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Napping children beyond age 2 could ruin sleep quality

SALT LAKE CITY — Parents may need to lay down for this one: By giving your toddler daytime naps, you could inadvertently be destroying their nighttime sleep.

That’s according to a new study by researchers out of Australia. The study — recently published in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood — found that napping children over the age of 2 could ultimately diminish overall sleep quality later in life.

Children between the ages of 1 and 2 need about 11 to 14 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period, according to the National Sleep Foundation. By 18 months, it’s recommended a child nap only once for about an hour.

By the age of 2, children are getting the bulk of sleep necessary for good health at night, NSF reports. But parents and caregivers are still encouraged to give toddlers naps during the day.

“The impact of night sleep on children's development and health is increasingly documented, but to date there is not sufficient evidence to indicate the value of prolonging napping, whether at home or in childcare contexts, once sleep has consolidated into night,” the Australian researchers wrote.

The researchers, led by Queensland University of Technology psychology professor Karen Thorpe — set out to find what impact daytime napping had on factors such as nighttime sleep quality, behavior, cognition and physical health.

They pored over 781 available published studies and evidence related to napping in children up to the age of 5. Of those 781 studies, they found 26 to be relevant to their purpose, according to the report.

The team pooled and analyzed the results of those 26 studies, and while they failed to find a link between napping and overall health, behavior and development — the studies weren’t consistent in terms of age and napping patterns — they did discover a link between daytime naps and poorer sleep quality in children over 2.

According to the pooled data, kids who napped beyond the age of 2 took longer to fall asleep at night and slept less in general.

“The evidence indicates that beyond the age of 2 years napping is associated with later night sleep onset and both reduced sleep quality and duration,” the researchers concluded.

While the researchers admitted the literature used in the study wasn’t the highest quality, they stuck to the assertion that if preschoolers are having a difficult time at night, parents should examine their napping habits.

“It really depends on the individual child, and every child is different,” Dana Rofey, a psychologist at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, told Today Parents. “There are certainly toddlers who aren’t tired in the afternoon and don’t need the sleep. Let your child guide you as to what he or she needs.”

Sleep problems in toddlers can also be attributed to nighttime fears, nightmares, a drive for independence and simply just the fact that they’re able to get out of their own bed, according to the National Sleep Foundation.

The NSF offers several tips to help toddlers sleep better, including:

— Maintaining a daily sleep schedule and consistent bedtime routine

— Make the bedroom environment the same every night

— Set limits that are consistent, communicated and enforced

— Encourage the use of a security object, like a blanket or stuffed animal