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The experts unanimously agree that children need to nap and be on a napping schedule. Newborns sleep as much and as long as they need to. Between 4 and 12 months, most babies move to two naps a day (one in the morning and one in the afternoon), each ranging from 20 minutes to three hours.
Around the age of 2, most toddlers take a single two-hour nap in the middle of the day, and by the age of 3, some give up naps entirely. As with most other sleep issues, consistency on your part is essential. Find out more about baby sleep experts and resources.
Jodi Mindell, a child psychologist and author of Sleeping Through the Night: How Infants, Toddlers, and Their Parents Can Get a Good Night's Sleep, is the associate director of the Sleep Disorders Center at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Around 18 months, she says, children typically give up their morning nap.
If you can, have your child nap in the same place that he sleeps at night. A set nap time in a set place will ensure that he gets the sleep he needs. The best times for naps are mid to late morning for morning naps and early afternoon for afternoon naps.
Don't let your child nap past 4 in the afternoon, or he'll have problems going to sleep at night. At least three hours should elapse between the end of an afternoon nap and bedtime. Make nap times consistent.
Pediatrician Richard Ferber, founder of the Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders at Boston Children's Hospital, says your child may give up his morning nap by age 2. Two daytime naps may cut into nighttime sleep.
Read more about the Ferber sleep method.
Pediatrician T. Berry Brazelton, author of the Touchpoints child development books, says two naps are no longer predictable at this age, although he recommends putting your child down for a short time in the morning and again in the afternoon. By the time your child is 18 months old, don't expect more than one nap a day, usually between noon and 2 p.m. Don't let your child sleep past 3, or you may have a harder time getting her to bed at night.
William Sears and his family (he and his sons are pediatricians, and his wife is a registered nurse) are known for advocating a gentle, nurturing approach for helping young children settle to sleep. By age 2, he says, most children drop their morning nap but still need to rest in the afternoon for an hour or two.
Sears says if your toddler is a reluctant napper, encourage him by lying down with him. He says it also helps to schedule naps for the same time each day and to make sure the napping room is quiet and dark. Try playing soft music, nestling with him in a rocking chair, or lying down with him on a bed.