Giving Up Naps

From birth, a child progresses at an individual pace on a continuum of sleep, moving from many hours of sleep to naps and then to only nighttime sleeping. A child’s sleep patterns change and develop just as fast as he does, and deciphering what is best for a child regarding sleep and naps can be difficult. 

Sleep time and naps will decrease as a child gets older. “Most children are napping at age 3, 60 percent around age 4 and 25 percent around age 5,” says Dr. Kevin Smith, pediatric psychologist at Children’s Mercy Kansas City Sleep Disorders Center.

According to Dr. Smith, infants will nap two to five hours per day, with a single nap lasting from 30 minutes to two hours. “A 1-year-old usually takes two naps per day, and most 2- and 3-year-olds, if they haven’t already eliminated naps completely, are down to one nap, lasting two or three hours,” says Dr. Steve Lauer, pediatrician at the University of Kansas Hospital. After age 5, very few children take naps. 

“There isn’t a nap norm or rule regarding when naps need to disappear,” says Dr. Bob Whitman, director of the sleep lab at the University of Kansas Hospital. He says the process will occur naturally. “If they fall asleep easily and stay asleep for a couple of hours, then they probably need that nap,” says Dr. Whitman. 
Dr. Smith notes that if the trend turns to playing during naptime, or you encounter a repeated struggle or increasingly more difficulty getting a child to nap, then it might be time to forgo a nap.

According to Dr. Julie Ehly, physician at Pediatric Associates, a toddler that is going from two naps to one will drop the morning nap and move the onset of the single nap to midday. “It’s very important to have the afternoon nap wrap up by 3:00 or 4:00 so that it doesn’t affect the child’s ability to sleep at night,” she says. Dr. Ehly also notes this transition from two naps to one isn’t always smooth and that a parent should anticipate an earlier bedtime during this process until the child becomes accustomed to sleeping less during the day.

Sleep is a time for the brain to take a break, so if a child is sleeping and staying asleep, then they probably need it. “If they require that sleep, then you should let them sleep, and they’ll wake up and be alert when they’re ready,” says Dr. Whitman.

The young, developing brain is quite active and extremely dependent on these breaks from sensory inputs, explains Dr. Lauer. A lack of sleep can lead to a variety of issues.

“Poor sleep can negatively impact most aspects of a child’s functioning, which include mood, focusing attention, interpersonal relationships, learning, physical health and development and weight,” Dr. Smith says. 

In order for a child to have quality, restorative sleep, he needs to sleep in a healthy sleep environment. According to Dr. Lauer, a child should begin to get ready for sleep one hour prior to bedtime. During this time, there should be no electronics, activity levels should decrease and lights should be dimmed. Bath time or reading in bed are great ways to prepare a child for sleep. Nighttime sleep and napping should be consistently in the same sleep environment. 

When it’s time for sleep, it’s important that the environment is as quiet and dark as possible. “The release of melatonin from the brain is what induces sleep, and melatonin is related to darkness,” says Dr. Whitman. “If there are lights on or a child is looking at a television or a computer, that will prevent the melatonin from being released at its full potential.” 

Dr. Lauer advises parents to truly understand their individual child’s own rhythms and to not go by what a book says. “No matter what you read or what your older child did, or what the kid down the street does, you have to adjust to your own individual child’s needs.” 

Recommended hours of sleep per 24-hour period, according to Dr. Kevin Smith

  • Newborns (0-2 months): 14-18 hours.
  • Infants (3-11 months): 14-15 hours.
  • Toddlers (1-3 years): 12-14 hours of sleep.
  • Preschoolers (3-5 years): 11-13 hours per day. 

Alyssa Klimek is a local freelance writer living in Kansas City. She is very active in the community and enjoys participating on committees in organizations such as The Bacchus Foundation and The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. 

As always, please consult your health care provider with any questions or concerns. 


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