A Nap is Just a Nap…Right?

The Details and Importance of Your Child’s Naps.

I hear it all the time… “My child sleeps well at night but her naps are a MESS! That’s OK, right?” The answer is NO it’s NOT OK. 

Does it truly matter that your baby isn’t getting good naps as long as she is sleeping well at night? Yes! It most certainly DOES matter!

Naps are such an integral part of the development of a child that depriving them of day sleep would be like skipping meals. Over time, this can compromise their health and their well-being. Dr. Marc Weissbluth, MD, the Father of infant and child sleep, said it best.

“Sleep is food for your child’s brain. Especially for young children – Sleep is to their brains what food is to their bodies.”

Going without good naps each day and relying on solid sleep at night would be like skipping breakfast and lunch and trying to have your child make up for the lost nutrition by eating a big dinner. It will not sustain them.

So, what’s the deal with naps? Why are they SO important? What are the details of your child’s day sleep and what constitutes a great nap? Fear NOT! Baby Sleep Well has all of the answers!

How many naps does your child need?

As a newborn, your baby will need up to 20 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period. Wow! Naturally, they will need several naps every day; sometimes as many as 5 or 6. Starting at 4 months of age, your child will need about 4 to 5 hours of day sleep divided into about 3 naps every day. This will be comprised of 1 long nap in the morning, another long nap in the afternoon, and a third shorter nap in the evening. The 2 main (morning and afternoon) naps are restorative naps and the third shorter “catnap” is non-restorative. The third nap will help your child make it to bedtime without her becoming overtired. Without this third nap you would have to put your child to a super early bedtime because young babies are not able to handle many hours of wake time.

By the age of 6 to 8 months many babies are dropping down from 3 naps to 2 naps and need a total of 3 to 4 hours of sleep each day. Again, these two naps will include 1 longer morning nap and 1 longer afternoon nap. The two naps are restorative and are the “Breakfast and Lunch” of naps. They MUST be at least an hour in length in order to be fully beneficial for your child.

At 15 to 18 months of age, your child will begin preparing to make yet another nap transition. You will ultimately consolidate the two longer naps into one solid nap to total 2 to 3 hours of day sleep. For more tips on making the transition from two to one nap per day, please see my blog post here: 2 to 1 Nap

Not all naps are created equal

As mentioned above, the 2 longer naps (the morning and the afternoon nap) have restorative qualities. The important thing to know, though, is that these naps are each have different restorative qualities from one another so each nap is equally as important as the other. The morning nap is mentally restorative and the afternoon nap is physically restorative. Neither nap can make up for the other as well neither nap can be replaced by night sleep.

As you are starting to see, you would not want to compromise neither the mental nor the physical restoration that your child receives, especially at the time that it is most important for their growth and development. Right?

How long should my child nap for?

While your child may be getting the correct number of naps for her age, she may not be getting the best quality from her naps if they are not long enough. Always follow the “1-hour” nap rule – A nap that is less than 1 hour in duration is not a true and restorative nap. If a nap lasts less than 1 hour it will not be beneficial to your baby. We need to lengthen those naps to ensure that our babies are truly resting and that they are getting the best from their day sleep.

Does timing of naps matter?

Yes! Absolutely! The timing of naps is very important for your child. If naps are happening at the incorrect times during the day, your child may not be getting the most beneficial sleep to be fully rested and restored. Biologically, there are specific times of the day when sleep waves occur and during which your child will benefit the most from sleep during her naps.

Think of it this way; have you ever met someone who works super late hours? Night shift workers (e.g. those who work from 11PM to 7:00AM) may never fully become acclimated to working the “graveyard shift”. Though many people who work these late hours do so for several years, their bodies never fully adjust to this schedule. Even if they go straight home after their shift is over and get a full 8 to 10 hours of sleep during the day they still seem exhausted. But why is that? The reason is that our bodies are hard-wired to sleep at certain times in a 24-hour period (at night). It’s built into our DNA. It has been proven that the body actually slows down extensively during the night.

Just as adults are biologically wired to get the best rest from sleeping at night, babies are also built to sleep at certain times of the day for naps (biological sleep windows). Naps that occur at the exact times when babies have been proven to be most biologically sleepy will provide the best and most restorative sleep possible.

Now you have a better understanding as to why naps are so important for your child. In short, no nap is created equal and all naps are as important to a your child’s development as a good and wholesome diet. Get your child on the path to healthy and restorative sleep today!