Parents can get downright cranky when their toddlers don’t nap. Let’s face it, nap time is a nice break from all that toddler energy, for both parent and child. More importantly, sleep time is important to a toddler’s overall health. In the first years of life, the body is growing rapidly and sleep is important for physical, cognitive, and emotional development. Unfortunately, nap time doesn’t always come easily.
“You can’t really make children sleep,” says Jason Coles, MD, “but you can provide them with an environment conducive to napping.”
Dr. Coles, a sleep specialist with Spectrum Health Medical Group and Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids, Mich., says that most children aged three and under need a daytime nap. Each child is different, but as a general guideline,
- infants need between 16 and 20 total hours of sleep every day, including frequent naps;
- babies six months to 12-months-old should sleep about 11 hours at night, plus two daytime naps; and
- toddlers require 10 to 13 hours of sleep, including an afternoon nap, but some young toddlers might still need two naps a day.
“The goal of the nap should be the equivalent of the total sleep cycle, which is 90 minutes,” says Coles. Sleeping too long may lead to problems at bedtime.
Most parents easily recognize the signs of too little sleep when their toddler yawns or falls asleep throughout the day. Children may also appear spaced out, cranky, and irritable. Tired kids may also resist tiredness by remaining active, Coles tells Care2. They may exhibit signs of hyperactivity and have behavioral problems.
7 Tips to Get Your Toddler to Nap
1. Create a sleep schedule with a specific bed time, wake up time, and nap time. Children thrive on consistency. Routine will help trigger your toddler’s natural body clock. Early afternoon is the best time for a nap.
2. Go easy on sugar and carbohydrates, and don’t allow drinks containing caffeine. Allow some time between lunch and nap.
3. Don’t use too many blankets — it’s harder to sleep when you’re overheated.
4. Allow a stuffed animal, favorite doll, or other comfort item.
5. Create a calming atmosphere: turn off lights, close window shades, turn off the TV. Play quiet, gentle music in the background.
6. Try a gentle back rub if your toddler is restless.
7. Schedule quiet activities for older children in the home during nap time.
Even if your child doesn’t actually sleep, 30 minutes of rest may help them (and you) to feel better. Just make sure you give them the opportunity to rest quietly in bed.
At a certain point, your child will outgrow the need for naps. For most kids, that’s around age five. “If a school-age child still requires naps or frequently falls asleep in car rides despite getting the recommended sleep at night, parents should let their family doctor know,” advises Coles. “This can be a sign of sleep apnea or another disorder.”
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