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Don't Underestimate the Importance of the Almighty Nap

Written by Paula Schlesinger, M.D., F.A.A.P. on Aug 16, 2017, 7:58:00 AM

Sleep is so important, especially for children’s developing minds. It’s where their little bodies will repair and prepare for growth and it’s when hormones are released that help with their development. But how much sleep is needed? And is there a routine that should be followed? These are questions I get from parents, so if you’re unsure about what to do or not do, you’re not alone! 

How Much Sleep Does Your Kiddo Need?

You’ve heard we need eight hours of sleep a night. For adults, that’s a reasonable barometer. Kids are a different story. They’re growing fast physically and mentally. From infancy until about 25, kids need varying amounts of sleep depending on where they are in the growth cycle. One thing’s for sure – kids need more sleep than adults. Here’s a chart that shows what most physicians recommend for the amount of sleep your kids need: 

  • Infants 4 to 12 months: 12-16 hours (including naps)
  • Toddlers 1 to 2 years: 11-14 hours (including naps)
  • Preschoolers 3 to 5 years: 10-13 hours (including naps)
  • Grade-schoolers 6 to 12 years: 9-12 hours
  • Teens 13-18 years: 8-10 hours 

Don’t forget that each kid is different! You don’t want yours sleeping too far under or over these benchmarks, but there will be some variance from child to child. 

Help! What Nap Routine Should We Be Following?

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First, there isn’t necessarily one answer to this question. Some children sleep really well through the night and don’t need as long or as many naps during the day, but typically, depending on their age, naps are good practice. Here’s the general rule of thumb for naps if your child is getting the recommended amount of sleep each night: 

  • 0-6 months – Two or three naps a day, about 30 minutes to 2 hours each
  • 6-12 months – Two naps per day, 30 minutes to 2 hours each – these naps are included in their sleep total
  • 1-3 years – Typically a 1-3 hour daytime nap is included in their recommended sleep hours for the day
  • 3-5 years – Your preschooler needs about 11 to 12 hours of sleep a night plus an afternoon nap
  • 5-12 years – Depending on your child’s sleep habits and how well rested they are throughout the day, your school-aged child might require a nap during the day 

To determine if your child needs a nap, look for signs he or she isn’t getting enough sleep. Is your little one acting sleepy, as in rubbing their eyes, cranky, yawning, etc.? Is your child irritable in the late afternoon, tough to get up and moving in the morning, having trouble focusing, or overly aggressive or impatient? These are signs a middle of the day nap might be in order.

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If you have trouble getting your little one to nap - and trust me we’ve all had those days – here are some tips to help. First, try keeping their naptime consistent. This will help establish a routine. If you always lay them down at 11 a.m., for example, after a while, they’ll begin to get sleepy and ready for a nap around 11 a.m. Also, let them sleep alone – both at night and during naptimes. A big part of why kids don’t want to take naps is because they feel they’re missing something. Having you in the room is a distraction that can either keep them from sleeping or cause them to have trouble sleeping if you’re not around. And finally, the most important thing you can do is be firm. Walk them to their room, tuck them in, shut the door and even if they throw a tantrum, leave the door closed. It’s likely they’re having a tantrum because they’re tired anyway and they’ll likely tire themselves out and fall asleep soon. 

Skipping Naps is Ok

Of course, there are always extenuating circumstances, but for kids up until at least age 5, taking regular naps is a good idea. It helps with their development. But occasionally skipping a nap won’t be the end of the world. 


Dr. Paula Schlesinger is a board-certified pediatrician at Kelsey-Seybold’sTanglewood Clinic near the Galleria. Her clinical interests include developmental and behavioral issues, diagnostic dilemmas and nutrition.


Topics: infants, nap, toddlers, napping

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