Why Do Children Need Naps? This is Why Infancy May Be The Busiest Time Of All
As parents, nannies, and caretakers, our top priority is to give our kids everything they could possibly need to live a happy and healthy life.
For young children and toddlers, a big part of this has to do with making sure that they’re sleeping the right amount and in the right ways.
A child’s sleeping needs vary according to their age. As a rule of thumb, the younger the child, the more time they’ll have to spend sleeping throughout the day. The following chart can serve as a good general guideline for the total amount of sleep that children need every day based on their age:
*The sleep durations presented above are suggestions and may vary depending on each person’s individual sleep requirements. For example, some teenagers may only need 6 hours of sleep a day to feel fine, compared to the 8 to 10 hours suggested above.
Why are naps necessary for children?
We often see young children portrayed as doing nothing much outside of playing and having fun. From this and perhaps our recollection of when we were much younger, we may conclude that the journey from infancy to adolescence is a simple one.
There is some truth to that. I mean, when else are you going to be encouraged to take a nap as part of your day to day duties? Nowadays, I have to sneak into my car during lunch if I want to even consider having a short siesta.
However, despite the cool perks, being a child comes with a lot more developmental work than meets the eye.
During a kid’s first years of life, rapid physical and mental growth occur. Physically, as a newborn progresses into being a toddler, they develop the muscles necessary to begin standing, grabbing objects, and sitting down without help. A lot of physical growing happens too, around the first year of age, a child will grow around 50% of their original height.
By the 3rd year, a child will undergo significant brain growth as the brain grows to 80% of its adult size. This produces a plethora of cognitive developments, such as being able to speak properly and improving hand-eye coordination.
As you may have guessed, sustaining this growth is not a walk in the park by any means. Food may provide the necessary nutrients and building blocks that serve as raw materials for the body. However, it still needs something to allow it to perform these functions smoothly.
That’s where sleep comes into play
The body needs proper sleep to produce the cells and metabolic tasks necessary to carry out this growth. Sleep, among other things, is a time for a children’s body to perform the key metabolic functions that drive growth. The following are a few of the many important roles that sleep fulfills in children:
1. Muscle synthesis
During sleep, the body uses nutrients obtained from food to assemble the proteins and macromolecules that are used to create muscles and body tissue.
2. Body growth
Somatotropin (growth hormones) is produced while sleeping. Somatotropin is a key hormone in humans that stimulates body growth, tissue recovery, and cell reproduction. Additionally, it participates in protein synthesis, homeostasis, and glucose generation. The need to generate somatotropin and grow is one of the reasons why young children need so much sleep every day.
3. Brain waste disposal
While sleeping, the brain creates connections between all the different things that happened while awake and proceeds to dispose of all the waste and unnecessary material accumulated while awake. One of the theorized ways that it does so is by dreaming. Think of it as the brains regularly scheduled time to take out the trash.
4. Strengthening the immune system
Children’s ability to fight off infections and diseases are closely related to how much quality sleep they get at night. It’s often during these young years that children are most vulnerable to the detrimental effects of sleep deprivation, so naps and good night time sleep are even more important.
5. Energy regeneration
Although the brain actually spends more energy while asleep than awake, getting proper sleep overall still helps the body produce enough energy to feel refreshed during the day and prevent drowsiness and grogginess.
Why can’t young children get all the sleep they need at once?
Newborns have yet to develop their circadian rhythms and establish a regular sleep-wake cycle. Because of this, their sleep patterns are polyphasic, meaning that they’re fragmented.
As an infant grows, the body starts developing its circadian rhythms as it syncs with daylight and nighttime patterns. As infants progress into childhood, their sleep patterns begin to shift towards a monophasic sleep pattern in which they can get all of their needed sleep time in one long bout.
If, by childhood, regular monophasic sleep patterns have been established, why do children still keep napping?
Even after regular sleep patterns are established, children still benefit from the amazing effects of napping. As previously explained, there are many brain connections, learning, and growth that happens during these years. Napping helps children learn information better, feel less negative emotions, and even fall asleep faster at night!
Resist the urge to helicopter your child’s nap patterns
Pediatricians often advice allowing an infants nap schedule to progress naturally. Eventually, the body learns to self regulate how much sleep and food it needs.
Nap schedules tend to fall in line with feeding schedules. Over time, most infants begin having only 2 naps per day. Often time, baby feeding schedules incorporate feeding your infant about an hour after waking up from their nap. For a great resource on different sleep and feeding schedules for your baby, check out the BabySleepSite.
Tunning into your child’s napping cues
Nap cues are the different things your child may do to signal that he/she is ready for a nap.
These clues vary from child to child. However, recognizing some of the general behaviors can be very helpful. Some common signs that your child is ready to hit the sack include:
– Excessive blinking
– Rubbing his/her eyes
– Spacing out
Over time, you may begin to notice little quirks that your child tends to do before going to sleep. If you start seeing some of these signs, it’s a good idea to create the best sleeping environment possible to help your child fall into quality sleep.
Additionally, if possible, try to have your child sleep in the same place every time. Sleeping in the same place allows your child’s brain to associate that location with sleeping. These associative connections are also the reason why activities like sleeping and playing video games on your bed are discouraged.
What if my child cannot fall asleep?
Keep in mind that you can’t force a child to fall asleep, but, you can create the best environment to stimulate and facilitate sleepiness. This is where following proper sleep hygiene becomes extremely important.
Just about all the same rules of proper sleep hygiene for adults apply to sleep to children. Use this comprehensive sleep hygiene fact list to make sure you’re following all the proper sleep practices and are creating the best possible sleeping atmosphere for your child.
A regular sleep cycle and proper sleep practices for your child translates to a better life for everyone in the house. As a parent or caretaker, it gives you more time to dedicate to other activities, in addition to the peace of mind that your child’s sleep needs are being met.
If you have any additional questions about sleep in children, please post them down below. I’d be glad to help out and answer them!