Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child
54
Naps (2 of 4)
November 22, 2021

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Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child

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Introduction

A Healthy Child Needs a Healthy Brain, A Healthy Brain Needs Healthy Sleep

If you have not already done so, please read Blog Posts 1 through 5 that describe how sleep is important and beneficial. I will post specific information for parents and children based on my book, “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child.” Please do not be put off by my book’s length. This is a reference book. Read only the topic of interest to you.

Blog 54Naps (2 of 4)

NAPS

(Continued.)

There are five main elements of healthy sleep for children:

  1. Sleep duration: night and day (Blog Post 6).
  2. Sleep consolidation (Blog Post 11).
  3. Sleep schedule, timing of sleep, bedtime (Blog Post 8).
  4. Sleep regularity (Blog Post 12).
  5. Naps

Why Naps are Beneficial For Babies and Children

  • Naps Reduce Stress: Levels of cortisol dramatically fall during a nap, indicating a reduction of stress in the body. Not taking a needed nap means that the body remains stressed.
  • Naps Enhance Emotional- and Self-Regulation: In toddlers of 30–36 months, Dr. Rebecca Berger experimentally eliminated a single nap. She noted that when only one nap is eliminated, “acute sleep restriction causes dampened positive emotion displays when positive responses are expected (solvable puzzle), as well as increased negative emotion under challenging conditions (unsolvable puzzle).” Experimental acute nap deprivation revealed that “toddlers [were] neither able to take full advantage of positive experiences nor as adaptive in challenging contexts. If insufficient sleep consistently ‘taxes’ young children’s emotion responses, they may not manage emotion regulation challenges effectively, potentially placing them at risk for future emotional/behavioral problems. Specifically, when children were given the opportunity to complete an age-appropriate puzzle, they showed less joy and pride when sleep restricted than when optimally rested. When children were faced with a puzzle with no solution, they showed significantly more worry/anxiety when sleep restricted than when well rested. In sum, Dr. Berger continued, “sleepy children may view and respond to the world differently than children who are well-rested: they may not be able to take full advantage of positive experiences and may not be as able to manage challenges. A lack of sleep in contexts that rely on young children’s mastery of new information (e.g., preschool) may have significant and potentially dire long-term consequences [Emphasis added].” See Blog Posts 15 and 50.

A study of children 3–5 years old examined the effect of experimental nap deprivation and showed that naps influence emotional processing. “Without a mid-day nap, attention to emotional stimuli is heightened and may impair the child’s ability to regulate emotions.” A video abstract of the article can be viewed at www.youtube.com/watch?v=JIoZ8mzxQgg

Upset and frustrated when challenged. More emotional. Sound familiar? Now I think we know why children who miss their naps are more likely to have meltdowns or frequent witching hour problems. You can ask yourself, what is the magical power of a nap that turns a raving, manic, out-of-control 2.5-year-old into a sweet Prince Charming?

  • Naps Modulate Temperament: My study of naps showed that at 4 months of age, longer naps are associated with the temperament characteristics of a more positive mood and longer persistence (Blog Post 48)

At 3 years of age, longer naps are associated with the temperament characteristic of more adaptability. Comparing 3-year-old children who napped with those who did not nap, adaptability, and only adaptability, was the temperament characteristic associated with those who napped. Adaptability rating was the temperament characteristic that had the highest correlation with total sleep duration. Also, adaptability was the only temperament characteristic correlated with the number of night wakings: more adaptable children had fewer night wakings. Finally, more adaptable children scored lower on a rating scale to measure ADHD behaviors.

Other research has shown that adaptability is the temperament characteristic most important for school success. 

  • REM Sleep Occurs During Naps: Not only are naps different from night sleep, but not every nap is created equal. There is more rapid eye movement (REM) sleep in the midmorning nap compared with the midday nap, in adults. During a nap, the duration of REM sleep within a nap, not simply the total duration of the nap, is related to creative problem solving. Research also suggests that high amounts of REM sleep, under the influence of low melatonin levels, help direct the course of brain maturation in early life. Further, adult studies have suggested that REM sleep is especially important for restoring us emotionally or psychologically, while deep, non-REM sleep appears to be more important for physical restoration. See Blog Post 15.
  • Naps Consolidate Memories: Recent studies have shown that sleep following exposure to new knowledge is beneficial for memory consolidation in early infancy. Dr. Horváth showed that 3-month-old infants remembered a cartoon face about one and a half to two hours after its first presentation only when a nap followed the learning. That is, the nap consolidated the memory. “Infants who did not nap after the learning showed no evidence of remembering the stimulus previously shown, whereas those infants who napped did remember. We propose that frequent naps during infancy are necessary for the efficient consolidation of information.” Another study by Dr. Horváth showed that children between 7 months and 3 years old who had more naps (but not longer total daytime sleep durations) had higher levels of vocabulary growth, suggesting that memory consolidation with frequent naps is better than with fewer but longer naps. In a similar study, by Dr. Konrad, among 15- and 24-month-old infants, those who were able to nap after a demonstration session were less likely to perform an irrelevant action for achieving a desirable outcome. This suggests that the nap selectively helps to discard aspects of a learning experience as being not useful or relevant (“pruning” Blog Post 50). In two other studies of 12-month-olds, Dr. Conrad confirmed the ability of a nap, following a demonstration, to improve performance, presumably due to memory consolidation. She wrote, “There was a significant positive relation between the number of naps during the retention interval and the imitation scores, suggesting that infants rely on frequent napping for memory consolidation.”

So please respect your infant’s need to nap, based on drowsy signs, even if naps occur frequently throughout the day. In addition to frequent naps enhancing memory consolidation, an experimental study on 15-month-old infants showed that naps less than thirty minutes do not promote memory consolidation. Please don’t worry if your baby has some very brief naps, but by watching for drowsy signs during the day and in the evening, when you synchronize your soothing-to-sleep to the time when your baby is starting to become sleepy, most naps will be more than thirty minutes.

(To be continued.)

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Comments

  1. Our almost 6 month old is struggling with naps hard! We’re trying the nap drill this week and he’s getting three 30-minute naps a day, but is clearly overtired. One struggle is that third nap keeps ending about 4:30 or 5 so then there’s no time to put him down early. How can we get him on a good schedule that will work at his babysitter’s house during the week too?

    1. At 6 months of age, 84% of children take 2 naps and 16% take 3 naps.
      At 9 months of age, 91% of children take 2 naps, 5% take 3 naps, and 4% take 1 nap.
      Because of your child’s age, consider eliminating the 3rd nap and temporarily move the bedtime super early, perhaps as early as 5:00-5:30pm. Perhaps start this on a week-end when both parents are available to help soothe through a temporary rough patch around 3-5pm. The super-early bedtime should help him awake better rested which will help him nap longer. When that occurs, over the next several days or few weeks, then the bedtime can safely be shifted to a later hour based on drowsy signs. Read about the ‘5:30 rut’ if you wind up stuck with a too early bedtime and a too early wake-up time. Leet me know how it goes.
      Sweet Dreams,
      DrW

  2. Thank you! Should we stick with the “nap drill” of 60 minutes in the crib while we make that adjustment too?

      1. Chapter 5, ‘Sleep Solutions’, in my book describes in detail how to choose and implement age-appropriate changes that will help your child sleep better. Simultaneously focusing on all aspects of sleep (the wake-up time, naps, the bedtime, overnight sleep, self-soothing skills, parental consistency, and so forth) is often necessary. A single simple suggestion, such as moving the bedtime earlier, may or may not be helpful. Whenever a change is made, allow 5-10 days to see if it was worthwhile before making another change. Trial and error may frustrate a parent, but patience and persistence will pay off!

  3. So the nap drill did not work for us even after 10 days. We went back to being consistent with naptime routine and doing what we could to make sure he got at least some sleep. A couple weeks after he hit 6 months, they just came together. He’s not 9 months and things have been pretty consistent with typically 2-3 hours of naps per day and early bed times only if afternoon nap doesn’t happen for some reason (teething, sleep regression as he tries to walk, etc.).

    1. Congratulations. I started my nap study when babies were 6 months old because naps become more regular and longer between 4-6 months! Check out my Instagram posts (#marcweissbluth) where I discuss all your parenthetical items as ‘Fake News’.

  4. Hi Dr. Weissbluth, our 11 month old has been sleeping well through the night since about 9 months(roughly 12 hours a night, we try to have him in the crib by 5:30 pm but it’s sometimes 6:00; he’s usually up between 6:15 and 6:45 am). My concern is that he has not been taking his second nap. He usually takes a morning nap for 1.25 – 1.5 hours(we attempt to have him in the crib by 9:20 but are sometimes a little later). We try to put him down for a second nap around 1:30(at the suggestion of our sleep trainer who was trained by the sleep institute). He usually just sits in the crib for an hour though and doesn’t sleep. Do you have any recommendations for us to try? Thanks very much!

    1. A. Experiment with a shorter interval of wakefulness after the first nap for 3-4 days and if needed, then a longer interval of wakefulness for 3-4 days.
      or
      B. Read the section on transitioning from 2 naps to 1 nap and consider a single nap going forward.

      Please give me a follow-up note.

  5. Thank you I’ll do that and let you know how it goes:) Do you think I should put him down earlier than 5:30/6:00 until I sort out the second nap? If he seems tired he could go to sleep as early as 5?

  6. Hi Marc
    Trying to read through all your content and book, thank you for the wealth of information.
    I used extinction for bed time when my son was 8 weeks. He is now 19 weeks and the overtired cat napping cycle is driving me insane!
    I’m trying desperately to get into a routine but I don’t know how as 2 days are never the same. I find it hard to notice drowsy signs and am often distracted with my toddler. By the time I see them he is crying and up set when starting the nap routine. Once he is in his cot, he does not cry but rather passes out for being tired I suppose.
    I try aim for a 6pm bed time each night, he sleeps well with 2 feeds but lately his last feed (around 5am) will not resettle and starts our day then leaving him tired by 6.50am

    Today our day was
    5.30am wake and feed (wouldn’t resettle)
    7.30am 1st nap 40 min
    10am napped 20 mins in pram while out
    12.30 napped 40mins – tried to resettle with dummy
    2.30 difficulty going down for sleep, napped 30 mins

    He is always fussy and tired in the afternoon
    He falls asleep independently but lately I have been resorting to giving him pacifier to try and extend his naps

    Thanks for reading

    1. Please be patient with naps. Naps mature between 4-6 months of age. The early bedtime will help. Please send me a progress report in a few weeks.

  7. I have a 2 year 3 month old child who was napping perfecting up until last week. I would nurse her until drowsy, place her in her crib in a dark room with a sound machine. She’d sleep 1.5-2.5 hours. She is asleep at night by 6:45/7pm. And wakes up between 6:30/7pm. Last week I had to take her to her grandmas, where she refused to nap (she used to nap there just fine). Since then, she screams and cries once I place her in her crib relentlessly. Once for 2 whole hours. I do not go in to soothe her. I don’t know what to do. She only naps in the car now, and fights the crib only during naps, no issue at night. Please help!

    1. Perhaps a ‘reset’ after not napping at grandma’s last wee would have prevented all of this.
      Now, not napping well means the combination of the ‘nap drill’ and a temporarily earlier bedtime based on drowsy signs should help a lot.
      How does this sound?

  8. Hi Dr. Weissbluth,

    My 14, almost 15, month old (who has always been a very consistent and good sleeper and always slept a ton) began having trouble with his 2nd nap of the day and nighttime sleep around 13 months. Previously he was on this schedule:

    6:30 am wake
    9 am nap (usually 1-1.5, sometimes 2 hrs)
    2 pm nap (1-1.5 hrs)
    6:30 bed

    He is almost 15 months (Christmas) and the past two weeks we’ve experimented with transitioning him to 1 nap. We’ve been gradually pushing the morning nap (+15 min intervals) such that it is occurring at 10:30 currently.

    It seems to be backfiring. He has only been sleeping 1 hour at that nap. We’ve offered catnaps around 3 or 4 since he starts getting overtired in the afternoon, but he just stands in his crib. Also nighttime sleep has gone down the drain. We’ve moved bedtime earlier (5:45-6), but he just wakes up at 5 am or earlier screaming. Also waking randomly throughout the night. All of which is completely out of character.

    Not sure where to go next! We have a 3 month newborn at home too, who we are doing extinction with and that’s going well at least! I just hate to see my 15 month old so tired all the time, it’s breaking my heart that I can’t solve this problem for him.

    Any advice would be hugely welcomed!

    1. Transitioning from 2 naps to 1 nap is sometimes rocky and involves trial and error. Since the single nap is now occurring at 10:30, maybe, for now, the 5:45-6pm bedtime is too late. Please try a temporary strict 5:30 falling asleep time until the nap is successfully moved to the mid-day (try to do this over 3-7 days). Then, depending on when that nap occurs and how long it lasts, the bedtime might be moved later (based on drowsy signs). It might stay at 5:30-6:00pm and not return to 6:30pm because of less total day sleep. During this transition. he may get up around 5ish but I would not go to him to start the day any earlier than that out of fear of creating an early morning wake-up habit. How does this sound?

  9. A month and a half later checking back in…. We have got him to 1 nap now.

    His schedule is now:

    6:30 am – intended wake/out of crib
    11:30 or 12 noon NAP
    6:30 pm asleep

    But there seem to be two lingering issues we aren’t sure how to deal with…

    1) about 75% of the time he only takes a 45 min-1 hour nap. The other 25% of the time it’s 1.5-2 hours. The days it’s longer, things go much better. A few times when he had a cold a week or so ago, if he woke after 45 min we went in and let him sleep on top of us on the bed since we felt it was extra important he sleep. Those times he was definitely still tired and able to sleep another hour or 1.5 on us. So I know he NEEDS more than 45 min. Whereas before this all started he would often wake halfway through a nap and resettle, if he wakes now it’s almost immediate screaming.

    2) almost every morning he’s been waking at 5 am screaming and standing in crib. We’ve tried different things… leaving him to cry it out (he doesn’t go back to sleep typically just continues to cry). A couple times went in to calm him and tell him to go back to sleep (doesn’t work). A few times got him up, took him downstairs and cuddled on couch (fell back asleep). We’ve been doing the “red for bed” and “green for wake” night light signals (we don’t leave it on all night, just at bedtime and then green goes on at 6:30 am). I would like to know what’s best to do as I feel like a need a consistent approach so he knows what to expect.

    I’m not sure what’s causing this. Maybe separation anxiety? Afraid of dark? Simply more aware? He’s only 17 months though. This is such a 180 from him being the ideal sleeper through 14 months.

    Any thoughts are welcome!

    1. Does the “6:30pm asleep time” occur routinely, that is, on almost all nights? Is 6:30pm the beginning of the bedtime routine or the actual falling asleep time. Please clarify when the bedtime routine begins and when he actually falls asleep.

  10. We keep the same exact bedtime routine nightly:

    6:10 begin routine
    Change into pjs, milk, story time, brush teeth, in crib at 6:30 pm
    Falls asleep immediately

    1. Please describe his mood and behavior between 5-6pm when he is alone with toys (no parental involvement and no screens).

  11. After dinner (he eats at 5) he usually gets a burst of energy and wants to play with his toys on the floor or crawl around the kitchen.

    1. Blog Post 171 describes his “burst of energy” as a pre-sleep arousal that tells you that his current bedtime is too late causing him to wake up too short on sleep to have good quality naps every day. This bedtime might have been fine when he was taking two naps a day on a regular basis when younger. I suggest that you move his bedtime to 6:00pm, if he falls asleep promptly, that is proof that 6:30 was too late. Perhaps, when regularly having long naps, the bedtime might shift to 6:15pm. On the other hand, if he falls asleep easily around 6:00pm, but regular long naps do not occur, then try a regular bedtime of 5:30pm: Observe latency to sleep at night and nap quality. Even if he wakes up in the morning a few minutes earlier, the earlier bedtime will produce better quality sleep. Please keep a record and let me know how it goes. Does this help?

  12. So to confirm, if we do. 6 pm bedtime , should we aim for out of crib in the morning is 6 am? Or still 6:30 (and if 5:30 bedtime then 5:30 am?)

    Will give it a try!

    1. There is no “aim for out of the crib” time. The wake up time may be a little earlier or later or unchanged. The quality of sleep sleep (related to early bed times) is more important than just sleep duration. Let me know what happens over the next few days.

  13. With the 6 pm bedtime he’s woken at between 4:45-5:15 am crying/screaming the last 5 days. He has fallen asleep around 6:15-6:20 pm. Naps have been 1.5 hours. Generally, post-nap he seems in a pretty good mood. Mornings, however, he seems very unhappy, clingy, and tired. I would describe his morning wake ups as “inconsolable.” Even when we go in, pick him up, and give him lots of hugs and kisses he just cries. Between 5-8 am crying occurs on and off, with tired signs. Could separation anxiety be the cause?

    1. Previously, you wrote:
      But there seem to be two lingering issues we aren’t sure how to deal with…
      1) about 75% of the time he only takes a 45 min-1 hour nap. The other 25% of the time it’s 1.5-2 hours. The days it’s longer, things go much better. A few times when he had a cold a week or so ago, if he woke after 45 min we went in and let him sleep on top of us on the bed since we felt it was extra important he sleep. Those times he was definitely still tired and able to sleep another hour or 1.5 on us. So I know he NEEDS more than 45 min. Whereas before this all started he would often wake halfway through a nap and resettle, if he wakes now it’s almost immediate screaming.
      2) almost every morning he’s been waking at 5 am screaming and standing in crib. We’ve tried different things… leaving him to cry it out (he doesn’t go back to sleep typically just continues to cry). A couple times went in to calm him and tell him to go back to sleep (doesn’t work). A few times got him up, took him downstairs and cuddled on couch (fell back asleep). We’ve been doing the “red for bed” and “green for wake” night light signals (we don’t leave it on all night, just at bedtime and then green goes on at 6:30 am). I would like to know what’s best to do as I feel like a need a consistent approach so he knows what to expect.
      I’m not sure what’s causing this. Maybe separation anxiety?

      Am I correct that the previous nap issue is resolved?
      Because you mentioned ‘separation anxiety’ twice, I suggest you talk to your pediatrician or some other professional about this.
      Regarding the early morning issues, previously you were inconsistent about ignoring versus giving attention, are you still inconsistent?
      Based on his nap and drowsy signs, do you think the bedtime routine starting time should be moved earlier or later?

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