Are naps really to be recognized and celebrated with their own day? Yes! At Well Rested Baby we certainly think so. Naps not only ensure that parents can get time alone, catch up on household chores, answer emails, take a shower or cross things off the to do list; they also are not just to ensure that your little one doesn’t have a major melt down. Naps serve a true biological purpose and are critical to your child’s healthy growth and development. Additionally, sleep is cyclical so if you want you child to sleep well at night, adequate daytime sleep is crucial to his/her entering the night in a well-rested state.
For a young child naps should occur in sync with the child’s circadian rhythms, or biological clock. Our biological clock keeps our body in sync with cycles of day and night and is synchronized with the rising and setting of the sun. Napping is an important and natural part of our daily rhythms. Scientists have linked disruptions in our natural sleep rhythms to many health issues such as diabetes, obesity, depression and dementia. Therefore, respecting your child’s circadian rhythms is essential to healthy sleep and a healthy lifestyle. If we want our children to take long and lengthy naps then the bottom line is that they need to happen at the right time of the day.
Children’s brains are hardwired to sleep at certain times of the day (due to their body clock) and their bodies truly need that sleep. The morning nap which should start sometime between 8:30 and 9 AM is mentally restorative. The afternoon nap which should start between 12:30 and 1 PM is physically restorative. Before skipping one or both of these naps consider the implication on your child’s growing brain and body. (If your child is down to just one midday nap then it should start when nap two previously did-sometime between 12:30 and 1 PM.) In order for both of these naps to be considered a quality and restorative nap they need to be at least sixty minutes or more in duration. If you label your child as a constant “catnapper” then it’s likely due to learned expectations. Meaning, each time your child wakes after a catnap mom or dad goes in and takes him or her out of the crib- indicating that that sleep period is over. In order for a child to learn to extend nap time the child needs to be taught that a nap is at least a full hour. That means if your child is put down for a nap at 8:30 AM, falls asleep at 8:45, and wakes at 9:15 he/she needs to stay in the crib until it has been one full hour since falling asleep or, in that scenario, 9:45 AM. Once your child is down to one nap then the “hour rule” becomes the “90-minute rule” as that is how long their one naps needs to be in order to be considered restorative. You can choose whichever sleep training method works best for your family and one that you are comfortable with, but regardless of the method a child needs to be given the opportunity to extend naps. By teaching your child day after day that naps are an hour or longer they he/she will learn to consolidate sleep cycles and take naps at least that long.
If you’re hoping for long naps then they also need to happen at home, in a child’s crib where it is cool, dark, and quiet. Naps on the go are too distracting and are not conducive to lengthy naps. In addition, vibrations such as those felt in the stroller or in a car force the brain into a light state of sleep, therefore reducing the restorative power of the nap. By prioritizing naps and allowing your child the opportunity to take a long nap at the right time you’re ensuring that they get the daytime sleep that their growing body needs.
Here are the three take-aways:
1. Perfect Timing: The key to helping your child achieve their best nap is having the nap occur at the correct time of day by following your child’s biological clock. A one-hour nap at the correct biological time is more restful than a two-hour nap at the wrong time.
2. Insist on an Hour: In order for a nap to be effective, it must be an hour or more in duration. If your child wakes up before an hour has passed, try leaving him or her in the crib until the hour has elapsed.
3. Location, Location, Location: Babies and toddlers will achieve their very best sleep at home in their bassinet, crib, or bed. An occasional nap on-the-go is fine, but most naps should be taken in your child’s bed.
If you have no established nap schedule, you’ve been allowing catnaps to happen for a few too many months now, or your child has been napping “on the go” then seize the (national napping) day and vow to make naps a priority! Once you do you will see the benefit of quality naps that allow your child to be at his best and mom and dad to be at theirs as well. After all, there are some benefit for us parents us well!
Lauren Stauffer is a Family Sleep Institute certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant and owner of Well Rested Baby. She offers a host of services including in person, phone, email, and FaceTime consultations that can be tailored to meet any family’s needs and schedule. Please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a consultation. Be sure to follow WRB on Facebook for more great sleep tips!
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