While babies frequently nap during the daytime, a study suggests that it may be best for napping to cease within the first couple of years of life. Researchers have found that daytime napping is associated with poorer sleep quality in young children over the age of 2.

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Daytime napping was linked to delayed night sleep onset and disrupted night sleep for children over the age of 2.

The study, published in Archives of Disease in Childhood, investigates the impact of napping on night-time sleep quality, behavior, cognition and physical health for young children up to the age of 5 years.

“The duration and quality of sleep have immediate, ongoing and long-term consequences for child development and health,” write the authors.

Parents and carers are typically encouraged to allow toddlers to take a nap during the day as a means of promoting good health. From birth to the age of 5, sleep patterns typically shift to the night-time hours, with daytime napping ceasing altogether.

However, previous research suggests that sleep obtained through a daytime nap may not be equivalent to that obtained at night and could affect the overall sleep patterns and circadian rhythms of the child.

For the study, the authors conducted a systematic review of all the available published evidence involving daytime napping among children up to the age of 5. A total of 26 relevant studies were found.

After pooling the findings of these studies, the authors found evidence that daytime napping beyond the age of 2 resulted in a longer amount of time required for a child to get to sleep, coupled with shorter overall durations of night-time sleep.

Due to the differences between the studies analyzed in the review, the authors found it difficult to make a connection between napping and any detrimental impact on behavior, development and overall health.

A low volume of evidence regarding the impact of napping on children’s development and health was acknowledged as a limiting factor within the study. The studies that were available had observational designs and typically had different outcome measures.

“Extant literature covers a range of outcomes with few using standard, comparable measures. The quality of studies reflects the relatively new focus of research on the independent effects of napping,” explain the authors.

They suggest that future studies should investigate the complexities of sleep transition patterns during the initial years of childhood, alongside the influence of environmental factors in the home.

“The impact of night sleep on children’s development and health is increasingly documented, but to date there is not sufficient evidence to indicate the value of prolonging napping, whether at home or in childcare contexts, once sleep has consolidated into the night,” the authors conclude.

If a preschool child is having sleep problems, the authors recommend looking to see whether they are having any daytime naps.

According to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), children spend around 40% of their childhood asleep. The NSF offer the following sleep tips for children aged 3-5 years, who should typically sleep between 11-13 hours each night:

  • Maintain a regular sleep schedule
  • Create a relaxing bedtime routine, ending in the room that the child sleeps in
  • Children should sleep in the same environment each night; a cool, quiet and dark room without a TV.

Recently, Medical News Today reported on a study finding that teenagers are increasingly not getting enough sleep, with the average number of hours slept per night declining over the past 20 years.