The power of 40 winks

Naptime can be a nightmare for parents, but it’s vitally important that your child gets enough daytime sleep. How can we ensure they meet their quota and how do we know when it’s time to drop a nap? Our sleep expert talks us through the signs and the power of 40 winks.

If only all babies came with a pre-programmed napping guide, then I’m sure a lot more parents would be less stressed and hung up about this touchy subject. There is nothing worse than hearing that your friend’s baby sleeps for three hours every day and that she uses that time to get the evening meal prepared. It all seems so unfair!

We know the importance of sleep and the big role it plays in our child’s wellbeing. Here are a few important benefits to daytime naps. Your child will:

1   generally sleep better at night

2   have an improved appetite, particularly just after a nap

3   be more emotionally stable

4   lock in positive sleep associations for the evening routine

5   have an improved concentration span and be more settled at a given task

6   be a much happier, less clingy and less anxious child

Bonus: it provides a much-needed break for you, and a chance to recharge your batteries.

so how much sleep do babies really need?

Here are the *average daytime nap requirements for babies and toddlers:

AgeFrequencyTotal
0–8 weeks3–4 naps every 2 hours5–6 hours
3–6 months3 naps every 3–4 hours3–4 hours
6–12 months2 naps every 3–4 hours2½–3 hours
12–18 monthsDown to 1 nap per day2½ hours
18–24 months1 nap usually taken after lunch2 hours
2–2½ yearsMay not sleep every day1–1½ hours
2½–3yearsMost children have stopped0–1 hour

*These are based on average amounts only and your child’s hours may vary depending on external factors. For example: doing the school run, day care routines.

Babies and toddlers who are deprived of good daytime sleep tend to be more clingy, sensitive and anxious. This is because most of your child’s daytime sleep is made up of REM (dream) sleep which plays a huge part in restoring emotional wellbeing.

A recent study carried out in Colorado, US, studied a group of nap-deprived, but otherwise healthy, toddlers and found that they exhibited more anxiety, less joy, a decreased ability to solve problems and were generally harder to settle for bed in the evenings.

getting it right

The key to successful naps is getting the timing right and looking for those clear indicators that it’s time for sleep. Here are a few signs to look for:

For young babies

  • jerky hand and leg movements
  • rubbing eyes or rubbing head against a surface, often mum’s shoulder or play mat
  • displaying a fussy irritable cry
  • turning their head away from stimulation (for example, cot mobile or baby gym)

For toddlers

  • becoming irritable and distressed during play
  • pulling at ears, rubbing head against a surface
  • easily stumbles, falls when walking
  • becomes clingy and tearful easily
  • loses focus quickly with given task

When you see any of these clear indicators that your child is ready for sleep, pounce on the opportunity. (If you miss these signs or don’t act on them, your child may become overtired and resist sleep altogether.)

Introduce a little nap routine that involves a quiet time in her darkened room with a cuddle and a story, and pop some gentle white noise on, this will help to lock in positive sleep triggers. (Check out the free white noise Apps that are available to download.)

You may wish to stay with your child at first until she settles, then once your child has picked up on the nap routine, she may be happy to start napping on her own.

dropping from two naps to one

Most babies will need two naps per day up until around 12–14 months, and by then you will start to notice signs that your child is less ready for sleep, such as remaining revved up around nap time; spending the time playing in her cot, chatting to herself or even calling out; or even not being tired enough at bedtime. These are some of the signs that it’s time to drop one of the day sleeps (usually the morning nap). Unfortunately, this transition period can be tricky and for the first few weeks your child may become cranky and fussy as she struggles to stay awake at the end of the day.

You may need to make lunchtime earlier if she struggles to stay awake for the entire morning. Or, if she seems completely shattered in the late afternoon, just bring dinner and bedtime forward for the first week or so to give her time to adjust.

cutting it out

Most children around the age of 2½ are ready to give up their daytime sleep, and in some cases it can be as early as 2-years. A sure sign that your child is ready is when bedtime becomes a battleground; your child shows no sign of tiredness; she take ages to fall asleep and bedtime seems to get later and later.

On the other hand, a continued daytime nap might affect the other end of the night’s sleep where the following morning wake-ups get earlier and earlier. What happens in this situation is that the day nap acts as a back-up measure and compensates for the early start. Until you break this habit, she will continue to wake early.

However you decide to drop the day nap, the transition can be quite shaky at first and your child may struggle to adjust. Avoid going ‘cold turkey’; instead adopt a more gradual approach, allowing  your child to nap every other day to start with, until it becomes just once or twice a week.

If your child becomes unbearable in the afternoon, a short power snooze of no longer than 30-minutes should be enough to see her through till bedtime. Avoid at all costs allowing your child to nap after 4pm as she will crash into a deep sleep, be difficult to wake and it will undoubtedly affect the success of bedtime.

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