Since parents spend a lot
of time giving to their child and putting off their own needs, they
look forward to the free time they have when their child naps. While
parents are adjusting to their newborn, they often use free time to
catch up on sleep. But gradually they feel the need to be
“productive” during their child’s naptime and may plan to do
something during that period every day.
Each child has his own patterns of napping which change as he grows.
During the first months of infancy, he may spend most of the day
sleeping and then, for the next six months to a year, nap several
hours at a time in the morning and again in the afternoon. Over the
next year, he will most likely drop one of these naps and then
gradually give up napping altogether. Of course, there are many
children who stop napping at eighteen months old, and others who
never take predictable naps, even in infancy. Some parents are
flexible about naps and let their children follow their own natural
sleep patterns, while other parents are advocates of strict
A child’s napping pattern may depend on the amount of sleep he gets
at night. A child who sleeps nine or ten hours at night will
probably need an afternoon nap, while a child who sleeps twelve
hours may not need to sleep again during the day By the time he’s
two or two and one-half years old, his napping might interfere with
his nighttimes sleeping so that if he naps for several hours he may
be filled with energy late at night. This is fine if his parents’
schedules permit late morning sleeping, or if they like to spend the
evening hours with him. But if they want him to go to bed earlier,
they should try and keep him from napping or at least from napping
so long. Some parents are especially reluctant to let their child
nap in the car, since a few minutes of sleeping in a car seat can
take the place of a much longer nap at home.
Keeping a child from napping, however, can sometimes cause problems.
Some children are very irritable when they don’t sleep during the
day, and their parents might decide that eliminating the nap is not
worth the struggle. The child might go to bed earlier if he doesn’t
nap, but if he’s unhappy all afternoon and evening, the family
hasn’t gained much. Similarly, many children are tired and irritable
if their nap is cut short, although some are able to wake up after a
short nap feeling rested and ready to play.
Children in day care often nap as they would at home. Infants sleep
when they need to, and older children, who are usually up early in
the mornings, generally nap for a couple of hours. These naps keep
them from being sleepy during the early evening hours and allow
parents extra time with them at night.
Many babies only fall asleep for their nap after being fed. Some
older children who don’t want to separate from their parents or
their play may need to be rocked or patted to sleep.
If your child doesn’t nap regularly, you may naturally feel
frustrated at the lack of time for yourself but you shouldn’t try to
force him to nap, since there will be negative consequences. He may
spend long periods crying and you’ll probably become angry at him
and at yourself for forcing the issue. Instead, look for
alternatives to napping. If you’re home, you can hire a baby-sitter
to play with him several afternoons a week so you can have time
alone, or you can try waking your child up earlier in the morning so
he’ll go to sleep earlier at night. As he reaches preschool age, you
might try having him stay in his room for a short quiet period of
reading and playing.