WASHINGTON – Little kids can get really grouchy when they miss a nap. Sleep researchers are beginning to find out that the impact may actually be far greater.
New studies suggest skipping even one nap can have a big effect on a toddler’s behavior. Dr. Judith Owens, director of sleep medicine at Children’s National Medical Center, says there are even indications that sleep deprivation could set back cognitive development.
“We think loss has really profound consequences, not only on things like behavior and learning, but also on things like metabolic function.”
Owens says part of the problem may be that parents don’t put much of a premium on their own sleep. She says they “don’t often perceive sleep as being as much of a basic health need as it actually is.”
She notes that quality sleep is just as important as sound nutrition for kids.
“We talk about the sort of the pillars of good health being physical activity, and good diet. But sleep should rank right up there as part of that three-legged stool for good health.”
The rule of thumb is that toddlers should get 12 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period. If they don’t get a nap during the day, they should make up for it at night.
The signs that a child may be sleep-deprived vary with age.
Pre-schoolers tend to get irritable and hyperactive when they are overtired.
“They are going to demonstrate behavioral responses to sleepiness…the behavioral acting out, sometimes aggressive behavior,” says Owens
Experts say parents should use these behaviors as clues to help determine when the child is old enough to give up the afternoon nap.
For most kids, the transition happens when they are about 4. Some children keep taking naps past that age, but they tend to sleep a little less at night.