Night-time Sleep is More Important than Day-time Napping

As a parent, we all know that sleep is important for brain development. Even missing out on one hour of sleep a day cumulatively can have a negative impact on children right up until adulthood. Unfortunately, getting young children to sleep has always been a battle of wills and so it has been for us…

From an early age, Gavin started putting up a huge fight whenever it was time to sleep. I tried all the tricks in the book but nothing really worked for us – or at least, they did for a while and then they would lose their magic powers. Gavin dropped from two naps to one nap pretty early on and by the time he turned two, he was trying to cut out that final nap. Initially, I was reluctant to let him drop it, but after a while, it seemed to be a better idea to let him drop it because it was getting longer and longer to get him to sleep and by the time he was done napping, he would end up sleeping anywhere between 10pm (if we were lucky) to midnight (if were were unlucky) only to wake up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at 7am the next morning – which clearly, is not enough sleep for a toddler.

These days, Gavin usually goes without napping during the day unless we plan to be out late. That’s when we enforce the nap. However, enforcing the nap usually involves a lot of grief all around. In order to get him to nap, we end up fighting which leads to a time out and during the silence, hopefully, he falls asleep. And once he’s asleep, we have to yank him back out of sleep or he’ll continue sleeping until even a midnight bedtime becomes a difficult target. I don’t know about other toddlers, but Gavin would be extremely cranky if he had to be woken up before he was good and ready – and that’s IF you can get him up. There have been days where the only way to wake him up is to strip him and dunk him into a bathtub of water – not very pleasant.

So whenever anyone pesters me about getting him to nap during the day these days, unless I have a damn good reason for it, I usually ignore them because:

  1. They don’t have to worry about getting him to sleep.
  2. They don’t have to worry about waking him up.
  3. They don’t have to worry about whether he’s getting enough hours of sleep.

Recently, I read an article which added another reason why I shouldn’t have stressed over the day-time nap. It would appear that it isn’t only the total number of hours of sleep a day that our children get that we should be worried about but how many of those hours take place overnight. Not all sleep is equivalent and night-time sleep appears to be more valuable than day-time sleep. Children who slept more hours overnight had better executive function.

Damn – I’ve spent one year of grief over a day-time nap all for nothing!

Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of Figur8.net (a website on parenting, education, child development) and RightBrainChild.com (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

4 thoughts on “Night-time Sleep is More Important than Day-time Napping

  1. Finally, I can support my opinion about day-time napping with some research! Somehow, in my culture it is customary for chidren to nap till they start primary school at the age of 7. So I do tend to get a lot of raised eyebrows when I mention that my dd stopped napping at the age of three and that I did not take any measures to get her “back on track”.

    Like

  2. Thanks for this. I always worried that Ben does not get enough of hours of sleep since he drop his day time nap. Recently he was so tired, he fell asleep at 6pm and guess what time he wake up…? 5am! And he started jumping on me, etc…etc…So now I know that it is only 10-11 hours of sleep (I have heard that children still need 13 hours of sleep – 12 at night plus 1 in the day) . Pushing it too much is not going to help and in fact will torture me! Haha….

    Like

  3. Erm… But the article is referring to the proportion of night vs. day-time sleep, instead of supporting dropping naps completely.

    After months of effort in the beginning, my boy finally settled into proper nap routines. Now at 21+ months, it’s 10-11 hours of sleep at night, 2 hours in day. Anything less and I need to battle meltdowns and tantrums. And to save my sanity, I love my freedom when a child sleeps.

    As for waking a child, it’s much easier when he has transitted into a light sleep cycle. Watch for fluttering eye lids, quicker breathing, and moving limbs. Waking a child in his deep sleep is difficult and could end in frustration.

    Like

  4. LM – yes, that seems to be the expectation here, too. I know my ILs are always nagging us to put Gavin to nap in the day time even though he fights it like it’s life and death. If you check some of the resources, dropping the nap by the age of three is the norm for some children and perfectly ok.

    Irene – I have been trying all sorts of routines to get Gavin to sleep 13 hours a day (in total – overnight plus day time nap). I find I get closer to that total without a day time nap! He sleeps 11-12 hours a night without a nap. With the nap, my total is usually 10 hours (8 hours a night plus 2 hours nap – if I’m really lucky), but most of the time it is less.

    MieVee – sorry, I should have been clearer. I’m not saying parents should drop the nap – especially if it is working for them and clearly it is in your case. I’m saying that we shouldn’t try to enforce the nap if it compromising the night time sleep just because the norm is for a child at this age to have a nap. Children are all individuals and there is no one rule fits all but I have been trying to make Gavin conform to a schedule that didn’t fit him for over a year.

    Gavin was two when he started trying to drop that nap, so I was naturally reluctant for that to happen. Now he’s is nearly four – as far as averages go, some children have already dropped the nap at this age. Unfortunately for us, the battle of the nap exists because of the expectations of the older generation. I agree that when he was two it was probably still necessary for me to insist on the nap, but as the year has gone by, that need has been diminishing and his resistance grows stronger.

    Gavin wakes up at about 7am every day regardless of what time he sleeps at night – and that includes if he goes to bed at midnight. Even with a two hour nap, that isn’t enough sleep for a child his age. But if I drop the nap, he sleeps 11-12 hours overnight.

    I love the freedom when the kids sleep, too, but there is no freedom when I enforce the nap because I spend more time getting him to sleep (both for the nap and then at night because of the nap) – an hour or more sometimes and by the end of it, he’s gone to sleep with me angry. If I let him drop the nap and sleep at night, he falls asleep much more easily, he gets more sleep and we are all happier. At the end of the day, I think that’s what counts, right?

    I have been nagged to death to get him to nap during the day time but I find that all it does is end up stressing him and me and making us fight more. Plus, he ends up sleeping less overall, so I don’t see the point of fighting him when there are so many negatives arising from the nap. At the end of the day, we want him to be well rested and he seems to be better rested without the nap.

    So I guess the point of this article is not to drop naps, but that it is okay if you have to, even if it feels a little “early” because other children are still napping.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: