Can naps be bad for kids? Research says yes.

Sleepy toddler girl in bed with baby doll

A new research study indicates that toddlers and preschoolers probably don’t need naps after age 2.  Turns out, sleep QUALITY may be more important than sleep QUANTITY.

Parents love naptime, and kids do need lots of sleep. However, those long afternoon naps may have an negative impact on a child’s nighttime sleep quality.

Research study supports limiting naps for toddlers

Sleep experts and physicians commonly advise parents to keep up nap time until their child turns 3 or 4 during the preschool years.

However a new study published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood challenges the wisdom that all children need an afternoon nap and reveals that naps can actually lead to poor quality nighttime sleep.

According to professor Karen Thorpe from the Queensland University, “The evidence suggests that beyond the age of 2 years, when cessation of napping becomes more common, daytime sleep is associated with shorter and more disrupted night sleep.”

Many parents assume that kids nap because they do not get enough nighttime sleep.  But it maybe the nap that is causing the problem.  “Daytime sleep is not a response to poor night sleep, but rather precedes poor night sleep” according to Thorpe.

The study looked at children ages 0 to 5, and concludes that regimented naps after age 2 often led to poorer quality sleep at night.

Should you limit your child’s naps?

If your child is having difficulty falling asleep at night, or disruptive night time sleep, for example frequent waking, consider reducing naps after age 2.

Remember, it is the total hours of sleep (naps plus night sleep) that really matter. If your child needs 11 hours a sleep, they may get plenty without a nap — in one long, good night stretch.

Every child is different. Follow your child’s lead, rather than making nap time a struggle.

Nap Study Abstract

Napping, development and health from 0 to 5 years: a systematic review.

Archives of Disease in Childhood doi:10.1136/archdischild-2014-307241
Karen Thorpe, Sally Staton, Emily Sawyer, Cassandra Pattinson, Catherine Haden, Simon Smith

Background Duration and quality of sleep affect child development and health. Encouragement of napping in preschool children has been suggested as a health-promoting strategy.

Objectives The aim of this study is to assess evidence regarding the effects of napping on measures of child development and health.

Design This study is a systematic review of published, original research articles of any design.

Subjects Children aged 0–5 years.

Method Electronic database search was performed following Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses guidelines and assessment of research quality was carried out following a Grading of Recommendations, Assessment, Development and Evaluations (GRADE) protocol.

Results Twenty-six articles met inclusion criteria. These were of heterogeneous quality; all had observational designs (GRADE-low). Development and health outcomes included salivary cortisol, night sleep, cognition, behaviour, obesity and accidents. The findings regarding cognition, behaviour and health impacts were inconsistent, probably because of variation in age and habitual napping status of the samples. The most consistent finding was an association between napping and later onset, shorter duration and poorer quality of night sleep, with evidence strongest beyond the age of 2 years.

Limitations Studies were not randomised. Most did not obtain data on the children’s habitual napping status or the context of napping. Many were reliant on parent report rather than direct observation or physiological measurement of sleep behaviour.

Conclusions The evidence indicates that beyond the age of 2 years napping is associated with later night sleep onset and both reduced sleep quality and duration. The evidence regarding behaviour, health and cognition is less certain. There is a need for more systematic studies that use stronger designs. In preschool children presenting with sleep problems clinicians should investigate napping patterns.

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