My first born dropped his naps at two and a half years old and my second gave up on them at around 18 months. I never enforced nap times on them, I just let them sleep when they wanted to. BUT … and this is a big booty-sized but … I was enjoying at least 10 hours of uninterrupted toddler slumber most nights. If I was being subjected to middle of the night sleep disturbance, early wake-up calls, and toddlers getting out of bed over and over again with flimsy excuses, I know that I would be enforcing those daytime naps for just a touch of sanity!
So yeah, I get it. I get why a lot of parents will be scoffing at the mere notion that their two or three or even four year old who’s verging on a meltdown because they’re just too darn tired to make it through the mid-afternoon slump shouldn’t have a quick catnap! Heck, my teenager had a nap on the couch after two days back at school this summer!
Also, sometimes, parents REALLY need some downtime! And sometimes, WE also need a flippin’ nap!
Here’s the science
But research and science and all that jazz tells us otherwise, so here’s the crux of it.
A study published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood n 2015, looked at the effects of napping on childhood development and health. They took data from over two dozen studies that anlaysed napping in kids aged up to five years old. Their conclusion was that for children aged two and over, napping could be associated with a) a delay in getting to sleep at night b) reduced sleep quality and c) less time sleeping through the night.
The effect that napping after age two had on behaviour, cognition and health was not clear and required more study.
Parents have been encouraged to give children daytime naps in order to help ‘recharge’ the batteries, so to speak. It also aids in kids getting a good amount of sleep in a 24 hour period. However, children start getting most of their sleep at night by the age of two years old.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, humans are ‘monophasic sleepers’. In other words, our day has two distinct periods – day for being awake and night for sleep. However, over 85% of mammals are polyphasic sleepers – one look at your cat lazing on the couch for their fifth nap of the day perfectly explains that one. They sleep for short periods throughout the day or night.
The best naps
The National Sleep Foundation (I bet they have scheduled nap breaks), recommends a short 10 to 20 minute nap, with 10 minutes being ideal to alleviate sleepiness and improve performance. Napping longer than half an hour can lead to sleep inertia – that feeling of disorientation after waking up from a deep sleep and not knowing what day it is, or who you are, or why you’re suddenly hungry.
Should my child nap?
By all means consider the research, but deciding whether or not your child needs a nap is not something you can put a definitive age on. It is down to parental preference, the individual circumstances, whether they will keep you up half the night if they do nap, or if they are about to turn batshit crazy without one. Every kid is different and you know your child best, so go with the flow and determine what works best for your own family. But remember that their nap patterns will change, so don’t be disappointed if your perfect routine gets thrown out the window before you’re ready for it.
What is your experience with nap times for toddlers and preschoolers?
Written by Julie Scanlon
Julie is Editor for Kidspot NZ and our MVP. Her hobbies include laughing uncontrollably at her own jokes, annoying her family by asking questions about movie plots, and never taking anything too seriously. She speaks a little Spanish and a lot of Yorkshire.
Favourite motto to live by: “It ain’t nothing but a thing”