“Can’t he just skip his nap???”
I’ve always been pretty protective of my son’s nap times, and I’ve certainly gotten some grief about it (mostly from people who do not have children, which I think is telling).
I’ve let the criticisms roll off my back—partly because I know my kid and I know he needs that downtime to thrive, and partly because I know I have science on my side.
And let’s face it: Who’s the person who needs that nap time as much as my son does? That would be me. Mama’s gotta get stuff done! (Or, um, take a nap herself…)
But my own to-do list aside, here are a few reasons why, no, my son can’t simply skip his nap—even though it’d be easier or more convenient if he did. Consider these the next time you’re tempted to bypass your child’s daytime shuteye.
The Benefits of Napping for Toddlers and Babies
A Napping Child is a Learning Child
The amount of cognitive development that happens while babies and toddlers nap is pretty incredible.
Most recently, a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that infants demonstrated higher levels of learning and memory the day after being taught if they took a long nap right after the information was presented.
Here’s the key: All the infants rested soundly during the night, but only the ones who had also napped during the day remembered what they had learned twenty-four hours later.
“This needs further study,” the lead researcher told The New York Times, “but maybe babies lose some information if they don’t nap after learning.”
Considering the lengths to which we parents often go to ensure our children are smartypants—you know, playing them Mozart while they’re in the womb, counting our intake of omega-3s while breastfeeding, and helping them practice their ABCs over and over again—making sure they get their nap time seems like a pretty simple way to foster the development of their precious brains.
A Napping Child is a Growing Child
It’s not just their brains that are developing; it’s their bodies too.
We’ve all heard about the growth-spurting babies and toddlers whose stomachs seem like bottomless pits—especially considering how small those stomachs really are!
But when little ones go through periods of rapid growth, they need more than just extra food. They need extra sleep too. A lot of their growth is happening while they’re in dreamland, so depriving them of that time impacts them physically as much as mentally.
A Rested Child is a Well-Behaved Child
A missed nap or two may not seem like a big deal to friends and caregivers who see the child for an hour and then leave. But talk to the parents later that evening or the next day—when they’re dealing with extra fussiness, whining, and tantrum-throwing—and it’s a different story.
Research backs up the case for this fatigue-induced crankiness. One study conducted at the University of Colorado, Boulder examined toddlers as they were completing puzzles. When they missed their regular 90-minute nap, the kiddos showed a 31 percent increase in negative emotional responses when they weren’t able to complete an especially difficult puzzle. They also showed a 34 percent decrease in positive emotional responses after completing an easier one.
In other words, without a nap, their negative emotions were heightened, while their positive ones were dulled.
As explained by sleep scientist Dr. Monique LeBourgeouis, “Sleepy children are not able to cope with day-to-day challenges in their worlds.”
My takeaway? A rested child is a well-behaved and happy child. And a well-behaved and happy child makes a much happier mama, too.
A Daytime Sleeper is (Usually) a Better Nighttime Sleeper
I’ve heard a lot of people say that they don’t prioritize their children’s naps because ditching the daytime snooze sessions helps their babies and toddlers sleep better at night.
But that’s not actually the case.
According to the St. Louis Children’s Hospital, skipping naps usually leads to a child that is overtired by bedtime. And while you’d think an overtired kid will fall asleep quickly and easily, the opposite is often true: They start acting stressed, irritable, and wired, making bedtime more of a battle.
The only time napping seems to interfere with nighttime sleep is when it occurs in the late evening (no surprise there—it’s tough to nap at 5:30pm and still go to bed by 8pm!). But other than that, daytime naps actually facilitate better nighttime sleep.
Of course, this isn’t to say that parents who bypass naps every now and then are somehow robbing their little ones of the ability to learn, grow, emotionally engage, and sleep soundly at night. It just means that, when possible, napping should be prioritized—for the sake of parent and child alike.
Are/were your kids good nappers? Do you think naps are important for babies and toddlers?
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Katie Markey McLaughlin, M.S., is a freelance writer and blogger who believes moms can do anything, but not everything. She writes all about it on her blog Pick Any Two. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. Katie is the mom of one very energetic toddler and another baby on the way.