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Toddler naps: parents love them but does your child need them?

Ah, nap time... that blessed little stretch of time in the afternoon where life with a toddler can slow down and their little, active bodies relax and recharge. 

But what if that isn't the healthiest thing for your child? A recent article in "Archives of Diseases in Children" looked at all the studies that have been done around this issue and found that napping during the day was linked to falling asleep later, less overall sleep and poorer quality sleep in kids over two. 

As a pediatrician, this information falls in the realm of "here is what the book says and then there is what your child is telling us" — a phrase I repeat often in my conversations with parents regarding sleep as well as eating patterns, potty training and innumerable other topics. As a mom, I chuckle to myself as even though my kids are now teens I still remember the bliss of naps like it was yesterday.

Several issues come to mind: I have certainly seen children who are purposefully kept from their naps (usually in order to ensure an early bedtime) develop more restless sleeping patterns, including significant "night terrors" (similar to sleep walking/talking but louder) because they go to sleep so jazzed up and overtired.  

Sometimes it does make sense to try and avoid naps in the older toddler who recharges so much during naps that bedtime becomes a midnight affair. It so very much depends on the child.

The other issue is that of whether parents and caregivers really have the control assumed to decide to nap their child or not. I chuckle as I recall pulling out every trick I could think of to induce a nap in my wonderfully stubborn toddler, but that wasn't her plan. And did we pay with those late afternoon tantrums!

Every child develops and goes through stages in their own time and the range of "normal" is very large. There may be some basic patterns but trying to come up with the right way to do it only brings frustration and worry for parents wanting to do it right or at least not do it wrong! 

Sleep is very much one of those areas that we need to keep half an ear on what the experts say but primarily tune in to what each child is telling us that they need. Keeping both in mind is more likely to result in a happy, well rested child — whatever sleep pattern they fall into. 


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