Study: Preschoolers Might Not Need Naps

Nap not needed as long as a child gets enough sleep at night

Does your child still need a nap?
A new study finds that young children might not need to take a nap every day.. Jenifer Harrington

A new study is sending shivers down the necks of parents of young children everywhere. According to researchers who reviewed 26 different studies that looked at sleeping patterns and naps for kids who are age 5 and under, children over the age of 2 might not necessarily need a daily nap. In a surprising finding, kids over the age of two went to bed later and slept less if they napped during the day.

"Given that sleep is such an important issue for the well-being of children and their parents, we were surprised to find so few studies on the costs and benefits of naps in early childhood," according to the study's lead authors Karen Thorpe and Sally Staton. Both are researchers at the Queensland University of Technology School of Psychology and Counseling in Australia.

"The most significant finding from our study is that there is not support in the current body of research for enforcing naps in preschool children to improve their health and well-being," the authors said. "Napping in early childhood is often assumed to have universal benefit and this assumption hasn't really been questioned by research before now."

The researchers pointed out that their findings don't necessarily mean that young children should give up naps. But children who are seemingly outgrowing their nap shouldn't be forced to take one.

"The age of 2 years should not be seen as a definitive point from which napping should be discouraged," the researchers stressed. "Rather, parents of young children should respond to their child's individual sleep need."

How Much Sleep Does My Preschooler Need?

Most children have given up their naps by age five.

A  typical five-year-old needs about 11 to 12 hours of sleep. Same with a four-year-old. A three-year-old needs a little more sleep every 24-hour period at anywhere between 12 and 13 hours of sleep. So if you put your child to bed every night at 7 p.m., and they wake up at 7 a.m., then they are probably doing ok, and can afford to give up their daily mid-day siesta. If however, you put your preschooler to bed at 8 p.m., and they wake up at 5:30 a.m, then a nap will go a long way to keeping him happy and well-rested.

There are a few common-sense signs that can indicate whether or not your child is ready to give up a nap:

  • Has trouble falling asleep at bedtime after taking a nap during the day
  • During the designated nap time, can't fall asleep and doesn't appear to be tired
  • If your child doesn't take a nap one day, she remains in good spirits and isn't falling over herself tired at the end of the day

Having said all that, determining if a nap is necessary, you also need to consider your child's behavior.

Are you seeing a lot of late afternoon/dinner time temper tantrums? Does she fall asleep when watching television? Then a nap might be a way to go. If your child isn't thrilled with the idea, you can still encourage some quiet rest time. Your child doesn't necessarily have to go to sleep, instead offer up some picture books and maybe even a few toys that he can play quietly with. Turn off all the lights, close the curtains, and try to eliminate any background noise to make the environment as conducive to nap time as possible. Set a timer and tell your child that he can be finished with nap time once the timer goes off.

The findings were published online Feb. 17 in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood.

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