Nap time is critical to your child’s health and well being. Children who do not take a nap tend to be smaller, hyperactive, and prone to frequent illness. Lack of sleep can cause aggressiveness, irritability, crying, whining, defiant or impulsive behavior, and a short attention span. A lack of sleep affects your child’s brain development, as well as his physical growth.
How Much Sleep Children Require
Young children need between 13 and 14 hours of sleep daily. Generally, this works into about 11 hours at night and a 2 hour nap. I have heard many parents claim that if their child takes a nap, then he will not sleep at bedtime. Other parents say their child simply will not sleep at naptime, and they give up trying. Ask to visit a large day care center shortly after lunch and see that nearly every child is sound asleep. What is the difference?
The secret ingredient is… (drumroll, please) ROUTINE!
Day care teachers could never get all those children to sleep if it weren’t for routine. The better the day care, the more they stick to their routine. A daily routine helps a child to be hungry when it’s time to eat, and to be tired when it’s time to sleep. Sticking to a routine requires that a parent be disciplined. Disciplined parents have disciplined children, and the opposite is also true. Children will learn whatever behavior we model for them.
Your daily routine should begin at the same time every day. Whether you get up at 6:00 am or 9:00 am doesn’t matter as long as you do it every single day. You cannot change your schedule on the weekend. If you let your young child stay up late on Friday and Saturday night, you are guaranteeing that Monday morning is going to be horrendous. There is a lot of research that claims sleep in the earlier hours of the evening is more beneficial than sleeping late in the morning. The old adage, ” early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise” may yet prove true.
Put Your Daily Routine Down on Paper
So get a pen and paper and start to work on your routine. Write what time you would like your child to be asleep by every night. 11 hours later will be your approximate time to begin your daily routine. If you would like your child to be asleep by 8:00 PM every night, then his daily wake up time is 7:00 AM. It might be even better to plan his go to sleep time at 7:00 PM, but that depends on a number of other factors, such as older children in the home. It is important to note that if you want your child to be asleep by 8:00 PM, then his bedtime is actually 7:30 PM.
If you haven’t already created a bedtime routine, do it now. This is a series of events (usually five) that always take place every single evening right before bedtime. It generally takes about a half hour, and may include: bathtime, pajama time, story time, prayer time, and cuddles. For more on establishing a bedtime routine, read: Hassle-Free Bedtime.
Why am I stressing bedtime in an article about naps? Because the two go hand-in-hand. A child who is over-tired, over-stimulated, and resisting naps, is a child who needs more sleep at bedtime. To establish a good nap, you must also establish a consistent bedtime.
Children Need Fresh Air and Outdoor Exercise Daily
Okay, you have your ideal schedule, your bedtime routine, and when you would like your child to take a nap. Your child is eating regular, nutritious meals at about the same time every day. Now, you need to see that his morning includes a variety of activities, including some large-muscle activities outside. This does not mean that you have to amuse him! The young child has a fantastic imagination and a wealth of creative potential. You simply have to provide the tools and the time, and a safe environment. To see what sort of activities I do in the mornings with my granddaughter, you can read: Working with the Lesson Plans: Schedules
Your child went to sleep last night around 8:00 pm, and awoke full of energy this morning just before 7:00 am. He did some puzzles, ate breakfast, and colored a picture in his journal. He played with his toys for ninety minutes while you got some work done. Then you took him outside to ride his trike while you jogged along beside him. He came in, washed up, and ate a healthy lunch. It is time for the culmination of all your hard work- The Nap!
Establish a Naptime Routine
Again, this is easier with a routine. It doesn’t need to be as long as the bedtime routine. My granddaughter goes potty, washes hands, and brushes her teeth. Then she takes off her shoes (if they are still on!) and selects TWO books from the pile we previously checked out of the library. She grabs a toy and a blanket, usually her baby doll named Sarah, and a small, flannel baby receiving blanket. Then she scrambles up onto my bed. Sometimes I take her back to her house to sleep in her crib at naptime, but during the day I feel it is okay for her to sleep in a “big bed”. For one, I’m not sleeping. I am awake and alert, and she is not going to get up and get into trouble while my back is turned.
I crawl into bed beside her and read both books. One story isn’t long enough for her to unwind, and any more than two just takes too long. I read two picture books. Then I let her look at them on her own for ten minutes. I want her to love books! I want her to feel that books are like best friends. I lay down beside her and I read for ten minutes, too, modeling the behavior I want her to learn. Of course, I usually read a paperback romance, and I’d rather she read the encyclopedia when she’s older… but that’s another story!
I give her a few count-down warnings. “You may look at books for six more minutes…. You may look at your books for two more minutes…” etc. (See Eliminating Tantrums, the count-down method. )Then, I take away her books.
Sometimes she whimpers. More so if it’s Monday morning, and her schedule was hectic on the weekend with her mom. She is tired, relaxed, and fed. She’s had plenty of exercise both physically and mentally. She will fall asleep.
At first, while you are teaching your child to sleep at nap time, you may need to rub his back or gently stroke his forehead with a loving, gentle touch. Maybe the first day you have to rub his back for thirty minutes. The second day maybe only twenty-nine minutes. Within a few weeks, his body will have adjusted. Research claims that it takes 21 days to create a new habit.
Naptime Can Be the Best Part of the Day
Finally – don’t let nap time go on too long. There needs to be a time to get up! If you let your child sleep beyond the time you established in your schedule, you will make it harder for him to get to sleep at bedtime. Keep track of how much he sleeps. If he slept eleven hours last night, then he only needs between an hour and a half to two hours for nap. He may wake up sweetly with hugs and sunshine, or he may wake up crabby for a while. You need to let him establish this new routine, and then you can teach him “how to wake up.”
Mommies Can Enjoy Naptime, Too
So what will you do with your nap time? Whatever you want! Plan for it, treasure it. Use this time as “you” time. Taking care of young children can be exhausting. Find what you need to do to “recharge” your batteries. If you have several children under the age of five, you may need to take a nap yourself. Maybe you’d really love to have a long, luxurious bubble bath and read a novel-without being interrupted by your young child! Just don’t fall into the routine of doing housework at this time. For one, your little one isn’t going to sleep through the sound of the refrigerator opening or the vacuum cleaner gobbling up legos. For another, housework really isn’t going to rejuvenate you and refresh you, so that you will be at your best when your little one wakes up.
There are a few other tricks you can use to make nap time run more smoothly – these, I feel are “extras” and not part of the basic package. Some parents like to get a special “nap time” blanket or bedroll or cot. Some parents dim the lights, play soft music, and rock their child. Some like to use a large timer, and set it where the child can see it, but not touch it – when the timer goes off, then the child may get up. I would urge you NOT to put your child down watching the television. That will keep your child awake. Maybe he will eventually fall asleep, but it will take much longer than necessary, and turn his mind to mush in the process :).
For further reading:
The No-cry Nap Solution by Elizabeth Pantley
The Sleepeasy Solution: The Exhausted Parents Guide to Getting Your Child To Sleep by Jennifer Waldburger and Jill Spivak
Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Marc Weissbluth
Middle: Courage Knight
Bottom: Courage Knight