Especially in the first few months of life, many sleep is necessary for brain development and recharging the baby's batteries. But what about naps for older children and the usefulness of a nap during the day? In this article, we'll explain how long children should nap, and why it's only recommended to a limited extent from the age of two.
How long do children need naps?
To begin with, it's not possible to give a general answer to this question; it depends above all on the child and his or her daily rhythm. However, we generally find that children over the age of two no longer need or require a regular nap. In particular, with a restful and sufficient night's sleep, naps generally become superfluous. Some children no longer need a regular nap by the age of one, and still have plenty of energy. However, if the previous night was very restless and sleep was less restorative, even a two- or three-year-old won't object to a short afternoon nap.
In addition, external influences, such as a new environment or other deviations in daily life, have an impact on sleep patterns. It's important to be alert to signs of fatigue in your child. In addition to frequent yawning and eye rubbing, tantrums, dissatisfaction, impatience, complaining and lack of concentration are typical signs that your child is tired and needs a nap. Similarly, if your child suddenly shows no interest in playing or doing anything, a nap is usually the best idea.
According to observational studies, the frequency and duration of naps decreases dramatically for most children over the age of three, and by the time they start school, less than ten percent of them take a midday nap. Nevertheless, there's absolutely nothing to stop children taking a nap after a hard day at school.
Sleep patterns and sleep requirements
In the first few weeks after birth, newborns sleep almost without interruption, waking only every two or three hours if they are hungry or have some other need. A regular rhythm of sleep and wakefulness is not yet present in the first weeks and months after birth.
Around the age of six months, babies' sleep patterns gradually begin to change. Night-time sleep phases become longer, while daytime naps are shorter and become less frequent, with two or three sleep phases. By the age of one and a half, most children need only one nap a day, usually lasting between 60 and 90 minutes. Most sleep now takes place during the night hours.
In addition to sleep habits, children's sleep requirements are also changing. For example, in the first three months of life, newborns need around 16-18 hours of sleep evenly distributed between day and night.
As night-time sleep increases, the volume of sleep decreases at the same time, and by the age of one, children only need an average of 14 hours of sleep. Although sleep duration continually decreases over the following years, six-year-olds still need around 11 hours of sleep to be rested and receptive.
Nap time and duration
The best time for a nap is - as the name suggests - lunchtime. More precisely, after a meal, i.e. approximately between 12 and 2 p.m. After a meal, the body needs a lot of energy to digest food, which is why children are generally quite tired and fall asleep quickly.
To help your child prepare for naptime, you should always do the same activities before bedtime. This will let your child know when it's time for a nap. It's important that the activities are already calm and relaxing. Too much excitement before the nap will have the opposite effect, and your child won't be able to rest.
Sleep duration varies from one child to another, and depends, among other things, on morning activity and the quality of sleep at night. On average, babies nap for one to three hours a day. If the child has experienced a lot of new things or has found himself in an unfamiliar environment, he needs more time to assimilate new impressions.
And, as with adults, there are different types of sleep. Some children are already asleep after a good hour, while others need more sleep to gather new energy.
Many parents also ask the question: Should I wake my child if the nap is too long? In principle, children should not be woken up, as the body indicates the amount of sleep it needs at that time to regenerate itself. So it's best to let your child sleep until he wakes up on his own, so you can be sure he's rested and has had time to recharge his batteries.
The situation is different if your child is a very restless sleeper at night, wakes up constantly or generally has difficulty falling asleep at night. If this is the case, you can try deliberately shortening the nap by gently and carefully waking your child. This often leads to an improvement in night-time sleep and falling asleep in the evening after a few days. Make sure there are at least four to five hours between naptime and night-time sleep, so that your child is sufficiently tired and can fall asleep better.
A low-stimulus environment and a fixed place to sleep have proved effective for napping. Children also find it easier to rest if the room is slightly darkened by lowering the blinds. However, it doesn't have to be completely dark so that your child can see the difference between a longer and deeper night's sleep. To get into the habit of a rhythm, naps should always be taken at the same time, if possible.
In addition, rituals identical to bedtime ritualIn this way, children can consciously adapt to naptime. For example, putting on pajamas and reading aloud or singing to children can signal that it's time for a nap. If your child is restless and doesn't want to sleep at midday, it's important to make sure that instead of a nap, the child gets enough energy during regular rest periods, especially in the first two years of life.
Why is a nap important?
Regular naps have many positive effects on children's health and development, and are therefore extremely important. For a child's brain to develop and grow, breaks are indispensable in daily life and for relaxation. During a well-earned sleep, the day's experiences and impressions can be processed, what has already been learned can be consolidated, and body and brain can gather new strength. Well-rested and refreshed, children are ready for new things and their mood is even better.
But that's not all, because during the nap, fine and gross motor skills are durably improved, and the sensitive capacity for perception is refined. As a result, the environment is gradually explored in a more agile and at the same time more active way. This in turn leads children to experiment all the more with what needs to be processed during sleep.
During the nap, the body also takes advantage of this time to concentrate fully on digestion, in addition to the brain. What's more, stress hormones are reduced during sleep phases, so naps should not be neglected, especially for babies.
If, on the other hand, the necessary sleep is lacking, this can have a negative effect on mental and physical development. The brain takes advantage of naps to relax, making children more receptive and able to learn new things. After recharging their batteries, children are more focused and have more fun playing and exploring.
When children sleep too little, they are often over-stimulated, which can manifest itself in bad moods as well as crying, screaming and general unhappiness. In the worst cases, insufficient sleep and rest can lead to developmental and behavioral problems.
Visit benefits of a nap for your health at a glance:
- The brain develops better
- Impressions are processed and what is learned is consolidated.
- Improved fine and gross motor skills
- Growth hormones are released during naps
- Performance maintained
- The environment is perceived and explored more actively
- The body can better concentrate on digestion
- Body and mind rest and recharge their batteries
- More fun to play and explore
Babies and toddlers aren't the only ones who can benefit from a nap. Parents can also take advantage of the nap phases, using this time to rest themselves. Of course, this isn't always possible, especially with several children, and often "child-free" time is used for household errands. Nevertheless, you should allow yourself the luxury of a nap now and then, just as your little darling leads the way.
Signs that children no longer need to nap
Napping is important for the mental and physical health and development of infants and children under two. However, Australian studies have revealed that napping is only partially recommended for children over the age of two, and should therefore normally be avoided.
By analyzing numerous studies on sleep quality in babies and toddlers, psychologists have found a link between napping and poorer sleep at night. Particularly in children over the age of two, regular napping can lead to a reduction in sleep duration and affect sleep quality.
Visit signs that show your child no longer needs a nap:
- Child refuses to fall asleep
- The child is well rested even without a nap
- The child shows no signs of overwork after lunch, such as whining or eye rubbing.
- Child won't lie down after lunch
- The child is not tired for long periods in the evening and cannot fall asleep.
- The child is often awake during the night and/or sleeps poorly
Alternative to a nap
Naps are an important part of life, especially for children in the first few months of life, and this part of the day is also a good opportunity for parents to breathe deeply and relax. If the nap and the parents' little downtime suddenly disappear, it doesn't mean that your child shouldn't rest.
Regular rest periods are important and should ideally be maintained until the child reaches kindergarten age, so that the body can at least draw new strength. For example, after lunch, introduce a rest period where your child can rest and relax.
Depending on their age, children can snuggle up in bed or on the sofa, play with their stuffed animals, look at a picture book, engage in artistic activities with a coloring book or listen to an age-appropriate audio book. Older children can pass the time with a puzzle or Lego. To help children find peace and quiet, it can be helpful to darken the room a little.