Healthy Living

Nap Time Tips: Five Steps To Healthy And Happy Napping For Your Toddler

Toddler napping
These five suggestions will keep your one- to three-year-old energized with the recommended amount of daytime napping. Lars Plougmann, CC BY-SA 2.0

For parents, a toddler's nap time means a much-needed opportunity to rest from the chaotic world of parenting. The hustle and bustle of day-to-day activities can leave you tired and your toddler energetic and full of life. How do you instill a healthy daytime nap routine in your vibrant tot?

Toddlers (one to three years old) are recommended to get 12-14 hours of sleep in a day, says the National Sleep Foundation (NSF). Those aged 18 months and over should only have one nap that lasts approximately one to three hours during the day, varying on their physical and mental condition.

The implementation of healthy napping habits among this age group is vital for their physical, mental, cognitive, and emotional development. In a study conducted at the University of Colorado Boulder, researchers studied the effects of missing a single daily nap in toddlers between the ages of two and a half and three years old. The results of the study showed that 31 percent of nap-deprived tots had an increase in negative emotional responses while 34 percent had a decrease in positive emotional responses upon completion of a puzzle. Nap-deprivation in tots alters facial expressions and their emotional responses to daily activities. "Many young children today are not getting enough sleep, and for toddlers, daytime naps are one way of making sure their 'sleep tanks' are set to full each day," said leader of the study and CU-Boulder Assistant Professor, Monique LeBourgeois.

During the toddler years, children begin to express their emotions and will naturally have less dependency on daytime naps, which can affect their interactions with other children at school. Toddlers go through intense emotions during these tender years, in which they gradually learn how to deal with the series of feelings they experience. According to the Urban Programs Resource Network, a University of Illinois Extension, two year olds will try to assert themselves by saying "No" as they are easily frustrated and still need security.

While getting your toddler to nap during the day may seem like a difficult challenge to overcome, a nap a day keeps an overtired toddler away. Learn five nap tips that will keep your toddler healthy and happy and increase their cognitive development.

1. Choose a consistent naptime environment.

Introduce your toddler to a stable nap environment that he or she will associate with sleep. Do not let your child sleep in the car, a stroller, or your bed because it can affect their sleeping schedule. Jodi Mindell, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at St. Joseph's University, in Philadelphia said to Parents.com, "...settle [your child] down at the same time and in the same place each day," to develop a healthy nap routine. Daytime naps can prove to be more difficult than bedtime sleep because of the daylight. Parents can install shades, keep a fan running, or have a white-noise machine to block outside noises that can interfere with your little one's nap. To create and reinforce a sleeping environment, parents can read a quick story or sing a lullaby to lure their tot to sleep as if they would during bedtime.

2. Healthy naps should last from one hour, 45 minutes to three hours in one to two settings.

The 12-36 month age group will most likely shift from two naps during the day to one nap in the afternoon by 18 months of age. The morning nap will become less of a necessity for your child. However, the shift from two naps to one nap a day is different for every child. An example of when to cut your child's second nap time is if your child can go on car rides early throughout the day and not fall asleep. Charles Shubin, medical director of the Children's Health Center of Mercy Family Care in Baltimore, said, "Your child will stick to an afternoon nap until they are anywhere from 2 1/2 to 4 years old. Some 3- or 4-year-olds still take an afternoon nap, but 6-year-olds don't nap," reports TheBump.com. If a nap consists more than one hour and 45 minutes in one setting, your child can wake up cranky and relentless. However, if your child takes a one-hour nap during the day and another one-hour nap in the afternoon, this behavior is healthy. The frequency and length of the naps depends on your toddler's physical and mental cognitive growth. Therefore, it is important to monitor your child's schedule and behaviors.

3. Avoid late napping or trading a nap for an earlier bedtime.

A change in routine such as a family vacation or related events can cause your child's naptime to fluctuate. A later naptime results in a later bedtime and can bring unhealthy sleeping habits in your little one. Skipping the nap and giving your child an earlier bedtime will make them more tired and unable to fall asleep because they will be too rowdy. Zero To Three, a nonprofit National Center for Infants, Toddlers, and Families, suggests parents to have a period of quiet time where you and your child can spend some time together and your tot will eventually get tired and fall asleep. The key is to keep a steady gap between nap and bedtime so that these two sleeping schedules do not interfere with one another. Parents can have their tots start a nap earlier in the day or change their child's nap schedule by taking off 15 minutes so their nap doesn't continue until it gets dark outside.

4. Allow younger or older siblings to become a part of naptime.

Parents who have more than one child will often run into the problem of having the younger child fall asleep before the older one or vice versa. Children may not feel compelled to go to sleep because they want to play with their sibling and may feel some separation anxiety. To alleviate any sleep interference caused by a sibling situation, parents can have the child become a part of the napping routine. "It gives him the extra attention [they] may be craving," said Claire Lerner, L.C.S.W., a child-development specialist at Zero To Three, to Parents.com. The older child can feel a sense of belonging by becoming a part of his or her younger sibling's napping ritual. Furthermore, the younger child will be more eager to fall asleep knowing that "big brother" is watching him.

5. Implement a naptime regime similar to the one used for bedtime.

For toddlers, it is important to consistently do the same things during naptime and bedtime. The identification of these routines will allow your young one to associate it with naptime. The Richard Center for the Child at Francis Marion University says a regular routine reduces children's stress and helps them know what to expect each time they go to bed. If you read to your children before they go to bed, read to them before they nap so they will be able to anticipate their rest time.

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