The Benefits and Downsides to Napping

Your little one either loves them or hates them


Naps. You either love ‘em or hate ‘em.  Or I should say, it seems your little one either loves them or hates them.  When naps are going well, they come together into beautifully consolidated lengths in a predictable pattern from one day to the next. But when they aren’t going well, your little one might fall into the “cat napper” category, which typically results in naps that are short, fragmented and unpredictable from one day to the next.

Longevity and predictability of naps aside—there are arguments for both the benefits and downsides to naps and often times, this perspective will vary greatly from one family to the next.

The Benefits of Napping

Supporting Your Child’s Natural Sleep Drive

From a physiological perspective, from the age of 4 months onwards, there are certain times each day that your baby/toddler readies themselves for sleep quite naturally. There is a marked drop in temperature, an alignment of the suppression/production of stimulating hormones versus sleepy hormones, and a calmness that occurs leading up to sleep that primes your child for quality sleep. 

Predictable Day Sleep Compliments Your Child’s Biological Clock

These natural events occur in coordination with your child’s circadian rhythms, the 24 hour biological clock that is perpetually running behind the scenes, just as it does for adults. When day sleep is offered at times that compliment this natural process, inevitably lengthy naps result.

Strong Day Sleep = Strong Night Sleep

There is a cyclic nature to your child’s sleep whereby strong day sleep leads to night sleep that consolidates in a length that is both age and feeding appropriate. Rather than going down for night sleep overtired, a baby who has napped well during the day often settles into and extends their sleep more seamlessly during the night.

Thriving During Periods of Wakefullness

A baby/child who is capturing healthy lengths of day sleep inevitably thrives during the periods of wakefulness that precede and follow sleep. Rather than running on adrenalin or that “2nd wind” to get them through their day, they feel well-rested, content and thrive with respect to their temperament and level of activity. 

The Downsides of Napping

Feeling Handcuffed to a Schedule

When healthy day sleep aligns for your little one and it becomes predictable from one day to the next, sometimes it can feel as though you have lost all of your freedom. If you are more comfortable being out and about throughout the day, it can feel cumbersome to be tied down to a napping schedule despite the fact that your baby is now sleeping. 

Transitions Can Be Precarious

Whether dropping the catnap, transitioning from two naps to one, or dropping naps altogether as a preschooler, nap transitions aren’t always smooth sailing. Sometimes our little one’s are showing us signs that look like they might be ready to make a transition, when in reality it could be more of a timing or longevity issue. This can make for uncertain times and it can feel as though you’re missing something with respect to meeting your little one’s sleep needs.

Getting There Isn’t Always the Easiest Road

Strong day sleep is typically a process—there are a number of factors that will impact when and for how long your little one is napping (age, development, transitions, milestones), as well as any previous associations that they might have relied on to achieve day sleep such as being nursed to sleep, motion or a soother. With all of these factors coming into play, healthy naps can take some time to achieve—sometimes even a few weeks, and so you’ve got to be prepared for the level of commitment and consistency that will be needed to build that solid foundation for day sleep. 

Only you can decide if the benefits of strong day sleep outweigh the downsides. But it’s quite likely that when your little one isn’t reaping the benefits of strong day sleep, you’ll know and feel motivated to change things for the better.


Kim Pawlak is a Certified Infant & Child Sleep Consultant with Good Night Sleep Site Vancouver and mama to two adventurous, funny and heart-warming little ones. She feels so fortunate to be on the road to healthy sleep with so many families and strives to educate, support and empower those families along the way. Follow Kim on her Facebook Page and website for trending sleep tips and free sleep clinics.

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