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How important are naps for babies and toddlers?

Babies and toddlers require a great deal of sleep. Skipping naps or disrupting the schedule can lead to crankiness, issues with meals, meltdowns, and a restless night. If you’ve never heard of the circadian and homeostatic process, they are the two biological sleep regulators. The circadian process transmits stimulatory indicators based on light and dark. The homeostatic process is the drive to sleep that is based on how long we’ve been awake.

Kids can’t tolerate the same duration of wakefulness as adults. While newborns remain awake for only brief periods, the time gradually increases over those early years. At around age five, most children no longer require a daytime nap. According to research, babies and toddlers who nap outperform those who don’t when it comes to memory, language development, and other cognitive functions. We can all agree a well-rested child tends to be happier!

A good nap even promotes better sleep at night. While napping too late in the day or for too long can be counterproductive, when a child is overtired, there’s a spike in the release of the stress hormone cortisol. They feel energized and have difficulty falling and staying asleep. In other words, the better rested your child is, the better they will sleep at night.

Here are some nap guidelines:

  • Newborns to three months – Frequency and duration of naps vary from very short to long naps. While you’d like your baby to fall asleep on their own, if crying goes on for longer than several minutes, pick your baby up. Feeding, holding, and rocking your baby helps to soothe. You can try again after the next wake period, which usually lasts between one to two hours.
  • Three to twelve months – At this age, babies are learning to fall asleep on their own. They are following a more consistent sleep/wake pattern. While a three month old will typically nap three to four times per day, by four to five months, they are napping three times a day and staying awake for two or more hours in-between. By about seven or eight months, the late afternoon nap is replaced by an earlier bedtime.
  • One to three years – At this age, toddlers are falling asleep independently and naps can be one and a half to three hours long. Figure on two naps per day up until around eighteen months. When your child is resistant to a second nap after remaining awake for three to four hours, you should consider eliminating the second nap. The single nap per day should be scheduled after lunch and bedtime can be earlier. As the nap moves gradually toward midday, bedtime can be adjusted accordingly.
  • Three to five years – Between ages three and four years, the final nap is usually dropped. It can interfere with falling asleep at a reasonable time at night. Naps should be limited to an hour. When the nap is eliminated, bedtime should be earlier, typically around 7:00 PM to assure sufficient sleep. Eleven to twelve hours of sleep at night is ideal.