Toddlers naps – are they really necessary?

Ann Caird, postnatal Doula and infant sleep consultant

New research highlights just how important adequate sleep is for toddlers. Parents are only too aware of the consequences of missed naps for their toddler… tea time tantrums… bedtime melt downs…. Research now suggests more far reaching and possibly lifelong consequences of toddlers missing naps.

The research led by professor Monique LeBourgeois of the University of Colorado Bolder studied the emotions, reactions and problem solving ability of 2 ½ and 3 year olds who had missed a nap. The children attempted to solve both a solvable and unsolvelable picture puzzle both after a nap, and then after missing a nap the following day.

After being deprived of their nap the children showed a 34% decrease in positive emotional responses after solving the solvable puzzle compared to solving a puzzle after a nap; when nap deprived children attempted to solve the unsolvable puzzle they showed a 31 % increase in negative emotional responses compared to their attempts after a nap.

Researchers suggest that the measured emotional responses of the toddlers demonstrate that sleep deprived toddlers may experience a decrease in coping skills, be more prone to tantrums and frustration, have difficulty interacting positively with others, and experience decreased cognitive engagement.  Professor LeBourgeois concludes that overtime the consequences of missed naps for toddlers “may shape their developing emotional brains and put them at risk for lifelong, mood-related problems”.

So, how much sleep does your toddler need? Well, on average toddlers between 1 and 3 years require between 12 and 14 hours sleep a day, 11-12 hours of which is night-time sleep.  By 18 months toddlers have usually reduce to one nap a day of about 2-2 ½ hours, and this nap reduces to about 1- 1½ hours at around 3 years of age.

Further reading:

Nap-Deprived tots may be missing out on more than sleep.

Children and sleep National Sleep Foundation.

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June 7, 2012 · 9:49 am

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