A daily nap for young children, let alone adults, is not a sacred institution in American culture. Americans applaud hard work and overtime, but hesitantly apologize if the need for rest interferes with work and play. There are many good reasons for foregoing a regular naptime, but there are even better reasons to protect your child’s right to a siesta. Let’s debunk our cultural misconceptions about the infamous midday snooze and wake up refreshed with scientific backing and practical reasons for why naptime should not be overlooked. All hail the nap!
Good Reasons to Skip v. Excellent Reasons to Savor
1. Lazy, Lazy:
- Reasons to Skip: American culture prizes busyness and work. Rest and sleep is seen as a luxury and in some cases a weakness. Parents may feel that if their child is napping, then they are missing out on play and learning opportunities. As parents, we may feel that the “free time” afforded to us when our children nap is a sign that we are not doing our jobs properly.
- Reasons to Savor: Kick your parenting guilt to the curb! The best activity for your child midday is his nap. Sleep is actually work, but the conscious self is not required to attend to the type work that sleep accomplishes. Sleep improves memory, behavior, moods, alertness, energy levels, creativity, motor coordination, night time sleep, health and BMI, immunity, eating habits, etc… The list could go on. If you worry about your child falling behind developmentally because of naptime, trust the numerous studies that demonstrate that preschoolers who nap regularly perform better on memory and academic tasks, than those who opt for more playtime.
2. Napping is for Babies
- Reasons to Skip: Some young children do not seem to need to recharge themselves with a morning and/or afternoon nap and others demonstrate obvious signs of disturbance when they miss their snooze. If a child seems happy not napping, it can feel cruel or selfish of the parent to require the child to nap/rest. Also, some children will end up staying up late into the night if allowed to nap during the day.
- Reasons to Savor: Science firmly backs the perspective that all humans can benefit from a nap. Adults ideally benefit from 15 to 20 minutes of shut eye mid-day, while young children might require 30 min to 3 hours. Your child will show you how much sleep is ideal for him, but even if she prefers not to sleep, rest is still an important activity to offer. Life is very overstimulating for children and they need rest to process their experiences and recharge. They also benefit significantly from unstructured, independent play and, at times, boredom as it teaches a child to self-soothe, self-entertain and ultimately self-control (the most important skill according to scientists that predicts “success” later in life). Also, young children will go periods where they do not seem to need a nap (days to weeks or an entire month). Stick to the regular naptime in spite of your child’s hyper-alert behavior. Children never out grow the need for rest and whether or not they sleep during naptime is entirely their choice.
3. Older Children’s Schedules
- Reasons to Skip: Life is busy and staying home for naptime means foregoing other opportunities for enrichment. When a child falls last in the birth order, they often are not given the option of napping or their naps occur in irregularly inside of moving objects (strollers, carriers, cars, etc…). Keeping the entire family home in the morning and/or afternoon for naptime doesn’t seem to be fair and leads to cranky older children and parents.
- Reasons to Savor: The body operates on a chemical clock. Sleep is preceded by the release of the chemical melatonian. When sleep does not follow the release of melatonian, the body gets confused and it can make it harder to fall asleep at night and for future naps as well as cause symptoms of sleep deprivation. Several studies have been published recently that cite regularity and frequency of sleep as critical components in healthy mental and physical development. Ignoring the body’s need for either can lead to short-term and long-term negative consequences (lower brain power, sleep deprivation, behavioral issues, etc…). Instead of altogether tossing naps for younger siblings, be reasonable and realistic about the entire family’s needs, but be willing to compromise and offer some type of regular opportunity to rest. Remember that everyone benefits from a nap and asking older children to rest in the afternoon is beneficial and age appropriate. Families from middle-income to wealthier backgrounds need not worry about missed activities and classes as a result of napping, as studies do not show significant overall gains from participation in these activities for children from these groups. Sleep and rest, however, do resonate in the scientific community as very significant and meaningful.
4. What about the Caretaker?
- Reasons to Skip: If you hire a childcare provider then it is likely difficult to stomach paying for someone to be home with your children while they sleep. For parents who stay home, enforcing naptime can feel selfish. Parents may feel guilt or pressure to keep up with the schedules of their friends and say “yes” to playdates and parties midday. It can be embarrassing and boring to turn down an activity on account of naptime.
- Reasons to Savor: True confession- I nap every day. Sometimes I rest for just 10 minutes and other days I might sleep for up to 30 minutes. As a discipline, I force myself to lay down and close my eyes every afternoon. When I tell my kids it is naptime, I refer to it as a family naptime. Naps are for everyone. Even the babysitter or nanny needs a break from your kids. No one is superhuman (child care providers included) and everyone performs better after a little rest. Caring for children is very rewarding and meaningful, but it is also draining. Snapping, feelings of annoyance, desperately desiring to be alone or not be touched, anger and general irritability are signs that you need a break. If you don’t like napping, do something that you do enjoy during naptime. Refresh yourself so that you can offer 100% of you to your child when naptime is over, instead of running on 50% the entire day.
All hail the nap!