Why Naps are Essential for Babies’ Healthy DevelopmentSep 19, 2022
Naps are so important for little ones. Not only do naps allow babies to rest physically, but they play a huge role in brain development as well as mood!
Your baby’s brain is developing rapidly, and it can easily become exhausting and overstimulating for them. Making sure your baby is getting the appropriate amount of sleep during the day (and at night) is essential to both their behavioral health and cognitive development.
Naps have been linked to a particularly important aspect of learning, and studies have shown that napping children outperform non-nappers in language learning, memory, and other cognitive functions .
Non-nappers (and also babies that don’t nap well) are more irritable and cranky since they have been awake for too long or take consistently poor naps over time. If your baby is a poor napper and also doesn’t sleep well during the night, their napping habits could be the culprit. Though, it is worth noting that some children do have lower sleep needs. But even in those cases, we would be talking about just slightly less than the average recommended sleep needs.
How Naps Affect Your Baby’s Brain Development
Since your baby is constantly learning new things, both while awake and asleep, they can tire easily and become overstimulated quickly. Naps are crucial in this aspect because they allow your baby’s brain to process and store what they’ve been learning throughout the day, and get some much-needed rest, physically. When they wake up, they’ll be able to do it all over again! ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
Here are a few ways naps can benefit your baby both behaviorally and cognitively:
- Emotion regulation
- Supported nighttime sleep
- Enhanced learning
- Supported rapid brain development
Why Naps are Important for Nighttime Sleep
It may seem like holding out on daytime sleep would make your child sleep better at night, but quite counterintuitively, the opposite is true. Children are different from adults and their nighttime sleep is highly impacted by their daytime sleep ! When children do not get daytime sleep, they can become overtired and tend to take longer to fall asleep, have more night-wakings, and, in general, sleep less.
If your baby is having a hard time sleeping independently and as a result does not nap at all, it’s more important to help them get the rest they need rather than allow them to become overtired. You may need to soothe them to sleep or have a contact nap to eliminate some of their sleep debt.
If your baby takes “cat-naps” that only last around 30-minutes, and is younger than 5 months, this is completely normal! They are most likely only napping through one sleep cycle.
It’s developmentally common for babies to begin to connect sleep cycles during the day closer to 5 months of age , but there are absolutely ways that you can help them lengthen their naps.
Here are a few tips for lengthening naps:
- Do your best to use sleep “props” to soothe your baby, not put them to sleep in the first instance (ex: feeding, rocking, patting, shushing, paci, on your body - TO sleep)
- Create the ideal environment for sleep
- Rush in to put baby back to sleep however you can if they are still under 6 months (i.e. patting, shushing, contact napping, etc. to get baby to sleep another cycle)
- Leave baby in their sleep space for their full “nap time” (i.e. if baby isn’t upset or crying, wait to see if they are able to fall back to sleep on their own)
Or, it could be that your baby has been taking short naps due to one of these short nap culprits:
- The room is not dark enough
- It’s too early or too late in the day
- You’re putting your baby down drowsy (instead of completely awake, allowing them to fall asleep on their own)
- Your baby needs external help falling back to sleep (ex: feeding, rocking, shushing to sleep)
- Your baby is not getting full enough feeds and could be hungry when going down for a nap
Naps can be tough, but giving your baby plenty of opportunities for rest throughout the day, practicing independent sleep skills, and following their age-appropriate wake windows can help them get the most out of their daytime (and nighttime!) sleep.
If you’re unsure how long your baby should be awake during the day, check out this blog post for age-appropriate wake windows!
Well-rested babies have been shown to sleep better during the night and as a result, take better naps during the day. It’s a continuous cycle that we can, as parents, keep an eye on to make necessary changes to as needed. A well-rested baby is a happier baby!
If you find yourself still struggling with your little one’s sleep, please know that you are not alone and that I am here to help. Download one of my comprehensive sleep guides for in-depth, step-by-step support.
Need help transforming your child's sleep? Check out my sleep offerings for children 0-3 years old!
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