- Napping helps babies and children to learn and grow.
- Most children stop day naps by the age of five and their needs vary by age.
- The best nap length is different depending on the age of your child.
You spend nine months frantically trying to figure out how to get better sleep while pregnant. You hold out hope that it will improve when you have your baby.
And then, in a twist of fate, your baby never sleeps. Or maybe it just feels like that.
You start to live for nap time. Those glorious hours in the middle of the day when all is quiet. Maybe you’ll take the opportunity to do some lower back stretches. Or read a book. More than likely, you’ll spend that time frozen in fear of them waking up, unsure of what to actually do with this gift of time. But at least they’re sleeping, right?
Sadly, babies don’t come with a manual – or that would be the first thing on every expectant mother’s baby hospital bag checklist. Instead, you’re often left to figure things out for yourself. Like why do newborns have hiccups so often? Or why do babies cry in their sleep?
GP Dr Jill Gamberg is here to help answer all your napping questions with tips on the best nap length and why kids even need naps at all.
The benefits of napping
Any parent can tell you why they love nap time. The small break in the day to get anything done. The wonderful snuggle you receive when your little one has just woken.
Any parent can also tell you what happens when their child’s nap time doesn’t go to plan. Or doesn’t happen at all.
According to Dr Jill, sleep is essential to the wellbeing of all people, including children.
“Sleep supports overall health, affects a child’s mood and their ability to learn. There’s a lot of physical and mental development that happens in early childhood. Sleep – both at night and with naps during the day – is an important part of this development,” she says.
Much like the best nap length, the age children stop napping does vary.
When do kids stop napping?
Kids and naps are a bit like doing pelvic floor exercises in pregnancy. You can tell your kids that a nap is good for them, but that doesn’t mean they’re always going to take one! And, as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end.
Much like the best nap length, the age children stop napping does vary. According to Dr Jill, at the age of three, most children still nap at least once daily. 60% of four-year-olds still nap, but by the age of five this number is almost zero.
“As infants and children grow, the amount of daily sleep they need, distributed across naps and night time sleep, decreases. Eventually their naps do taper off,” she explains.
Dr Jill also says there are a number of signs your child might be ready to ditch their naps:
- They have difficulty falling asleep at naptime or in the evening.
- They start to wake up earlier from naps and in the morning after their overnight sleep.
- They don’t show signs of sleepiness on days without naps.
- They don’t want to nap, no matter how much you beg and plead with them.
The question of the best nap length varies depending on how old your child is.
The ideal nap length
The question of the best nap length varies depending on the age of your child. Dr Jill says that while naps have generally tapered off for school age children – five years and older – the needs of younger children and babies are a bit more complex.
Dr Jill says that babies from birth to six months need a total of 14-17 hours of sleep per day.
“Newborns tend to sleep on and off around the clock, waking every one to three hours to eat. As they near four months of age, their sleep rhythms become more regular. By this age, most babies are sleeping 9-12 hours at night, as well as waking for feeding. They will have two to three daytime naps lasting between 30 minutes to two hours each,” she says.
As babies approach their first birthday, Dr Jill explains that they generally need about 14 hours total sleep each day. This might consist of up to two naps a day lasting anywhere from 20 minutes to a few hours.
Sleep is essential to the wellbeing of all people, including children.
For toddlers (aged one to three years), Dr Jill says they need about 11-14 hours of sleep which includes an afternoon nap of between one to three hours. Younger toddlers may also need an additional morning nap.
But Dr Jill does have one word of caution.
“If naps are too close to bedtime, it may make it harder for your toddler to fall asleep at night. Try to space out their nap so that they wake up early enough to not affect their evening bedtime,” she explains.
For children aged three to five years old, their sleep needs are reduced to roughly 10-13 hours at night. Dr Jill says they may also need an afternoon nap, although most have given up naps by five years of age.
Any parent can tell you why they love nap time.
You’ve got this!
When you’re pregnant, you’re busy preparing your birth plan and wondering if pregnant women can eat bacon. Then when your baby arrives, you’re busy researching the foods to avoid when breastfeeding and how often to bathe the kids.
The wonderful thing about parenting is that no matter what your concern, you’re not alone. Whether it’s the best nap length or when to start solids, there are parents the world over wondering exactly the same thing.
Dr Jill Gamberg is a General Practitioner and one of the first Australian Lifestyle Medicine Physicians whose goal is to help prevent disease and maintain wellness with evidence-based practice and to passionately improve health literacy.
Reviewed by the healthylife Advisory Board November 2021.