Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child
118
Parents and Naps; Is Skipping a Nap Harmful?
February 13, 2023

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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 118Parents and Naps; Is Skipping a Nap Harmful?

Naps are important (Blog Posts 15, 5356, and 110) and contribute to the development of a healthy brain.

The duration of an individual nap, the number of naps per day, the number of naps per week, and the age when napping ceases are all factors influenced by parents:

  1. If the bedtime is too late and/or the wake-up time is too early, there will be more sleep pressure to nap during the day. But long naps do not compensate for short night sleep.
  2. Parent’s cognitive biases may promote consolidated night sleep (‘sleep training’) or fragmented night sleep (‘every cry means infant distress’) and consolidated night sleep contributes to healthy naps (Blog Post 88).
  3. The parent’s lifestyle may, or may not, encourage nap opportunities in, or not in, quiet and dark environments Blog Post 101).
  4. Day care and older sibling’s scheduled activities may adversely impact nap duration or timing.
  5. Parents might deliberately eliminate naps entirely to create an earlier bedtime or accommodate an older sibling’s scheduled activities.
  6. Parents might not appreciate the contribution that sleep makes to brain health (Blog Posts 127, 135, and 136).
  7. Parents might not appreciate how naps contribute to memory and learning (see below).

In a 2021 study on baby sleep, nine-month-old infants were evaluated twice under two separate conditions:

  1. Nap-Nap: They were allowed to take a morning nap and an afternoon nap.
  2. Wake-Nap: They were not allowed to take a morning nap, but they were given an opportunity to take an unrestricted nap later on that day.

“We used an elicited imitation task, in which infants learned new objects and actions before their morning and afternoon naptimes. In the Nap-Nap condition, infants’ memory was probed following both naps. In the Wake-Nap condition, infants were kept awake for their morning nap but engaged in an unrestricted afternoon nap, with memory tested across the morning wake period and after the afternoon nap.”

Conclusions:

“In the Nap-Nap condition, infants showed memory retention across morning and afternoon naps. In contrast, infants forget items learned across morning wake in the Wake-Nap condition. Moreover, morning wake was associated with a significant decline in post-nap retention of items learned in the afternoon. We conclude that two naps per day (rather than one) aids memory at 9 months. We were surprised to find that infants’ memory decline was only significant for their afternoon memory performance. That is, infants’ memory decay in the Wake-Nap condition was only significant for items learned in the afternoon, following an unrestricted afternoon nap. Taken together, these findings suggest that skipping a morning nap, while possibly being modestly detrimental to morning learning in infants, may disrupt the afternoon nap’s ability to protect and consolidate memories learned later in the day.”

Bottom Line:

If your baby needs two naps, skipping the morning nap impairs your baby’s brain’s ability to learn in the morning and especially in the afternoon, even after a single mid-day nap. The single mid-day nap does not fully restore your baby’s brain’s ability to remember what was learned before the nap.

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Comments

  1. Excellent information for parents and especially for those families deciding on daycare. This would be an important area to inquire about.

  2. Should I let my baby cry it out during naps? He is 4 months and typically only naps 20-30 minutes. I catch his sleepy cues and put him down drowsy but awake. Sometimes this works but most of the time he just screams. He is almost 6 months. He still wakes 3x a night to feed but goes down about 6:45-7pm. Before his bed time was 7:30-8pm. The change has helped dramatically and since then, he has dropped one night feeding, but he still has issues with naps. I hate letting him cry to the point where he misses his naps but many times unless I am holding him, he just will not nap.

    1. What is a common time when the naps occur?
      How is his mood and behavior during the hour before the 6:45-7pm bedtime when he is alone (not being held, soothed, or attended to)?

  3. Sorry that last comment I meant to say we started sleep training at 4 months, but he has almost always typically napped only 20-30 minutes. Occasionally he will nap for an hour or more.

  4. We are not on a specific schedule for naps and we go by when he wakes up (typically 7am) & his sleepy cues so there is a time range of when we put him down. Usually about 8:15-8:30, 10-10:30, 12-1, 2:30-3, and sometimes he will take a short one about 4:30-5. I usually let him sleep when he shows signs he is drowsy instead of keeping him up to his next nap.

    His behavior before we put him down is very active and social. Most days he is happy, talkative and playful. He starts to get uninterested in playing usually about 6 so I will start his routine about 6-6:15. His routine takes about 30 minutes unless he does a long feeding. He is always ready to go down by 7. When I try 6:45, he usually wakes up at 5-6am. Last night I put him down at 6:45 to see if he would do better. When he woke up for his night feeds last night, my husband did the first at 10:30pm and I did not go back in to feed him until 5:15am. We let him cry through the 2:30 feeding & he woke up at 4am but was not making distress sounds and fell back asleep after about 5 minutes. when he woke at 5:15, he didn’t go back to sleep until 6:15 and slept until 7:45am. He would not go down for the next nap so after an hour I picked him up to soothe him and he feel asleep on me for 45 minutes so I just let him sleep. His next nap, he cried for 10 minutes, woke up after 20 minutes then cried for 10 more minutes then went back to sleep. He has been sleeping for an hour (including the 10 minutes of crying after 20 minutes).

    I’d like to ween him from the night feedings, but he has always had issues around eating. He was born with a bad tongue & lip tie which caused latch issues until it was cut after his first week. He had a stomach bug at 8 weeks and developed reflux at 12 weeks. He also had grunty baby until about 14 weeks and has generally been a very gassy baby, so until about 4 months, he never really filled his tummy when he fed. After last night, I feel hopeful we can get him down to 1 or 2 feedings. But I am really worried that he will never be a good napper.

    1. “Should I let my baby cry it out during naps?” What exactly is your major goal?
      “I’d like to ween him from the night feedings”. Is he hungry at night?

  5. My goal is to get him taking longer naps & sleeping through the night so we can also sleep. He is still hungry at night, but also nurses to soothe when he wakes so we are trying to determine which is hunger & which feedings can be cut.

    1. I am sincerely sorry that there is no simple answer that applies to all families. Because of his age and the numerous variables regarding naps and night sleep, please read, and have your husband read, Chapters 4, 8, and 9 in my book. Then, you might be able to better understand the variables that are most salient for your specific family circumstances and values.

  6. Thank you so much for your advice. I will re-read those chapters and hope that we can find a solution! I am sure the night sleep will correct itself soon. I am not as hopeful about the naps, but will keep trying!

  7. I’ve searched your blog posts but did not see one that dealt with this topic (at least from the post title). I also reread the relevant sections in your book dealing with naps at this age.

    How to know for sure when to switch from 2 naps/day to 1 nap a day? Our son is 13 months old (12 months adjusted) and sleeps around 11 hours a night. Falling asleep between 6:30 and 7pm, and waking between 6 and 6:30pm, with no night waking. He has been taking two consistent naps since about 8 months of age, one around 9am and the second starting between 1:30 and 2:30. His second nap has started creeping later and later in the day as he is able to stay awake longer. And for the past 2 weeks or so, when we finish bedtime routine and put him in the crib, he just rolls around and hangs out (without crying) for up to an hour before finally falling asleep at or after 7pm (two recent nights sleep onset was around 8pm). I suspect he may be becoming ready for one midday nap, but don’t want to implement this early than he is truly ready for.

    Any thoughts on how to make this determination would be greatly appreciated!

    1. At 12 months of age, 81% of infants are taking 2 naps and 17% are taking 1 nap.
      At 15 months of age, 44% of infants are taking 2 naps and 44% are taking 1 nap.
      Because of your child’s age and because your child is a super night sleeper and his latency to sleep at night is increasing and his falling asleep time is drifting later, I suggest it is appropriate to cold-turkey go to a single nap. Begin to slowly (maybe delay this nap by 20-30 minutes a day) push his mid-morning nap later until it gets to mid-day. Do not let him take a second nap. During the transition to a single nap, the bedtime might now be a little earlier or temporarily, he might need a super early bedtime (even 5:30pm perhaps). But when the single nap is more in the mid-day range, his bedtime might become later. However, many children who, when younger and were taking 2 great naps a day had a bedtime around 6:30-7:00pm, the bedtime now might be a little earlier, say 6:00-6:30pm. These times are only for illustration. The point is that when your son is only taking a single nap, the usual bedtime might be a little earlier (perhaps only 10-20 minutes) compared to when he was takin 2 great naps a day. How does this sound?

  8. Thanks again for your prompt reply. I agree he may be ready to transition to one nap, but am wary since he is in the minority/on the early side for transitioning to one nap. We will give this a go. Thank you for your input!

    1. The reason I made the suggestion is because it seems that 2 naps is causing the falling asleep time at night to be at a later time. Protecting a reasonably early bedtime is crucial for good quality night sleep.

  9. Hi,

    My 16 month old is all of a sudden waking up and crying for hours (the last 2 nights) and for his naps, he’s also crying hysterically (but not crying hysterically at bedtime when he first goes to sleep). Can this be a separation anxiety stage? He only takes 1 nap in the afternoon and is definitely tired (especially after not sleeping well last night). I’ve been letting him cry, and he has a lot of stamina…

    Any suggestions?

    Thanks!

    1. Describe his sleep schedule and how he looks (behavior and mood) during the hour before bedtime when he is alone with toys (no screens or parental interaction).

  10. He goes to sleep somewhere around 6:30, give or take 15 minutes. And he usually wakes up somewhere in the 5s (which I would love to get to 6 am at least…)

    He naps around 12 (which has to be pushed off until around 1:15 because he goes to daycare in a few weeks).

    He can nap anywhere from an hour and a half to occasionally 3 hours.

    He is usually fine an hour before bed time. He has older brothers and enjoys playing, so he’s not really “alone with toys” during that time. He is a kid with lots of energy….

    1. The sudden change you observed is most likely caused by cumulative sleepiness (see Blog Posts 84-86) from a bedtime that is too late. Moving the bedtime earlier (Blog Post 74) will probably help but your specific family circumstances (Daycare soon and 3 children with 1 in school) prevent me from making a specific suggestion regarding the new bedtime. By book might help give you more details that comport with the details of your family

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