Does your toddler need nap time?

Photo: Shutterstock

Photo: Shutterstock

Fighting with your toddler to get her to take a nap in the afternoons can leave you tired enough to need a snooze yourself. But if she doesn’t drop off, she’ll be cranky, tired and irritable the rest of the day, and avoiding that may seem worth the daily nap time showdown. Or is it? Recent research suggests that toddlers over two years may not need to sleep during the day and could actually gain from the absence of day-time naps. An article in Slate magazine quotes Karen Thorpe, a developmental psychologist at the Queensland University of Technology in Australia, “Just like food is only good if you are hungry, naps are only good if they are needed.” She and her colleagues reached this conclusion after reviewing 26 studies on napping.

That said, each child is different so you shouldn’t be doing away with naps completely. It’s best to evolve nap time to suit your child’s needs. Once your child starts showing no interest or need to sleep during the day it may be a good idea to try out this new snooze-free routine, which may actually be beneficial. Forcing a toddler to sleep is no fun for parent or child and can cause tantrums and upset that could lead to behavioral problems.

This theory comes based on studies analysed by Thorpe’s team, who say that a child’s need for a nap is dependent on how mature his brain is. For example, very young children need sleep breaks to help their brains understand concepts and regulate emotions. After children have developed neurologically to a certain level, a good night’s sleep may be more beneficial as this deep slumber promotes brain restoration.

In another small study, Mark Mahone, a child neuropsychologist at the Johns Hopkins–affiliated Kennedy Krieger Institute, stopped naps in one group of preschoolers who usually napped, for 5 days. This made the children sleep longer at night. They also did better in cognitive tests given during the late afternoon. Kids in another group where allowed to napped as normal did not do as well. Though the limited research cannot be counted as conclusive, Mahone says it supports the idea that “children who typically nap get to a point in their development in which daytime napping starts to interfere with good consolidated nighttime sleep and the more you nap, the more it interferes.”

So if your child doesn’t want to nap you can relax. Forcing nap time on her may just replace some of the deep nighttime sleep she requires with daytime sleep that may not be as beneficial.

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