I’m confused about naps. Most of your posts say that naps are vital and that kids who don’t nap have problems sleeping at night. But my 2-year-old actually sleeps better at night when he doesn’t nap, or takes a very short nap. We were doing fine with that routine, but then I began to worry that I was hurting him somehow by not letting him nap as much as he wants. Now he’s napping more, but we’re back to nighttime sleep problems (lots of wakings, early wakeups, etc.). Is it OK to limit a child’s naps if they actually sleep better without them?
Naps are vitally important babies (and the vast majority of toddlers). They help him rest and process new information, and are important to his growth and overall health. Appropriate naps help prevent overtiredness and promote restful sleep at night.
But it’s vital to understand the goal of naps: naps should get your child through the day until bedtime without becoming overtired. Naps should not replace night sleep. The National Sleep Foundation reports a link between longer nap times and shorter night sleep.
It’s important not to impose a generic nap schedule on your child. Just because your sister’s baby naps for half the day doesn’t mean that your baby will (or should). It’s even more important not to encourage or allow overly long naps that rob night sleep. Lengthy daytime naps longer than three hours can rob night sleep and set up a vicious cycle of poor night sleep that leads to daytime sleepiness and more excessively long naps.
Something to consider:your son may need less sleep overall than other kids his age—so by allowing him to take extra-long naps, you’re setting the stage for nighttime sleep troubles. In his case, a short nap may be just what he needs to power through the rest of his day. Institute a "quiet time" to give him the opportunity to take a brief nap each day; if he doens't sleep, you'll know that you gave him a chance to do so.
- If your child is struggling to sleep through the night, examine his nap lengths. Naps should be long enough to be restorative, and no longer.
- In general, avoid naps longer than two-and-a-half hours. But don’t use two-and-a-half hours as your guideline; this nap length may be far too long for some children, and lead to too much daytime sleep and nighttime sleep problems.
- For babies taking multiple naps, one to one-and-a-half hours per nap may be plenty.
- For older toddlers and children taking one nap, two hours of sleep per nap may be enough. For some, one hour or even 30 to 45 minutes may be plenty. The point is, there’s no “perfect” nap length that works for everyone.
- Arriving at an appropriate nap schedule may take some trial and error. Expect shifts in your child’s nap needs as his night sleep improves.
- As your child becomes better-rested, he will probably go down for naps much more easily.
- As night sleep improves, napping patterns will naturally regulate, with longer naps some days, shorter naps other days. Some babies and young children take shorter naps after they begin sleeping through the night. Expect this, and do not try to force longer naps on a child who is sleeping well at night; this will backfire. A child who sleeps solidly though the night will be more likely to find his own perfect nap length, naturally.
Good to know: A child who is overtired will probably be grumpy when you wake him from a nap. This is very common, and it does not mean that you were wrong to wake him. On the contrary—you need to wake him from an overly long nap in order to protect his bedtime and his nighttime rest. Correct his overtiredness with an extra-early bedtime instead of a longer nap.