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No-Nonsense Napping Guide for Toddlers

WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Amita Shroff, MD

Napping is an important part of your toddler's day as well as yours. Your child needs to recharge and reboot or everyone will suffer the consequences. And you count on nap time to get the things done you need to do. But why are naps so critical to youngsters, and when do they outgrow the need? How can you make sure naps don't interfere with your tot getting a good night's sleep? The answers in the following guide will help you improve not only your toddler's nap routine but also, dare we say it, your family's overall sense of happiness.


Understand Your Child's Changing Sleep Needs

Charles Shubin, medical director of the Children's Health Center of Mercy Family Care in Baltimore, says, "Napping conserves energy. When going through a growth spurt, an infant or toddler will sleep more and eat more because the energy demand is tremendous."

Shubin says, "To grow, we need adequate calories and ample sleep. And that is why babies sleep more than we do." He adds that as toddlers get older, they will eat and sleep less. Some of this sleeping is done with naps, while some takes the form of nighttime sleep. Exactly how it's divided depends largely on the child's age and developmental stage, he says.

Newborns sleep between feedings all day and all night long, Shubin says. "At around 3 months, they start developing a day/night variation and their longer sleep will hopefully be at night." This typically doesn't happen much earlier because newborns need to eat every few hours and just can't get the stretch they need at night.

Let Naps Play Out Naturally

Susan Zafarlotfi, clinical director of the Institute for Sleep and Wake Disorders at the Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey, says, "Infants sleep 16 to 20 hours per day. As time goes on, they outgrow sleeping the entire day and only take two naps -- one in the morning and one in the afternoon."

According to pediatrician Greg Yapalater, naps tend to work themselves out. Nap patterns are usually established when the child is an infant and often revolve around feeding schedules. This helps shape the schedule going forward. "You are probably feeding every three hours," he says, "which is four bottles a day. So things start falling into place and then what you are going to do about naps becomes very straightforward." Some parents, he says, may choose an hour after the first bottle for the morning nap and then an hour after the midday bottle for the afternoon nap.

"If your child goes to day care," sleep specialist Rafael Pelayo, an associate professor of sleep medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine, says, "shoot for the same schedule that the facility imposes regarding naps."

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