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Naps: What’s Right for Your Child?

Posted on Feb 1, 2016

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Nap: these three letters together sound very sweet to most parents. “These daytime shut-eye sessions let your child process the learning and growth he or she is experiencing during the day and provide an important opportunity to rest and recuperate,” says Audrey Hall, M.D., a pediatrician at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation. Naps also ensure that your child doesn’t get overtired and cranky, and give parents chance to recharge their batteries, too. To determine your child’s optimal nap schedule, Dr. Hall offers these helpful tips.

What does a child’s typical nap schedule look like?

While each child is unique, here are some general guidelines by age.

  • Newborn babies sleep 16 to 20 hours a day, in two to three hour spurts. Around four months, sleep patterns become more established, which is when parents can generally start sleep training.
  • From four months to a year, babies typically sleep 14 to 15 hours with three naps a day. By age six to nine months, most babies drop the third nap and settle into a routine of one morning and one afternoon nap. Each nap can last anywhere from 45 minutes to two hours.
  • Somewhere between 15 months and two years your toddler will usually give up the morning nap. He will sleep about 14 hours a night with a one to two hour nap in the afternoon.
  • Around age three or four, your child will sleep about 10 to 12 hours a night and start transitioning out of needing an afternoon nap.
  • School-age children require about 10 to 12 hours of night-time sleep.

How can I tell if my child is ready for a nap and what’s the best way to help him take one?

Look for cues from your child. Young babies will start fussing, rubbing their eyes and yawning. Toddlers will be more cranky and may keep zoning out. Follow these tips for successful naps:

  • Have a consistent schedule: whenever possible, stick to naps at the same time of day, in the same place and duration. Young children do best when they have a familiar routine.
  • Don’t wait until your child is overtired: put your child down for a nap when he is drowsy but still awake so he learns how to fall asleep by himself. If he is overtired, he will have a much harder time settling down.
  • Create the right environment: dim the lights, sing a soothing song or read a quiet book together.
  • Let him settle: If your child is making some noise, don’t immediately rush into his room. Many children chatter or talk a little as they are settling themselves down to sleep.
  • Don’t make it a battle: It can be challenge to get a busy toddler to settle down for a nap and you can’t force your child to sleep. Instead, establish some quiet time where your child can look at books or play quietly in his room. He will benefit from the downtime – and may even fall asleep!

How will I know if my child is ready to give up her nap?

If you put your child down for a nap and she stays awake playing happily, she may no longer need that nap. If your child is cranky and irritable without a nap, she probably still needs one.

My child’s nap is now very late in the day. Should I still let her nap at this time?

A nap very late in the day may interfere with getting your child to settle down at bedtime. If your child is sleeping longer than two hours, try waking her up sooner, or gradually moving her naptime to an earlier time. Once your child is no longer napping during the day, she may need an earlier bedtime to ensure she gets the sleep she needs.

Hall-Audrey-2013-webAudrey Hall, M.D. is a board-certified pediatrician at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation