The Importance of Naps: A Guide to Better Sleep for Your Child

Mateo’s parents reached out when he was almost 6 months old. They were concerned that his short naps would start affecting his growth and development. According to them, his night sleep was not an issue. We discovered that part of the reason he was not able to nap well was because he was not able to self-soothe, resulting in 30-45 minute naps throughout the day. When they put him down at night, he was already asleep.

His parents were so concerned about him getting the “right” amount of sleep during the day and would sometimes try to help him soothe between cycles to ensure the right amount of sleep. 

The problem with this? It wasn’t quality sleep.

When we started working together, I could see that he actually wasn’t getting enough sleep, and the sleep was fragmented due to him waking between sleep cycles. We adjusted his schedule, moved away from following his sleepy cues to prevent overtiredness (since he was now six months old, he wasn’t showing cues that he was tired even though he was actually quite tired!), and helped him learn some self-soothing skills. Ultimately, we were able to get him to yield solid, consistent naps which improved his night sleep, too. 

Not only should we be focusing on the quantity of sleep during both daytime and nighttime sleep, but the quality of sleep is most important for your child’s growth and development. And, these things go hand in hand.

Quality sleep during the day not only helps your child grow and recharge but also plays a crucial role in their brain development. A recent study, published in Knowable Magazine, explains that napping is particularly important for infants and young children in the earliest stages of learning. It highlights that sleep is crucial for early word learning and that children who take naps after hearing a story tend to remember it better compared to those who do not nap. Therefore, removing or skipping naps prematurely may hinder a child’s ability to retain and consolidate new information.

And because there is no other time when brain development is occurring more rapidly than the first three years of life, well, you can see why I’m making such a big deal out of this!

Let’s dive deeper into the benefits of napping and explore the differences between daytime sleep and nighttime sleep.

The Benefits of Naps for Brain Development

During naps, the brain forms important neural connections that support cognitive function, memory consolidation, and overall learning abilities. These findings further reinforce what I, as a sleep consultant at Little Sleepers Big Dreamers, have always believed – naps are key to maximizing your child’s potential.

Daytime Sleep vs. Nighttime Sleep: The Purposes They Serve

While both daytime and nighttime sleep are essential, they serve different purposes in supporting your child’s overall well-being. Understanding these differences can help you develop a better sleep routine for your little one.

Daytime Sleep:

  • Daytime sleep, in the form of naps, provides an opportunity for your child’s brain to process information, recharge, and combat sleepiness.
  • Adenosine buildup in the brain causes daytime sleepiness in children. As we stay awake, adenosine (a neurotransmitter) accumulates in the brain, and more tiredness is felt. Adenosine promotes sleep drive, which is the rising need for sleep. When the body is overworked, adenosine continues to accumulate, leading to daytime sleepiness. After a restorative nap (or night sleep), the adenosine that has accrued is relieved and the drive to sleep lessens again as your child’s energy levels are restored. 
  • Napping during the day helps prevent over-tiredness, reducing the likelihood of fussy behavior and making it easier for your child to settle into a calm and restful nighttime sleep routine.

Nighttime Sleep:

  • Melatonin, the hormone that is released in the evening hours with the onset of darkness, helps your child fall asleep
  • Nighttime sleep is crucial for physical growth and development, as well as optimal brain function.
  • While your child sleeps, their body repairs itself, releases growth hormones, and strengthens the immune system.
  • Adequate nighttime sleep also supports emotional regulation, creating a solid foundation for overall well-being.

Sleep and Naps by Age: A Brief Overview

Now that we understand the importance of napping and the differences between daytime and nighttime sleep, let’s take a look at how sleep needs change as your child grows.

0-3 Months:

  • Newborns require a lot of sleep, typically averaging around 14-17 hours a day.
  • Sleep is often divided into short periods, with 2-4 hour chunks being the norm. Micro naps are not unheard of, either.
  • Naps can be somewhat erratic and unpredictable during this stage, but establishing a soothing sleep environment can help promote longer stretches of sleep.

3-6 Months:

  • By this stage, your little one may start to settle into a more predictable sleep pattern.
  • Total sleep time remains around 14-16 hours a day, with longer stretches of nighttime sleep emerging.
  • 3-4 naps throughout the day are common, with the first nap usually in the mid-late morning.

6-9 Months:

  • At this age, your child is staying awake for longer periods during the day but they still need around 14-15 hours of sleep per day (in 24 hours).
  • Babies in this age range typically have 2-3 naps, lasting around 1-2 hours each.
  • Some babies may start transitioning to a more consistent sleep schedule with longer periods of nighttime sleep, especially if you work towards independence with sleep.

9-14 Months:

  • Total sleep time remains relatively stable at around 13-14 hours per day.
  • Little ones this age typically take 2 naps and average 2-4 hrs of sleep a day. 
  • Nighttime sleep becomes more consolidated with fewer to no nighttime awakenings if you work towards independence with sleep.

15 Months to 3+ Years:

  • Toddlers in this age range usually require 12-14 hours of sleep per day.
  • Your child will transition to a single long nap, typically in the afternoon, lasting 2-3 hours. Most children will transition to one nap around 14-15 months.
  • Most children transition to a nap schedule consisting of one long nap, lasting 1-3 hours.
  • Nighttime sleep becomes more consistent, with fewer instances of nighttime awakenings if you prioritize independent sleep.

3-5 Years:

  • Children in this age range still require quite a bit of sleep, 11-13 hours per day.
  • Most children transition away from an afternoon nap and to a “quiet time” instead. This occurs between for most children between 3.5-5 years old. Some will continue to nap until they go to school full days.
  • If your child still needs a nap, that is ok! Naps may least 1-2.5 hrs and they may need closer to 10-11 hours of sleep at night.
  •  If your child no longer naps, they may still need a ‘quiet time’ period for them to decompress and up to 12 hours of sleep at night.

Don’t worry if your child’s sleep patterns don’t exactly match these guidelines. Every child is unique, and that’s why I’m here to support you. If you find that your child is struggling with the independent portion of sleep…well, you’re not alone!

Click here to grab your free master sleep chart

Your Personalized Sleep Journey

At Little Sleepers Big Dreamers, I know that navigating your child’s sleep can sometimes feel overwhelming. It’s a lot to remember! That’s why I’ve created a free master sleep chart to help you track and understand your little one’s sleep patterns as they grow and develop. This chart provides an overview of sleep needs by age and serves as a handy tool to help you tailor a personalized sleep plan for your child.

Click here to grab your free master sleep chart today and take the first step towards better sleep for your little one. Remember, I’m here to support you through this journey and help to help your child get the right quantity and best quality of sleep so your child can thrive.

Together, let’s empower your little sleeper to get the rest they need to reach all of their big dreams!

Like this? Pin it and share it!