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Whether you’re a helicopter, free-range, or pro-attachment parent, one thing most moms and dads can agree upon is that young kids need daily naps. But that blessed hour or so of peace and quiet may not actually be such a great thing, according to a new report.
The study, published online Sunday in the Archives of Disease in Childhood by lead author Karen Thorpe of Queensland University of Technology, posits that daytime snoozing after the age of two can actually have a negative impact on kids’ nighttime sleep. Researchers arrived at their findings after analyzing 26 studies to assess “evidence regarding the effects of napping” on child development and health.
“The evidence suggests that beyond the age of 2, when cessation of napping becomes more common, daytime sleep is associated with shorter and more disrupted night sleep,” Thorpe, a professor in development science, told Today. In other words, so much for that “sleep begets sleep” mantra.
Just keep in mind that “as children will crawl, walk and talk at different times, so too will sleep patterns differ for each child,” Thorpe tells Yahoo Parenting. “The age of cessation of napping varies considerably for individual children typically between 2 and 5 years and likely reflects individual differences in development.” What this study suggests she explains “is that is important for parents to respond to their individual sleep need.”
Two is a pivotal age for sleep, Heidi Connolly, M.D., director of pediatric sleep medicine services at the University of Rochester Medical Center’s Pediatric Sleep Disorders Center tells Yahoo Parenting, but that’s because “around two is when most toddlers stop napping twice a day and consolidate to once a day,” not because napping becomes a negative practice for all kids at that age. “There are still a lot of kids who nap at age 4 and 5.”
The aim for children under five should be to get between 11 and 14 hours of shuteye during a 24-hour period, she says, also acknowledging that “the more a child is sleeping during the day, the less they need to sleep at night.”
To determine if a child of any age needs a nap, observe how they behave in the morning. “If he doesn’t wake up on his own, or is very hard to wake up, he isn’t getting enough sleep and likely needs a daytime nap,” she says. Likewise, if he’s having afternoon meltdowns on daily basis, he may need naps. “But if he’s functioning fine during the day and chipper in the morning, a nap just is not needed,” says Connolly.
For the restless snoozers, Connolly says to first consider whether a nap is needed, then change behaviors around bed- and naptimes to help kids become better sleepers. For example, establish consistent evening routines and a cool, quiet, dark environment for optimal shuteye. Without help, “Some kids are just good sleepers,” she says, “and some just aren’t, regardless of their age.”