What’s the purpose of a nap?
The purpose of naps is to reduce sleep pressure. This is the drive to fall asleep which builds over the hours of wakefulness. The amount of sleep pressure a child can cope with before needing to sleep again varies according to the child’s age. A newborn may only be able to stay awake for a maximum of 45 minutes before the sleep pressure builds to the point where they are needing to sleep again. If the child does not go to sleep when their sleep pressure is high, they will release cortisol to help them stay alert. This will give them a ‘second-wind’ and makes sleep much harder.
How many naps does my child need?
All children are different so this is a general guideline for nap requirements and awake windows for different age ranges.
Birth – 3 months: Varies but usually 4-6 naps spread evenly across the day
3-6 months: 4 naps per day (Awake window 1.5-2.5 hours)
6-9 months: 3 naps per day (Awake window 2.5-3 hours)
9-16 months: 2 naps per day (Awake window 3-3.5 hours)
16 months – 2.5/3 years: 1 nap per day (Middle of the day)
Most children are ready to drop naps entirely by about 3 years. Naps should be spread evenly across the day with the longest nap in the middle of the day.
Why does being overtired matter so much?
Overtiredness has many effects on sleep. One of the main ones is that the child will become fussy, irritable, cry a lot and be generally hyperactive. At this stage, it will be much harder for a child to fall asleep.
Being overtired can also cause us to ‘crash’ into sleep and change the sleep cycle slightly meaning that the light non-REM sleep is missed out. This shortens the sleep cycle and means the child cannot transition between sleep cycles so easily which can result in frequent waking and early rising.
What can I do when my child won’t nap?
- For little ones who refuse to nap, try any means necessary such as putting them in a sling, feeding, rocking or pushchair.
- Play close attention to early tired cues such as going quiet, glazed/staring eyes, pushing toys away and avoiding eye contact to prevent overtiredness.
- Try introducing a predictable and soothing routine before naps such as having a cuddle and reading a story.
- Experiment with an earlier bedtime.
- Look at the awake windows and make sure they are age-appropriate. They may benefit from a slightly shorter awake interval – try experimenting with timings. This can be a game changer.
- If it takes a huge amount of effort to get your little one to nap, it could be that they are really not tired. Try for 15-20 minutes and if you are not getting anywhere, abandon it and try again later.
Always remember that naps are a temporary thing! They do not last forever so try to not get too stressed over them.
If you need any help, or are not sure where to start, give me a call! I offer free 15 minute sleep discovery calls and you can book in here.