New findings were released this week in the Archives of Disease in Childhood which state that napping at age two and beyond, may interfere with the quality and duration of your child’s night time sleep. Different links to the news are splashed all over Facebook and Twitter, sending many parents into a tizzy questioning if their child is still in need of a nap. My response is YES your two year old absolutely is still in need of a nap.
First, lets look at some statistics thanks to our favorite sleep guy Dr. Marc Weissbluth:
• At 24 months, 95% of children are taking 1 nap/day and 5% are taking 2 naps/day. The average total duration of naps is 2.3 hours and the range is 1-4 hours. 99% of children nap between 1.5-3.5 hours. Nap duration is largely under genetic control.
• 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.
Does Napping Sacrifice the Quality of Night Time Sleep?
This quote appeared in a today.com article about these findings – “The evidence suggests that beyond the age of 2 years, when cessation of napping becomes more common, daytime sleep is associated with shorter and more disrupted night sleep,” says Karen Thorpe, a professor in development science at Queensland University of Technology in Australia.
The problem I have with this statement is that we do not know when these children were napping, when their parents were putting them to bed, and what their sleep environment resembled. These are all important factors to consider before making such a bold statement. Both naptime and bedtime need to occur at the correct biological time for a child’s age in order for a child to get their optimal sleep. At age 2, a mid-day nap should occur around 12:30-1pm as this is the timing that corresponds to their circadian rhythm when their sleep drive is at it’s peak during daytime hours. At this age, I find it is common for a child to nap from about 1-3pm and then fall fast asleep by 7-7:30pm in sync with their natural melatonin onset. I do sometimes see that 2-4 year olds who take very long naps (say from 1-4pm) have a tough time falling asleep at their bedtime and therefore have a harder night. However, if these long nappers have their nap capped (are awoken) at 3-3:30pm, all is well with bedtime again and they are still able to get in quality daytime sleep. But if your child is not on the correct schedule, and is not starting their nap till say 2-3pm, and is then sleeping till 4-5pm, of course they are going to be heading off to bed too late. They will then be falling asleep at an hour that is too late for their biological clock and then yes, there will nighttime woes. So back to Dr. Weissbluth’s point above, it would seem that any night time issues that may arise at age two that occur “because a child napped,” are likely due to parenting practices rather than the child’s sleep needs as the parent likely has the child on an incorrect schedule for their age. Further supporting my disbelief in these findings, in this same today.com article above, it states “the articles analyzed in the new report were not top-of-the-line studies, meaning that children weren’t randomly assigned to take naps and often the children weren’t observed firsthand.” Hmmm.
Karen Thorpe then goes on to say, “Daytime sleep is not a response to poor night sleep, but rather precedes poor night sleep.” Whoa, hold on their Karen. It is a well-documented fact, that a child who goes to bed in a well-rested state has an easier time falling asleep and staying asleep through the night. Conversely, a child who goes to bed in an overtired state (think with no nap) has a very hard time settling at bedtime and has frequent night wakings. Why? Because when we become overtired our bodies release the hormones cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline to keep us going. This has the immediate impact of creating a second wind and reeking havoc on a child’s bedtime, but if it happens regularly these hormones build up in their body and cause the nighttime wakings. So if anything, poor daytime sleep precedes poor nighttime sleep.
Recent research shows that naps provide toddlers and 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 studies 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 two year old no longer needs a mid-day snooze, think about all it does to help them be their best.
If your two year old is going through sleep 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 and bedtime are happening at the correct time and then stick with your usual routine and do not change anything.