Sleep requirements vary from one child to another, and they change as a child grows. Naps evolve, too.

Newborn infants will sleep and wake periodically throughout the day and night. At 3 or 4 months, babies will need several naps during the day, for a total of about 5 hours.

Six-month-olds usually need morning and afternoon naps, each lasting an hour or two. At age 1, this pattern may continue, though the naps may shorten. Well before age 2, most children will stop napping in the morning. They will still need their afternoon nap until at least age 3, and some children will nap until they are 5.

The goal is to respect and reinforce a child’s normal rhythms.

Children may need help adjusting their naptimes. Whenever you try to change your child’s sleep schedule, proceed gradually. Change naptimes by only about 15 minutes (earlier or later) each day. Little by little, your child’s body clock will adjust.

Infants who wake up early in the morning and then nap later in the morning may be completing nighttime sleep during the day. You will want to help your child stay awake longer in the morning, pushing his nap to a later hour.

Children between age 1 and 2 may have trouble sleeping at night if they nap in the morning. It can be helpful to make the morning nap later and the afternoon nap earlier. Eventually the morning nap will disappear, and the afternoon nap will be enough.

A child who has trouble falling asleep or who wakes up during the night may be overtired. A daytime nap may help him sleep better at night.

A child who sleeps well but won’t go to bed at a reasonable time may need to nap earlier in the afternoon, or he may be ready to stop napping.

Most children do not need to sleep at naptime after age 3 or 4. However, they will still need to slow down at regular times.

After lunch, a child who no longer naps can benefit from a quiet time to “read” or play alone with toys such as puzzles that demand little physical activity. (Parents benefit, too.)

Although your child may resist, you can talk about this rest period positively, as his time to recharge and get ready for an exciting afternoon.

HELPING A CHILD TO NAP

Strange as it may seem, a well-rested child usually has an easier time falling asleep than a tired one. Be sure that bedtimes are regular, and early enough.

Never use a nap as a threat or a punishment. Any child will resist.

Prepare the child in advance for naptime. When lunch begins, remind him that naptime is coming soon. But talk about it positively, as a time to relax, read a story and rest.

For naptime choose his bedroom or a quiet place, preferably with curtains drawn. If an active child thinks something exciting is going on elsewhere, he is bound to want to be there instead. TV and videos are likely to excite the child.

Use a child’s bedtime rituals – a cuddle, a story, a lullaby. Encourage him to comfort himself with his lovey or his thumb.

(This article is adapted from “Sleep: The Brazelton Way,” by T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., and Joshua D. Sparrow, M.D., published by Da Capo Press, a member of The Perseus Books Group.)

 

Questions or comments should be addressed to Dr. T. Berry Brazelton and Dr. Joshua Sparrow, care of The New York Times Syndicate, 620 Eighth Ave., 5th Floor, New York, NY 10018. Questions may also be sent by e-mail to:

nytsyn-families@nytimes.com

 

– New York Times Syndicate