Young children need more sleep than adults. Usually, they do not get enough sleep during the night and must also have naps during the day. The American Academy of Pediatrics offers recommendations for sleep including naps.
Babies need 14 to 18 hours of sleep out of every 24 hours. Newborns sleep most of the day and night, waking up to eat. As babies get closer to six months, they will be more likely to sleep most of the night and take naps once or twice during the day.
One year olds still need their 14 hours of sleep. Between one year to three years, they will usually cut back to a single nap. By age five, most kids are beginning to give up their nap and to need 11 to 12 hours of sleep each night.
Many five year olds still need a nap, but by first grade they can usually stop relying on nap time if their bedtime is early enough.
Nap time is important
Children need naps for the same reason all of us need sleep: this is the time when their bodies get rest and their brains get downtime needed for processing information. Our bodies do a lot of important rest and repair jobs while we sleep, and that’s true for babies as well.
How can you encourage naps?
Babies tend to fall asleep naturally. As they get older, they may resist napping even when they’re sleepy. Babies and toddlers often struggle to stay awake because they are having fun playing with siblings or just watching family members having fun.
Setting regular nap times can help. A pre-nap ritual can also help babies understand that it’s nap time. A diaper change followed by a story or a song can be your baby’s cue that it’s time to sleep. Napping in the same place can help develop the habit. A cool, dark room is more conducive to sleep. In short, the same good sleep habits that help with bedtime can also help with nap time.
Toddlers may resist not just by crying or keeping their eyes open, but by jumping out of bed or throwing a tantrum. Set the expectation that your child must stay in bed, but allow books or toys in the bed for quiet time.
If your child doesn’t fall asleep, quiet play or “reading” time can still be restful. It can also help you get some needed rest during the day.
No more naps?
Even children who strongly resist naps need a nap if they’re rubbing their eyes or getting cranky. Some toddlers resist napping until late in the day and then have trouble going to sleep at a regular bedtime. Try moving nap time to an earlier point in the day if your child is in this group. A nap right after lunch may be perfect for a young child who is ready to give up morning nap.
About half of kids give up naps entirely at age four, and 70 to 80 percent give up naps at age five. That leaves about 20% of kindergartners falling asleep on the bus ride home.
Your two or three year old almost certainly still needs a nap, though. Try a regular routine for nap time and nighttime bed time. Insist on quiet time in bed when it’s nap time; some children will get back into the habit of napping as they get into the routine.
However, keep in mind that each child is different. Just as some adults can easily take cat naps and others struggle to sleep even when they’re tired, children will give up their naps at different points in their development.