Not all toddlers take naps, although most parents wish they would. When your toddler decides that sleeping during the day is a waste of his time, you may find that the pleasure of his company all day long drives you around the bend by dinnertime. You may also find that skipping his nap makes him miserable, interferes with his bedtime and might even have long-term effects on his behaviors and moods.
When you don’t get enough sleep, you’re tired — whether you’re 2 years old or 32. When your toddler is tired, he’s irritable, clumsy, cries over every little thing and is very likely to fall asleep at the exact moment you don’t want him to — in the car at 5:30 pm on the way to pick up big brother from soccer practice or at the dinner table. And while you might think that getting tired during the day would help your toddler sleep better at night, you can’t count on this either. In a Canadian study published in the May 2012 issue of “Child: Care, Health and Development,” kids aged 12 to 36 months who didn’t nap had not only more behavioral problems, but also more sleep problems at night.
A tired toddler is often a cranky, overly active, aggressive toddler. And the mom of a cranky toddler is often pretty cranky, too. If Mr. Wide Awake absolutely, positively refuses to sleep at nap time, give him — and yourself — some down time to regroup by having him play quietly in his bed, look at books or watch a video. Everyone needs a short break during the day, even small people who don’t have the sense to know they’d benefit from a nap.
Missing his nap can completely mess up your toddler’s bedtime, especially if he falls asleep right before dinner — or in his dinner plate. A late catnap can rejuvenate your little nap-skipper, which means that he won’t feel like going to bed at his regular bedtime, no matter how ready you are for him to go. If you can possibly ward off the catnap, do it, even if you have to set up a three-ring circus in the living room to keep him from collapsing in a heap. Move dinnertime and bedtime up an hour or so to compensate for his lack of nap time, pediatrician Dr. Harvey Karp suggests in his book, “The Happiest Baby Guide to Great Sleep: Simple Solutions for Kids from Birth to Age 5.”
Not getting enough sleep can change your little one’s emotional responses, a Bradley/Hasbro Children’s Research Center study published in the June 2012 “Journal of Sleep Research” found. Toddlers age 30 to 36 months deprived of sleep before working on puzzles showed a 31 percent increase in negative responses to difficult puzzles and 34 percent fewer positive responses to solvable puzzles. When given unsolvable puzzles, kids who didn’t nap had a 39 percent decrease in showing confusion over the fact that the puzzles couldn’t be solved. While less confusion might sound like a good thing, confusion shows a child recognizes when something isn’t right.