Got a cranky baby on your hands? Most parents and caregivers who have experience will tell you that skipping your child’s naps (or any irregular nap schedule) is a recipe for irritability, feeding problems, meltdowns, and even poor-quality sleep at night.
But what you may not know is that naps also play an important role in your child’s physical and emotional development. Sleep helps form connections in their brain, and improves their mood, concentration, memory, and immunity. Children who don’t nap well are often more irritable and fussy. They are prone to poor attention spans and tantrums. Plus, if your child doesn’t nap well, that means less time for you to have a break and accomplish your own tasks.
Figuring out daytime naps can be an exhausting task in itself. Here’s a little info on the importance of naps, common nap schedules, and how to nap train a baby.
To ensure your child naps and gets the amount of sleep they need, it’s important to start a sleep schedule at a young age and be as consistent as possible with it. A sleep schedule and routine will assist in calming your child down and helping them fall asleep faster.
The key to a napping baby is a good baby nap routine. With infants, watch for cues like fussing and rubbing eyes, then put your baby to bed while sleepy but not yet asleep. This teaches your child how to fall asleep themselves, which is a self-soothing skill that gets even more important as they get older.
When it comes to the daytime nap training routine, you’ll find it is helpful to continue using whatever sleep training techniques you’re using at night (maybe an abbreviated version). A bedtime story, soft music or white noise, and a Woolino sleep bag can help ease the transition to sleep and become a source of comfort for your child.
Don’t overdress your child for sleep. Bedroom temperature should be on the cool side. Woolino merino wool sleep bags help to regulate baby’s temperature and keep them cozy, and also come with a room thermometer tag to give sleepwear suggestions based on the nursery temp.
Try not to give in or slack off with your sleep training for naps. Be consistent with your schedule and routine. You’ll reap the results.
Sleep & brain development - Helps infants' memory development
Sleep is as important as food for children because it dictates whether a child’s brain will be able to develop and function properly in the future. Getting enough sleep is also important to a child’s mental development. Children who do not get enough sleep may have a more difficult time focusing or managing their moods. Making sure your child is well rested not only helps them concentrate and learn new things, but it also supports the brain to take in information and actually retain it.
Getting good sleep helps the brain increase brain tissue, as well as alter brain circuits known as synapses. The most crucial period for these brain changes is during the first three years of life. Due to their rapid growth and development in such a small period of time, sleep is vital to a young child’s health. Sleep studies show that if a child is sleep deprived they may not develop and learn to their full potential and also their physical health could be compromised too.
Your child also needs healthy sleep because deep sleep boosts growth. Numerous studies show a relationship between poor sleep and deficient levels of GH (the growth hormone). The growth hormone is secreted most effectively during deep sleep. And so, it is important to ensure children get the correct amount of sleep to ensure their development isn’t affected.
Sleep Needs by Age
For newborns, sleep occurs around the clock. Most newborns don’t have definite day and night sleep patterns. They’re still learning to tell the difference between day and night.
Newborns generally sleep for 16-20 hours in a 24-hour period, with periods of one to three hours spent awake to be fed. They need to be fed often because they have tiny tummies.
You’ll want to follow your newborn’s lead in terms of when your baby wants to sleep. Over the first 12 weeks most newborns will start to develop day and night sleep patterns.
By three months, babies are averaging 14-15 hours of sleep in each 24-hour period. Three month old babies can start to learn to fall asleep on their own, including for naps. By this age, a more predictable sleep/wake cycle should be developing. Babies should be napping 3-4 times a day, usually after about two hours of being awake.
By four to five months, babies should be napping 3 times a day and can be awake for two hours before their first nap and two and a half hours before their second and third nap.
Having a short baby nap routine in place by this age can help cue to your infant that sleepy time is coming. A routine can be five to 10 minutes long and may include a feed (if needed), diaper change, a song or story, and dressing in a Woolino sleep bag.
Infants continue to need three naps a day until six to nine months of age. Many six-month-olds are ready to sleep after two to two and a half hours of being awake if they are having three naps a day, and after two and a half to three hours if they are napping twice a day.
Usually by seven or eight months of age, the late afternoon nap is dropped and bedtime is moved earlier.
Toddlers need about 11-14 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period. Most babies have naps twice a day until around 18 months. When they reach about 18 months of age their nap times will decrease to once a day lasting about 1-3 hours. With a one-nap-a-day schedule, naptime should occur after lunch around the midday mark, and bedtime can be moved earlier. Naps should not occur too close to bedtime as they may delay sleep at night. Over time, the nap is moved later (to 1:30 p.m. by two years of age) and bedtime is adjusted later as needed.
Note: It is important that toddlers are falling asleep independently for all of their sleep periods.
Napping numbers by age
How many naps should a child get? There's no one rule about how much daytime sleep kids need. It depends on their age, the child, and the sleep total during a 24-hour period. Some children will need more sleep at night and take short naps throughout the day while others may sleep a bit less throughout the night and take substantial naps throughout the day. Awake time varies, but is typically between 45 minutes and two hours.
Although every child is different, the following guidelines are a good place to start:
Remember that daytime naps are just as important as night sleep. Naps benefit children by not allowing them to become overtired. Once a child becomes overtired, their moods can be affected and they may have a harder time trying to fall asleep at night. DO NOT skip naps with the intent that your child will be sleepier at bedtime. It will only backfire.
Nap training tips for babies
Sleep Tips for Newborns
Observe baby's sleep patterns and identify signs of sleepiness. Put baby in the crib when drowsy, not asleep. Place baby to sleep on his/her back with face and head clear of blankets and other soft items. Use a Woolino swaddle or sleep bag for security, comfort, and temperature regulation. Encourage nighttime sleep and differentiate between night and day.
Sleep Tips for Infants
Develop regular daytime and bedtime schedules. Create a consistent and enjoyable bedtime routine. Establish a regular "sleep friendly" environment that is dark, cool, and quiet. Encourage baby to fall asleep independently.
Sleep Tips For Toddlers
Maintain a daily sleep schedule and consistent bedtime routine. Make the bedroom environment the same every day and throughout the night. Set limits that are consistent, communicated, and enforced. Encourage use of a security object such as a blanket, baby sleep bag, or stuffed animal.
Watch for signs of a lack of sleep
Ask yourself: does my child act sleepy during the day? Does my child get cranky and irritable in the late afternoon? Is it a battle to get my child out of bed in the morning? Is my child impatient, hyperactive, or aggressive? Does my child have trouble focusing on tasks?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, consider adjusting your child's sleep or nap schedule. It may take several weeks to find a routine that works. Talk to your doctor if you have concerns about your child's sleep.
To recap, why are naps important?
Naps provide much-needed downtime that supports the important physical and mental development that happens in early childhood. They help keep kids from becoming overtired, which can affect their moods and make it harder for them to fall asleep at night. They even give parents a break during the day and time to tackle household chores or just unwind. Don’t neglect nap time. . . you’ll be thankful you didn’t.