Preschoolers: Naps or Rest Time?
I have some bad news: someday your child will no longer need a nap. I know – boo, hiss! Horror of horrors! Is this the end of what little free time you had? How will your little angel remain an angel all the way to bedtime with no nap? The good news is (and yes there is some) they will still be in need of some alone, quiet time and with the lack of that nap, bedtime will need to be earlier (buying you some extra “you” time and insuring your child is still their lovable self when you tuck them in). So how do you know when you child is ready for a “rest time” in lieu of a nap? And how on earth are you going to get him to agree to play quietly in his room for an hour? Read on my friends…
First, lets look at some statistics thanks to our favorite sleep guy Dr. Marc Weissbluth:
- At age 4 years, 57% of children are napping one nap/day about 5 naps/week.
- At 36 months of age, 92% of children are napping one nap/day. 80% of children who nap are napping between 1.5-2.5 hours.
- Dr. Weissbluth further explains that napping is less influenced by genetics than parenting practices.
So what does that mean? It means that those children who are napping may be kids who need more sleep, but they definitely have parents who have decided that napping is still important and have made it a part of the everyday routine.
Next, recent research shows that naps provide preschoolers with powerful ammunition to be at their best both emotionally and intellectually.
- For example, this study from the University of Colorado Boulder measured the sleep patterns of children aged two to three-and-a-half and found that for toddlers “missing even a single nap causes them to be less positive, more negative and have decreased cognitive engagement.” The study’s author, Assistant Professor Monique LeBourgeois, further explains “This study shows insufficient sleep in the form of missing a nap taxes the way toddlers express different feelings, and, over time, may shape their developing emotional brains and put them at risk for lifelong, mood-related problems.”
- Researchers at the University of Massachusetts found that naptime for preschoolers allows them to better process and remember the information they learn in school. One group of students napped after a memory game while the other group was kept awake following the game. The children who slept approximately 77 minutes were able to remember 75% of what they learned – a full 10% more than the children who did not nap.
Before you decide that your child no longer needs a mid-day snooze, make sure you have exhausted all attempts at them taking one.
Give it To Me Straight
If your two-year-old is going through naptime woes, it is NOT because he is ready to drop his nap. He is either going through a behavioral or developmental period or his schedule has slipped too late. The best thing you can do is to make sure naptime is at the correct time and then stick with your usual routine and do not change anything. Do not allow him to break any rules or push the boundaries, as two year olds tend to do. In short, stick to your guns and the nap will come back. If your child is 3 or older keep reading.
Experiencing Nap Time Resistance From Your 3 or 4 Year Old?
Before you decide that your child is part of the minority who no longer needs to nap, follow these steps:
- Make sure naptime is starting by 1pm (the biological time when their body will have the easiest time falling asleep and can achieve the most restorative sleep) and leave your child for a full hour (or more) to give them a chance to fall asleep. If possible, even try moving the start of naptime to 12:30 to insure that they are not declining their nap because they are overtired and have caught a second wind. There may be some days your child naps, and some days that they do not. Remember – your job is set the routine and offer the nap at the correct time each day, but that is all you can do. The rest is up to them. Having naptime in place will ensure that they can get all of the sleep they need.
- Speak with your child about the importance of sleep and all it does for our bodies. Explain how it makes us feel great and that when we get the sleep we need, we have the energy to do the things we enjoy like going to the park, dancing, or soccer. There are some great books out there geared towards preschoolers that talk on their level about the importance of sleep – definitely worthy of a read together.
- If your child’s nap resistance seems to be more behavioral, it is likely because he is pushing for the autonomy that may preschoolers crave. Instead of calling it “nap-time”, call it “rest-time” and let them choose if they want to sleep or not. Say, “you can play quietly, read a book, or sleep, but you must stay in your room and rest”. Often times if you give them power by giving them an option – they choose to sleep! Conversely, if you say, “its naptime, you need to sleep” they won’t because you told them to.
- I often hear, “my child still naps every day at daycare or school, but will not nap at home”. Can you guess why? At school there is a consistent routine and there are rules that must be followed. If you make sure your child is offered his nap every day at the same time, given a consistent pre-nap routine and he understands he is expected to stay in his bed for an hour, odds are he will also nap at home.
Rest Time It Is
You’ve done everything listed above to keep a nap and promote good sleep hygiene and your child still isn’t napping. Now what? If your child is 3.5-4 years old, don’t sweat it. While we would like them to nap so they can be at their best, as long as they have some down time and an early enough bedtime, they will be just fine.
- Rest and Renew – Even if they do not need the sleep, they still need some down time to recharge – so insist on a daily rest time ritual. Rest time should be given at the same time that naptime occurred around the 1pm hour. Your child can play quietly in his room – read, do a puzzle, but he must remain in his room until rest time is over.
- Worried that your child will not stay in his room and rest time will become more of a royal rumble? Rules! Rules! Rules! Make sure your child understands the rest time rules and your expectation that they be followed. In order for him to follow the rules, you must consistently enforce them so he sees you mean business. You can even make a “Rules” poster that details these expectations. Allow your child to color it and decorate it with stickers etc. Prior to rest time each day, read the rules together. This will help him remember the deal.
- Entice your child with a basket of items that are for “rest time only”. Fill it with special quiet time toys and books that your child may only use during rest time. Take them out at the start of rest time and put them away at the end. While we want them to be excited to rest purely so they can feel great, this will add a bit of panache to a time of day some preschoolers may find “boring”.
- Early Bedtime – At this age they are still in need 11-13 hours of sleep a day. As we cannot expect them to sleep in (don’t we wish), they will need to get in the extra sleep with an early bedtime. If your child typically wakes at 6:30am and we want them to achieve 12 hours of sleep a day, they will need to be asleep by 6:30pm. Note – that’s asleep, and not just starting the routine, so plan accordingly. This will ensure that your child is getting all the sleep he needs even without a nap!
This article originally appeared in Macaroni Kid National. Click here to view article.
Amy Lage is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and a Family Sleep Institute certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant. She is founder of Well Rested Baby. She offers a host of services including in person, phone, email and Skype/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 and Twitter too for more great sleep tips!