You and your little one have finally mastered a sleep routine and the entire family is feeling rested. Your 2 year old has healthy sleep habits, knowing when and where to sleep, and she follows her routine with precision and mastery. You secretly pat yourself on the back and relish the fact that you and your toddler are sleeping soundly through the night. Then, you see an article saying that napping after age 2 serves to disrupt sleep, rather than provide restorative benefits for cognitive and physical development. What do you do?
A recent study (Thorpe 2015), making rounds on the internet and causing a buzz among parents of toddlers, presents findings that show that “napping beyond the age of 2 lengthens the amount of time it takes for a child to fall asleep (sleep onset) and shortens the overall amount of night-time sleep s/he has” (Science Daily).
As of now, there are no long-term studies showing a link between napping after age 2 and any impediment in cognitive and behavioral growth, in addition to overall health (Science Daily). So, what do you do with this information?
As with any information, there are a multitude of factors to take into consideration before coming to a conclusion; the most important factor is your own child. Take a look at your toddler’s current sleep habits before making any changes to her routine. Is your toddler/preschooler still falling asleep at her usual bedtime, or are you noticing that she stays awake or has difficulty falling asleep at her bedtime?
My professional opinion is that if your child is napping well during the day, while maintaining an early bedtime (allowing for eleven to twelve hours of continuous sleep per night), and appears happy and well rested, then there is no need to transition away from the afternoon nap. However, if your child struggles to get to sleep each night, and/or begins waking several times a night of for long stretches, then it is a clear indication that they no longer need to nap during the day; at this point, the family should work on transitioning away from naps by using afternoon quiet time.
The bottom line is that this study’s findings are not a ‘one size fits all’ statement about napping after age 2. The circumstances always depend on the individual child’s needs, and many toddlers still benefit from an afternoon nap. Again, take a look at your little one’s sleeping habits and let that be the decision maker, not a scientific study making a blanket statement.
If you’re unsure whether your toddler is ready to transition from an afternoon nap to quiet time, I’m more than happy to evaluate your child’s needs. I offer a fifteen minute child sleep assessment at no charge, to assess whether you can benefit from my assistance.