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Preparing your child for a new daycare is often a stressful process for parents. Your child will be in a new environment, with unfamiliar caregivers, and subject to a different schedule than at home. You probably have a whole host of questions about the experience, from the food your child will eat, to the curriculum, to how the daycare manages safety. Many parents are also concerned about their child’s ability to nap at daycare. Will the daycare create a sleep environment conducive to sleep, or will your child come home grumpy and overtired at the end of the day?
You aren’t alone. Over 11 million children under the age of five attend daycare and childcare centers in the U.S. and have to learn to nap away from home. But with some preparation and by asking the right questions, many parents are able to successfully help their children nap at daycare. We’ll walk you through some best practices to ensure that your child has a smooth sleep transition and provide some guidance on how to best prepare your child for daycare napping.
Why is Daycare Nap Time Important?
We’ve all heard that sleep is important for our overall health, but we may not understand why napping is so beneficial for young children. Naps not only reduce over-tired behavior and crankiness, but some studies suggest that napping decreases anxiety and improves problem-solving abilities. Naps provide young children (and caregivers) a much-needed break during the day and may even help children sleep better at night.
How Much Sleep Does Your Child Need?
While there are exceptions to every rule, most kids under the age of 5 benefit from a nap. Babies need at least two naps and may sleep for over two hours, while older children sleep for at least 30 minutes during the day.
You may also notice your child transitioning from several to just one nap, or wanting to sleep for less time overall. Children eventually stop napping altogether. During these transitional times, it’s especially valuable to understand how much sleep your child needs.
While sleep is highly individualized, these sleep guidelines are a helpful first step in understanding the sleep needs of your child:
|Age||Number of Naps||Duration||Nighttime Sleep||Total Daily Sleep|
|Birth-6 Months||2-3||30 minutes-2 hours||9-12 hours||14-18 hours|
|6-12 Months||2||20 minutes-2 hours||10-12 hours||14 hours|
|Toddlers (1-3 Years)||1||1-3 hours||10-12 hours||12-14 hours|
|Preschoolers (3-5 Years)||1||30 minutes-1 hour||10-11 hours||11-12 hours|
|School Age (5-12 Years)||0||0-30 minutes||10-11 hours||10-11 hours|
Daycare Napping and Safety
When searching for a daycare or childcare provider, it’s important to ask what norms and routines caregivers use for naptime. Every facility will handle sleep differently so don’t hesitate to ask a lot of upfront questions before making a decision.
Here are some questions to get you started:
- What is the Naptime Schedule? It’s good to know when kids nap and if those times vary by age group. Some centers will separate children by age while others may opt to group children in larger rooms for sleep. Similarly, some daycares will keep to a rigid sleep schedule while others let children who oversleep wake on their own.
- What Should We Bring? Many daycares allow children to bring special toys, blankets, or soothers that aid in sleep, and some may ask you to bring your own blankets or sheets. Daycares that provide sleep materials will often find ways to make them special for kids, by giving each child a unique blanket, for example.
- What is the Setup? Rooms should be dimmed and quiet (or have sleep music) and shouldn’t be overcrowded. Look for nap areas that are separated from play areas and have less overall traffic. Similarly, ask if children will sleep on cots, cribs, or in a bed, and what kind of bedding is used.
- How are Individual Needs Met? It’s good to know how your daycare plans to manage nap transitions, kids who require special accommodations, and those who have unique sleep needs. Similarly, how will caregivers help babies and infants sleep? Will they sing songs, swaddle, or use a white-noise machine?
- What About Non-Sleepers? Hopefully, the daycare will have alternative options for kids who don’t sleep or have trouble sleeping. Ask what activities are allowed and look for restful activities like reading or drawing quietly. Confirm that awake children are actively monitored by an adult.
It’s also important to understand your state’s laws to ensure that the daycare you’re considering is licensed and complying with safety regulations regarding sleep. Each state has its own regulations and all childcare providers are required to comply with them. If you have concerns about a particular practice at your daycare, reference the most recent guidelines by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Keep in mind that your child’s sleep experience may differ from home because of safety requirements. Many daycares, for example:
- Won’t allow naps over two hours.
- Provide sleeping materials including a place to sleep (cot, crib, or bed) and sheets and blankets. Cribs need to have mattresses that are at least 2 inches thick. Blankets need to be regularly laundered.
- Nap children in dimmed but not fully dark sleeping areas.
- Have caretakers monitoring children while they sleep.
- May require (in some states) that children keep their shoes on while napping.
Check both your state’s licensing regulations and the daycare’s rules to fully understand how this will impact your child’s ability to sleep.
Preparing Your Child for Daycare Naptime
There are many ways to cultivate healthy sleep habits that help prepare your child for daycare napping. Establishing a bedtime routine, monitoring screen time before sleep, and creating a consistent sleep environment (darkened room, sleep sounds, or otherwise) will all help your child maintain consistent sleep habits even with a change in environment and schedule.
Preparing Infants and Babies
Help infants and babies ease into daycare napping by thinking through the best routine for your child. Start by ensuring your at-home sleep schedule aligns with that of the new daycare as much as possible. Try to keep a similar routine on weekends to help your baby acclimate.
Pack a bag just for daycare and set aside pacifiers and other comforting items to bring with you. Some parents even recommend sleeping with a special blanket or stuffed animal ahead of time so that your baby is reminded of you while napping. You can also include tips to help settle your baby on difficult days or when your child is fussy. Many daycare caregivers have seen everything when it comes to fussy babies, but if it’s comforting for you, it may be worth the effort.
Finally, understand that some sleep transitions will likely happen at school and that this could cause periods of reduced sleep for your baby. Keep the lines of communication open with your child’s caregivers and trust that they are doing their best to meet your child’s needs.
Preparing Toddlers and Preschoolers
You can prepare your older child for daycare naps by working together and creating a plan that works for you both. Help your child pick out a favorite stuffie, blanket, or lovey that will be special for daycare naps. Bring your child to the new space and walk through the napping, eating, and play areas. Talk through daily routines and where naptime falls in relation to the day. For example, “After naptime and after you have a snack, I will be there to pick you up.” This is also a good time to discuss limits for children unable or unwilling to take a nap by clarifying quiet activities that are acceptable nap alternatives.
Practice any of these new routines at home on the weekends and talk to your child about the new schedule. Children in this age group may also respond well to a reward chart to celebrate successful nap days.
Tips for a Smoother Sleep Transition
You may find that you need to make some adjustments to your child’s overall sleep schedule to facilitate consistent daycare napping. Establishing a new routine takes time so it’s important to remain patient and be consistent. Here are some tips to get you started:
- Make it Age Appropriate: Ensure that your child is sleeping an age-appropriate amount of time in a day. There are always exceptions to this, but sleep guidelines are a good place to start.
- Give it Time: New routines take time. Set and maintain a sleep schedule for at least two weeks before measuring its success. It may take that long for your child to adapt.
- Be Consistent: Try to avoid changes or disruptions to a new sleep schedule while you’re still testing it out. Ensure that other caregivers understand the new schedule and practice it at home, at school, at grandma’s house, and anywhere else your child sleeps.
- Track Your Efforts: Keep a sleep diary to track any changes to your child’s sleep routine. Encourage preschoolers and toddlers to participate in this by tracking sleep together.
If you still have questions or want to learn more about your child’s sleep, you may enjoy our other resources. If you have ongoing concerns about your child’s sleep or sleep-related health issues, please consult your pediatrician.