When our daughter Jessica was three, nap time became such a hassle that I gave up and let her play. After all, I reasoned, Jessica had never needed as much sleep as her older brother had at the same age. I assumed she had stopped needing a daily nap.
I made no connection between our daughter’s lack of rest during the day and her inability to sleep well at night. I was too tired to think things through clearly partly because of health problems and partly because my own sleep was so interrupted—I was frequently up at night with our new baby or with Jessica.
No daytime nap, poor nighttime sleep, poor daytime behavior
At night Jessica slept restlessly and suffered from bad dreams. During the day, she was often irritable and hard to manage—all symptoms, I realize now, of her lack of a regular, daily nap.
“There is both research and clinical evidence,” said education specialists Raymond and Dorothy Moore in their book Home Grown Kids, “that children (ages 3 to 5) who do not either nap or have at least an hour of very quiet rest time during the day are not able to get to sleep as well at night. Because they are over tired, they...are restless and more susceptible to bad dreams.”
“This poor quality of night time sleep makes them vulnerable to fatigue again the next day,” they went on. “A vicious cycle is established, and then parents wonder why the children are excitable, irritable, hyperactive, and difficult to handle.”
“My kids need naps!”
Claudia Milhalov, mother of three children, ages 6, 4, and 11 months, decided that her children needed a rest time no matter how much they protested. “Kids bounce off the walls the tireder they get,” she said. “I noticed that a lot of times Paul (age 4) would protest and then fall dead asleep. There was no relationship between how much he protested and whether or not he needed sleep.”
Claudia insists on a rest time because “we all need the break. I deserve a down time even if it’s only an hour.” Claudia’s son Paul usually sleeps during the family’s rest hour, but 6-year-old Carrie rarely sleeps. “If she’s cranky or if she went to bed late the night before, I say ‘Please try to sleep today,’” Claudia said. “But otherwise she can read or do something quiet.”
“The advantages are now coming out,” Claudia said. “Carrie is using her quiet hour with a lot more initiative than I imagined. The other day after rest time she said, ‘Look at the story I wrote!’ She thought up that idea herself.”
Carrie recently told her mother, “I’ve decided I like my quiet time because I know then for an hour I’m going to have time that Paul won’t bother me.”
Here are a few suggestions for reducing children’s resistance to nap time:
Children balk less if parents act like nap time is one of the givens of life, like daylight and nighttime darkness. “You have to have the discipline to arrange your day so you are home at 2 p.m. (or whatever time you choose for a regular quiet hour—you can adjust it),” Claudia said. “Kids resist naps more when the structure of their days is haphazard.”
Provide routine consequences for missed rest times.
“(Our children) soon discovered that getting to stay up longer or even go someplace in the early evening was adequate reward for the regular nap,” the Moores said. “One or two consistent experiences of being deprived of this privilege—the routine consequence of no nap—helped them understand the cause-and-effect relationship. Physical punishment or scolding in such cases is neither productive nor necessary.”
If necessary, help children wind down with a relaxing nap time routine.
When I was regularly babysitting our young friend Jacob, age 5, I helped him relax by reading him a few stories. He slept better if I remained in the room, so I spread a sleeping pad on the floor for him and then lay down on the bed myself. I set the timer for 30 minutes, and I told him, “You don’t have to go to sleep as long as you keep your eyes closed and don’t peek until the timer dings.”
Invariably he fell asleep—and I usually did, too, if I didn’t peek for half an hour either.
Other helpful methods that the Moores suggest: give a back rub; turn on quiet music; “cuddle like spoons” or let the child cuddle up with a stuffed animal each time; tell a sleepy time animal story in a soft, slow voice.
Require one hour of quiet time if children do not sleep.
Set a timer, and provide children with two or three choices for quiet time activities—puzzles, workbooks, coloring books, drawing and writing materials, etc.
Wake children up gently if they tend to sleep so long in the afternoon that they don’t go to sleep at night.
Children who tend to oversleep may feel grouchy when you wake them up, so don’t upset them needlessly by wakening them abruptly. Play a little music or rub their backs as you talk softly and coax them back to the waking world.
© 1996 Becky Cerling Powers
Reprint with attribution only
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