Sooner or later, every toddler will insist — demand? — that he or she is too big to take a nap. That naps are for babies, not big boys and girls. The kid could be right. A new study provides sound scientific evidence that once a child reaches age 2, naps can be more trouble than they’re worth.
Professor Karen Thorpe led a team of researchers through a systematic review of all the published studies done on children and daytime naps. The 26 studies the research team uncovered involved children under the age of 5. Each study was independently designed and conducted, with its own unique objective, but once all the data was pooled, Thorpe’s team concluded that, after the first couple of years, daytime naps are likely to interfere with more beneficial night-time sleep.
Thorpe, professor at the School of Psychology and Counseling at Queensland University of Technology in Australia, evaluated data from each study in reference to:
- Behavior — such as quality, regularity, and length of night sleep; daytime behaviors
- Cognition — including ability to learn and make appropriate choices, likelihood of having accidents
- Health Impacts — including ability to sleep at night, concentration of stress hormones in saliva, obesity
In a paper published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood, Thorpe’s research team states “The duration and quality of sleep have immediate, ongoing, and long-term consequences for child development and health.” Many parents assume a daytime nap is good for all kids until they start school but a growing body of research indicates daytime naps can interrupt a child’s circadian rhythms (biological processes such as sleep, wakefulness, and hunger that occur in roughly 24-hour cycles).
The Thorpe study indicates that after the age of 2, children who nap are more likely to have problems falling asleep at bedtime, sleep quality may be less than desirable, and they are more likely to wake up frequently through the night.
The methodology of the studies Thorpe’s team analyzed varied enough so that it was impossible to discern any effects on behavior and cognition on children who napped after age 2.
The National Sleep Foundation describes sleep as “the primary activity of the brain during early development.” It says it takes babies three to six months to get used to natural light and dark cycles of the day, establish their own circadian rhythms, and sleep regularly. By birthday #2, most children have spent more time sleeping than awake.
Kids spend about 40% of their childhood sleeping, according to the foundation, with sleep shifting from intermittent sleep periods throughout the day and night to a pattern of daytime wakefulness and night sleep as they mature.
- Thorpe, Karen, et al. "Napping, development and health from 0 to 5 years: a systematic review." Archives of Disease in Childhood. BMJ Publishing Group Ltd & Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, 17 Feb. 2015. Web. 24 Feb. 2015.
- "Children and Sleep." National Sleep Foundation. National Sleep Foundation, n.d. Web. 24 Feb. 2015.