The Behind-The-Scenes Reasons Why A Mid-Day Toddler Nap Is Everything

by Kimmie Fink

Sadly, my 2-year-old daughter is starting to fight her afternoon nap. I'll be damned if I let her give it up, though. Naps are just too important: for her, for me, and really for our entire household. If I'm being honest, a sleep-deprived baby or toddler is not a person I want to spend an extended amount of time with. Thankfully, the ways a mid-day nap will turn your toddler into a different mini-human are as real as they are life-saving. So yes, in my house naps are sacred.

I'm a schedule-loving kind of mom. Like, I have a printed out plan for every single day (on Tuesdays, I clean the kitchen and we go to work and preschool). Once my daughter was past the newborn stage, I started structuring our days around naps. I really wanted her to go to baby bookworms at the local library, but it conflicted with her morning nap and it just wasn't worth it to me to throw off her routine.

Baby girl consolidated into one afternoon nap at 18 months old. These days she's fighting daytime sleep, but I'm content to have her be in her room in her bed quietly reading books. Sleep would be better (and she still does, occasionally, fall asleep right on top of My First Book of Girl Power and Corduroy), but the downtime seems to have a similar effect of a midday nap. With that in mind, here's how your kid's mid-day nap can turn them into a pleasant mini-human:

It Removes Distractions

Even when we just stay home, there's so much to see and do! There are birds in the tree to watch outside the dining room window, a baby doll to undress and redress (lather, rinse, repeat), and couches to scale and conquer. All that is great and allows for important learning, but it can also be overstimulating. A nap in a dark room with a few stuffed animals and books is just what the doctor ordered after a day of short attention span theater.

It Gives Your Kid Some Downtime

I love my downtime at the end of the day: just me, a glass of cabernet, and my Roku. What should my toddler be any different? I try not to overschedule her activities (e.g. no swim lessons on preschool days) and get her home for nap because I know she needs time to just enjoy her own company and her imaaaaaagination.

It Keeps Your Kid From Being Overtired

Parents says that toddlers need 10-14 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period, including one nap. Anything less and you probably have an overtired kid on your hands. According to Children's Hospital of St. Louis, overtired children can become stressed and irritable. That can lead to bad behavior, and frankly, my strong-willed child doesn't need an assist in that department.

It Stabilizes Your Kid's Emotions

In a study out of the University of Colorado at Boulder, researchers found that nap-deprived children showed more anxiety and less joy and interest. After just one day of no napping. Yikes. Missing sleep results in "non-adaptive emotional effects." This fits with my experience in that my daughter is happier and deals more effectively with frustration when she's rested.

It Makes Your Kid Less Prone To Tantrums

If your child is having an Elmo-related meltdown in Target (I knew it wasn't just me!), it may be the result of sleep deprivation. It makes sense. If lack of sleep affects her ability to regulate her emotions (as established above), then of course she's susceptible to throwing a tantrum. Tantrums are normal in toddlers, but if we know missing a nap causes them, we can certainly minimize their occurrence.

It Allows Your Kid To Grow

Literally. Anyone who's bought an entire new wardrobe for their child only to have them graduate to the next size knows toddlers go through rapid growth spurts. They don't just need extra goldfish crackers — they need more sleep, too! A lot of that growth happens when they're getting some shut-eye, meaning that naps contribute to actual physical development. So my kid really is a brand new (potentially taller) person after a much-needed snooze.

It Helps Your Kid's Cognitive Development

In a Stanford University study, researchers concluded that infants rely on frequent naps for the formation of long-term memories. According to research by the National Institute of Health, naps enhance memory and promote learning in preschoolers. I think it's safe to say that there's a whole lot of cognitive development going on during naps. So what did a midday nap do for my kid? Oh, you know, just made her smarter.

It Recharges Your Kid

Being a toddler is exhausting. I mean, have you ever noticed how many steps they take to our one? After a busy morning of torturing the cat and dog, depositing crumbs in between the couch cushions, and Tokyo-drifting on her Y-bike, my little one needs some serious rejuvenation in the form of an afternoon siesta. You know, so she implement her plans for world domination upon awakening.

It Makes Your Kid A Better Bedtime Sleeper

Sorry not sorry, but I love bedtime. After we read exactly three books, my daughter climbs into bed on her own. I lie down with her, and she tells me all the things before I kiss her little head and leave for the night. Most parents learn the hard way that sleep begets sleep. Keeping your kid awake during the day can make them wired, causing bedtime battles. As long as the nap isn't too late in the day, sufficient daytime sleep actually facilitates good nighttime sleep.

It Gives You A Break

OK, so technically this doesn't have anything to do with my kid, but a mid-day nap gives me time to do chores, work, and sometimes even rest myself. My child is seriously in tune with my stress levels, so in a way, me having a break does benefit her. As my mom always says, "If mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy." Naps are good for my toddler because naps are good for everyone.