Does Your Child Still Need a Nap?

May 22, 2019

Clinical Contributors to this Story

Anita Jasani, M.D. contributes to topics such as Family Medicine.

Eric Weber, M.D. contributes to topics such as Pediatrics.

Mary A. Fury, D.O. contributes to topics such as Pediatrics.

Sleep is important for physical and mental growth and development for children. People who study sleep—specifically, sleep needs for children—have developed recommendations about how much time kids should spend napping during the day and sleeping at night.

The First Year

Most newborns (0–3 months) will spend most of each 24-hour period sleeping, waking for feedings every few hours. Eventually, infants and toddlers settle into a pattern of nighttime sleep lasting six to eight hours, and one or two naps that can last four to five hours (3- to 12-month-olds), tapering down to two or three hours at age 2.

Toddlers and Preschoolers

Throughout childhood, there will be changes in a child’s sleep patterns, with most toddlers and preschoolers napping only in the afternoon. Around age 4, some children will drop the afternoon nap on their own, but many kids will continue to need that nap through kindergarten (age 5) before abandoning it altogether around age 6.

“The flip side of this, of course, is the child who needs an afternoon nap but is reluctant to leave fun activities in order to take it,” says Mary Fury, D.O., a board certified pediatrician. “Parents or caregivers can make sure that the child spends some time in quiet activities on those days.”

School Age and Beyond

School-aged kids should get about 10 to 11 hours of sleep per night, while teenagers should shoot for nine hours nightly. Older children might have trouble falling or staying asleep at night. There are many things that can contribute to this, including overstimulation before bed from a phone, tablet, computer or TV screen. Keep electronics out of the bedroom to prevent temptation or interruptions from contacts.

Healthy Sleep Habits

In general, it is best to let these sleep patterns develop naturally, trusting that a child will wean him or herself from the afternoon nap when his or her body doesn’t need it any longer. “However, it’s also important to realize that getting our bodies to fall asleep is actually a skill that each of us has learned. As parents, it is key to use techniques that help ‘teach’ infants and children how to get themselves to sleep,” says Eric Weber, M.D., board certified pediatrician.

“For babies, one technique is to be a bit flexible with bedtime, and instead try to recognize when your infant is getting drowsy. This is the moment to lay your infant down safely in the crib, while he or she is almost—but not quite—asleep. Done consistently, this will help your infant learn to feel safe in the crib and drift off to sleep on his or her own. Once children are older and more active, set a regular bedtime. In all ages, a pre-bedtime routine, such as turning off screens, dimming lights and reading stories, is very helpful.”

Other Sleep Concerns?

If you find that your child is not sleeping enough or is sleeping far too much, discuss the issue with the child’s health care provider. “A child who is experiencing stress, anxiety or depression could have problems with sleep,” says Anita Jasani, M.D., a board certified family medicine physician. “Sleep changes, particularly insomnia, could also indicate an underlying medical disorder, such as sleep apnea, growing pains, or uncontrolled asthma or eczema.”

Knowing your child is sleeping well will help you do the same!

Mary Fury, D.O., practices in Sea Girt. To make an appointment, call 732-974-0228. Eric Weber, M.D., practices in Hackensack. To make an appointment, call 551-996-9160Anita Jasani, M.D., practices in Metuchen. To make an appointment, call 732-549-9363. To find a provider near you, visit HackensackMeridianHealth.org.

All of the physicians mentioned in this article are part of Hackensack Meridian Health Medical Group, a network of over 1,000 physicians and advanced providers at more than 300 practice locations throughout New Jersey. Visit HMHMedicalGroup.org for more information.

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.