All good things must come to an end, even (sigh), your child’s daily nap. Not only is nap-time a necessity for babies and toddlers, it provides a much needed reprieve for parents and caregivers, an opportunity to re-charge and re-boot. It can be tough to navigate the change from nap to none. Experts suggest naps should continue as long as needed, there is no magic age when kids stop napping, ranging from 3-7 years old! To identify the signs that your child may be ready to stop napping, read on.
Sleep Is Essential to a Child’s Growth and Development
While sleep needs can vary from child to child, on average, a 1-3 year old will sleep about 12-14 hours per day, and a 3-6 year old will sleep about 10 hours per day, with children giving up the nap altogether by age 5-7, outlines Dr. Robert Salzman, a retired Toledo-area pediatrician with over 35 years experience. “If you think of our bodies as a machine, sleep makes sense. You don’t run a machine without any down time… it breaks down. Our bodies are an exceptional machine that need down time as well. Energy that we take in as food is used for activities during wake times, but we also need energy for growth during sleep, not just linear growth of height and weight, but brain growth also… Sleep is as much a mandatory part of our daily life cycle as wake periods are.”
If young children are not getting the requisite 12-14 hours per day, their growth and development is slowed. “Naps are critically important to the developing brain to recharge circuitry after the intense learning that occurs during wakefulness,” adds Dr. Marianne Black of Franklin Park Pediatrics in Toledo. “Naps are not just a good idea in the early years but they are a necessity as sleep pressure (the need to sleep) builds up. Sleep is the only cure to restore normal function to the brain.”
Dr. Marianne Black advocates the importance of a nap for young children.
Be Flexible with an Earlier Bedtime to Protect Sleep Needs
By the time children are 18 months, they will be down to one nap a day, and in the majority of children, that nap disappears between age 3-4 (about 20% of children still take a daily nap at age 5). Dr. Black advises, Children give clear cues which indicate a nap may no longer be needed, such as staying alert longer without seeming tired or cranky into the evening, and difficulty falling asleep at bedtime when a nap is taken.
Use the “Sleep Begets Sleep” concept to your advantage, while it sounds counter-intuitive, it holds true for babies and toddlers. If your child is napping but tires before normal bedtime, let them go to bed earlier until their body is ready to function on less sleep. Keeping a child up longer at night in hopes they will sleep later the next day is futile; they will wake up at their normal time (or earlier).
Quiet Time Provides a Break for Parent and Child
The end of the nap is a wonderful opportunity to teach your child to master the life skill of down time. “A quiet time alone is encouraged even if no sleep time occurs… the child could lie on the bed and read books or listen to music or quiet pretend play. The American Academy of Pediatrics and pediatricians alike recommend NO technology, screen time, nor TV in a child’s sleep space; it is too distracting and not restful or beneficial. The need to be alone with their thoughts is a very good idea,” Dr. Black urges.
Letting your child learn to fall asleep on their own is also important. “It is highly discouraged for a parent to lie with the child to get them to sleep at nap or bedtime. It is a healthy separation for both child and parent.”
As children get older and the need for napping diminishes, it is tempting to fill up their days with activities, but it’s just as important to promote quiet down time. Even a quiet hour, unplugged, with no commitments, will benefit your child (and you) immensely.