Naps. Us parents love them. It’s our chance to have a little breather during the day, to recharge our batteries and get ready for the next round. And for the little ones, naps are essential. Babies and young children need to get enough sleep in a 24 hour period for many reasons- to aid physical and mental development, to boost brain power, and to aid in rejuvenation and growth. So in honor of this much needed daily occurrence, here are 9 things you need to know about naps.
1. Naps are not just for babies and children.
Yes, we’ve all been given that gem of advice to sleep when the baby sleeps- and we all know that in reality that just isn’t going to happen often. But consider this. A sixty-minute nap can improve your alertness for up to ten hours. That’s ten whole hours more that you can keep going, on just one hour’s nap. An hour’s sleep will also help you to repair bones and muscles- essential for busy parents that are always on the go. Naps are also great for the heart, blood pressure, stress levels, and even weight management.
2. A baby’s first nap of the day is the most important.
If you have a good routine you will know roughly what time your baby is ready for that first sleep, so don’t be tempted to skip it or to cut it short if you can help it. The reason why this nap is so important is due to the fact that it can set the tone for the rest of the day, and often you can predict how things will go based on that nap alone. If baby sleeps well and is rested upon waking, you can assume your day is going to be fairly relaxed and if that nap is not so settled, you might be in for a rougher ride instead. This nap generally tends to be the best, most peaceful sleep that your baby will have all day.
3. Your child’s naps during the day can affect their sleep at night.
That saying about sleep breeding sleep is true. If your baby sleeps well during nap time, you will notice that they are more settled when it comes to bedtime, and able to fall asleep more easily too. An overtired baby can be cranky and unable to settle, thus resulting in poorer quality sleep. You’ll notice this happening if baby is unwell or teething and naps are affected temporarily. Even more reason to get that routine established!
4. Many babies still need two naps a day until at least 15-18 months of age.
There is a common belief that 12 months is generally the right time to drop the naps down to just one a day, but really it all depends on your individual child. A 12-month-old baby tends to need an awake period of no more than 3-4 hours so look out for sleep cues after that time.
5. Nap sleep is vastly different to night sleep.
If your baby sleeps well at night, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they will sleep well during the day too. There are many more external factors that can keep baby awake during the day- noises, day light, lack of routine, etc. It’s up to you to make sure that your nap routine is just as good as your bedtime routine so that you’re able to assist your baby in falling and staying asleep during the day.
6. Naps are best when they occur in a bed.
Yes, it is perfectly possible to allow your baby to sleep in the stroller or in the car, and when you are busy with other children to tend to or appointments that need keeping, there can be very little alternative. But naps that are taken in bed are always going to be better for your baby, so if you can reserve an hour or two for this purpose then do.
7. Older children need naps/ rest too.
Your child will start to ‘outgrow’ naps sooner or later, and by the age of around 3 lots will decide they no longer need a sleep during the day at all. That said, research has shown that children as old as four still need that extra sleep so if your child is still napping, it’s really not a problem. If your child isn’t napping however, rest time or down time is still just as important. Try to set aside quiet activities for this purpose, and watch out for signs of tiredness. A good bedtime routine is ever more important at this age too.
8. Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing.
Sometimes naps need monitoring to make sure that your child is not sleeping too much during the day. If you notice that morning wakings are getting earlier and earlier, it could be that nap lengths need adjusting a little.
9. Your baby’s sleep needs change with age.
And this means that naps will change too- so you need to be ready to adapt your routine accordingly, a child who naps twice a day will nap for an average of 3 hours a day, a child on one nap will nap for between 1 and 3 hours.
Rebecca Michi is a gentle sleep consultant who truly believes that some children need a feed during the night until they are 12 months old. She's not one to judge you on your parenting choices, instead she supports you as you help your child learn to sleep more independently. For more sleep tips, please visit her blog, follow her on Instagram, Twitter or Pinterest or connect with her on Facebook.