Sleep schedule issues in children
Does my child need a schedule and what is appropriate? How many naps should my baby have? How many hours a day should my toddler sleep? What is an appropriate bedtime for my child? Is it time to drop a nap and how do I do it?
Children's rhythms are different from ours and adjusting to each other is not always easy. Newborns sleep for short stretches at seemingly random times. Their sleep-wake cycles depend on how long they are able to stay awake rather than on the time of the day. By the time children are one, it becomes relatively easy to establish a predictable schedule. What happens during the first year varies a lot, however, and depends on both the child's temperament and parents' preferences. Some babies (they are a minority) are quite irregular and don't nap at the same time every day no matter how hard you try to make things consistent. Others just fall into a rhythm by themselves. Some parents prefer to be able to plan things around steady nap and bed times. Other parents find it easier to go along with the child's preferences -- also an understandable strategy considering how fast the need for sleep and the ability to stay awake change during the first year.
In fact, these changes are so fast that sometimes it is difficult to keep up and adjust accordingly. Not making appropriate adjustments in the schedule may lead to sleep problems. For example, a six month old may need to nap three times a day, but a twelve month old only needs two or maybe even one nap a day. If a twelve month old sleeps three times during the day, parents will find it very difficult to put the child to bed in the evening, or they may find that the child is awake for several hours in the middle of the night.
Many parents look forward to the time when their child doesn't need a nap anymore because instead of a much needed break in the middle of the day, child's nap (or absence thereof) has become a source of constant frustration.
Most children need to sleep during the day well into their third year of life. However, individual differences here are quite substantial. In some countries children nap until later age, but tend to go to bed very late in the evening. In other countries, children are put to bed early, and the long night's sleep makes them drop the nap earlier. The individual need for daytime sleep varies quite substantially as well. Some children can do with 30 minutes; others need 2,5 hours.
If your child is not napping when or as much as you think they "should", the important thing to look at is how well your child is doing on the amount of daytime sleep he or she is getting. If they are active, happy, and playing well, then maybe there is nothing to be concerned about (other than the fact that you are not getting a break yourself -- sorry!). But if your child is clearly tired, doesn't want to play, is irritable, makes unreasonable demands (ok, they all do, let's say more unreasonable than usual), and falls asleep in the evening as soon as their head touches the pillow, these may be signs they need to be sleeping more during the day. In some children, tiredness can disguise itself as hyperactivity. If your child gets completely wild, unruly, or aggressive in the evening, they may be overtired.