SILVER SPRING, Md, February 6, 2014 – To nap or not to nap, that is the question. And it is one that every parent must face eventually. If your toddler has any say in the matter, it will be no nap. Many parents arrive at the question about when to stop naps for little ones because of fights and tantrums over the mid-day sleep. While many a parent would kill for the implementation of the siesta, children see it as a hindrance to their fun. So what is a parent to do, and how do you decide when it is time to stop fighting and let the sleepless afternoon prevail?
At some point, every child stops napping. Really, to make it in the world, we are required to throw out the concept of a mid-day nap. Once your child hits all first grade, if not sooner in an all day pre-K or kindergarten, you will not have the option of putting your child in her bed after lunch for a bit of rest. The child will be going from lunch to recess, to story time or finger painting, or some other class. Schools do not have cots for children to lay on, and the children are expected to arrived well-rested and able to stay awake for the duration of the day.
So, if your child has been giving you a blissful hour or two of quiet everyday and is about to enter into school, the gig is probably up. Check with the school to see what their daily routine involves. Some all day preschools will have a nap time for younger students, but eventually your child will age out.
However, if your child is two or three and stays at home with a parent or a nanny, then she is still young enough for a nap without worrying about conflicting with others’ schedules. Just try to be consistent about the time of the nap, and try nap to schedule activities that are too close to the designated nap time.
Behavior is usually the biggest determining factor of whether it is wise to cut the nap or not. Some children get enough sleep during the night and have plenty of energy to make it through the day without needing a nap. However, other children can have problems that are signs of needing more sleep and that a nap is still needed. If a child is becoming temperamental towards the middle or end of the day, they are usually over-tired and need rest. A child who swears they do not need to sleep and then falls asleep sitting at the dinner table had not gotten enough sleep to make it through the day. Sometimes a child will even get more active to keep herself awake once she realizes she is getting sleepy. As a result, the hyperactivity that you are simply attributing to the “terrible twos” may actually be your little one’s attempt to stay awake. The same goes with tantrums, crying easily or for no apparent reason, or other bad behaviors, especially if they are not consistent or come on only later in the day.
Total hours of sleep
The American Academy of Pediatrics says that children ages 1 to 3 need 10-13 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period and children ages 3-10 need 10-12 hours of sleep. Therefore, if your child is a good sleeper who does not wake up in the middle of the night, she might not need a nap. However, if your little one is a restless sleeper, waking multiple times a night and calling for you, or just simply does not sleep long stretches overnight, then a nap might be crucial to reaching the correct amount of sleep that is healthy. That being said, the range of sleep is there because the amount of sleep needed is different for each child, and can go up or down for a given child on a day to day based on activity level and other factors. So, do not simply assume that your child is getting enough rest if they sleep 10 hours at night. Look for other signs as well. she might be someone who need 12 hours.
If you are spending more time fighting with your child trying to get them to nap than they actually spend sleeping, it may be time to throw in the towel. However, that does not mean you have to have your child under foot all day. To get a block of time to yourself mid-day, try implementing “quiet time” in place of a nap.
Rather than putting your child in bed and telling her she must sleep, try taking her either to her bedroom or a designated playroom. Tell her you need some time to get things done and that she does not have to sleep, she can play, but she must be quiet. Establish a system for your child to know when quiet time is over and it is alright to leave the designated area. You can set an alarm clock to the clock radio setting so music comes on when time is up. You can similarly put on a favorite CD of music to play in the background and when it stops it is time for bed. Some companies make lights that switch colors or go from a sun to moon at designated times. These are usually used to help children get used to the idea of sleeping longer periods at night, but can be used in this scenario as well. Or you can simply go get her when time is up.
Regardless of whether you want your child to never stop napping or you are just unsure when to call it quits, eventually your child will outgrow her need for a nap. Just remember, people, including adults, never outgrow their need for sleep. Make sure that you always have room in your child’s schedule for adequate sleep and you will have a more healthy, happy and focused child.