When is the best time for children to quit their afternoon nap?

sleeping toddler

Ah, afternoon nap, how we love you so – a much-needed reboot for many toddlers, not to mention their pooped parents or carers. But if you’re hoping to stretch your child’s kip well into their preschool years, here’s something that may dash your dreams.

The link between naps and sleeping at night for toddlers

A Queensland University of Technology study has found daytime naps beyond the age of two may have a detrimental effect on sleep at night. Researchers found overwhelming evidence of “unnecessary” napping after reviewing more than 25 Australian and international studies on children under five.

Study leader Professor Karen Thorpe says it’s widely accepted within the childcare sector that napping promotes growth, but research has found it has a negative impact on night sleep patterns, and the time it takes to fall asleep, in children older than three.

“The evidence suggests that beyond the age of two years, when cessation of napping becomes more common, daytime sleep is associated with shorter and more disrupted night sleep,” Prof Thorpe tells NBC’s Today show. “Daytime sleep is not a response to poor night sleep, but rather precedes poor night sleep.”

The study, published in BMJ’s Archives of Disease in Childhood, also investigated the effect of sleep on behaviour, obesity and accidents, among other things.

Prof Thorpe says the most consistent finding was a link between daytime napping and poorer quality of night sleep among children. “The evidence for napping and its impact on behaviour, health and development of a child is less clear,” she says.

Report co-author Dr Sally Staton says Australian childcare services must by law make “appropriate provision” for sleep and rest, which in practice can range from no nap time to two-and-a-half hours. But there is little evidence to guide practice, she says.

Managing daytime naps for children

US sleep specialist Dr Rafael Pelavo tells Today children’s naps can be a complex issue in families.

“If the parents want some time to themselves in the evening, then skipping the nap might be best for them. If parents are working late and want some time with their kids afterwards, it might make sense to have the children nap so they’ll be awake later in the evening,” he says.

“Parents will often tell their kids that they need to nap because sleep is good for them. But sometimes it’s because parents want a break or they’re planning on doing something while the kid is asleep. Sometimes they just need some time to themselves.”

Ultimately, parents should consider the research and sleep on it. “There is a lot of variation in how much daytime sleep an individual child will need and it is important that parents and childcare staff work together to support children’s sleep during this time,” Dr Staton says.

Does your child still need afternoon naps? Or how old were they when they gave them up?

Michelle Rose

Michelle Rose

Michelle is a journalist and mum to two girls who are obsessed with dinosaurs, fairies, pirates and princesses in equal measure. She lives in Melbourne's east with her husband, daughters and a giant, untameable labradoodle. Michelle loves all things vegetarian, wine (it's a fruit) and online shopping.

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