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How to solve naptime problems

Napping is an important component of a child's healthy mental and physical growth. A daily nap refreshes a child so that she can maintain her energy, focus, and ability to learn for the rest of the day. Some studies even show that young children who nap every day are more flexible and adaptable, have longer attention spans and are less fussy than those who don't nap.

How to solve naptime problems

How can you tell if your child needs a nap?

If you watch carefully, and if you know what to look for, you will be able to tell if your child needs a nap. Here are some of the signs that your child needs a daily nap:

  • Wakes up in a good mood, but gets whiny and cranky as the day progresses
  • Has more patience early in the day, but is more easily aggravated later on
  • Cries more easily in the afternoon and evening than she does early in the day
  • Has an afternoon or early evening slump, but gets a second wind later in the day
  • Shows tired signs in the afternoon such as yawning, rubbing eyes or looking slightly glazed
  • Often falls asleep in the car or when watching a movie

How much naptime does your child need?  

Children differ in their sleep needs, some naturally needing less or more than shown here -- but what follows is a general guide that applies to most of them. Keep in mind, though, that even if your child's sleep hours add up to the right amount, his or her behavior tells you more than any chart possibly could. When in doubt -- always try for a nap, since even a period of quiet time can help a child feel more refreshed.

Average hours of daytime and nighttime sleep

Age Number of naps Total length of naptime hours Nighttime sleep hours Total of nighttime and naptime sleep**
12 months 1-2 2-3 11 1/2-12 12 1/2-14
18 months 1-2 2-3 11 1/4-12 13-14
2 years 1 1-2 1/2 11-12 13-13 1/2
2 1/2 years 1 1 1/2-2 11-11 1/2 13-13 1/2
3 years 1 1-1 1/2 11-11 1/2 12-13
4 years 0-1 0-1 11-11 1/2 11-12 1/2
5 years 0-1 0-1 11 11-12

Elizabeth Pantley, The No-Cry Sleep Solution (McGraw-Hill)

When should your child nap?

The timing of your child's naps is important since a nap that occurs too late in the day will prevent your child from being tired when bedtime approaches. Generally, the best nap times are as follows:

  • If your child takes two naps: midmorning (around 9:00 to 11:00) and early afternoon (around 12:00 to 2:30)
  • If your child takes one nap: early afternoon (around 12:00 to 2:30); after lunch 

How long should a nap be?

The goal for a nap is to allow your child to get adequate rest to fuel the rest of the day. The optimal length of naps varies by age and among children, but the best naps are usually one to two hours in length. The previous sleep chart can give you a good rule of thumb for your child. If your child tends towards short naps, don't give in and assume that it's all the nap time that she needs. Try some of these tips for increasing the length of her naps:

  • Give your child lunch or a snack about a half hour before nap
  • Make certain the sleeping room is dark.
  • Play soothing music or white noise during the entire nap.
  • Make sure that your child is comfortable. He shouldn't get too cold or too hot. His sleeping attire should be cozy.
  • Check to see if discomfort from teething, allergies, asthma, ear infection or other health-related issues are preventing your child from taking longer naps. If you suspect any of these a visit to your health care professional is in order.

Watch for signs of tiredness

Tired children fall asleep easily, and your child will give you signals that he is ready for a nap. If he isn't tired he'll resist sleep, but if you miss his signals, he can easily become overtired and will then be unable to fall asleep when you finally do put him to bed. Your child may demonstrate one or more of these signs that tell you he is tired and ready to nap -- now:

  • losing interest in playtim
  • rubbing his eyes
  • looking glazed or unfocused
  • becoming whiny, cranky or fussy
  • losing patience with toys, activities or playmates
  • having tantrums
  • yawning
  • lying down or slumping in his seat
  • caressing a lovey or blanket
  • asking for a pacifier, bottle or to nurse

The nap routine

Once you have created a nap schedule that works with your child's daily periods of tiredness, follow a simple but specific nap routine. Your child will be most comfortable if there is a predictable pattern to his day. He may come to predict when his naptime approaches and willingly cooperate with you.

How nap routines change

Children's sleep needs change over time, so remember that the routine that you set up today won't be the same one you're using a year from now. Be adaptable!

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