Common Sleep Myths Part 3 - Keeping your child awake makes them sleep better at night

Welcome to part three of my common sleep myths series. The myth I’d like to debunk today is 'Keeping your child awake makes them sleep better at night’.

Many people think that keeping their child awake for longer during the day will make them sleep better at night.

Only last week one of my clients said to me ‘…but surely if my child is super-tired by bedtime, they will have a nice long sleep overnight?’. Whilst this may seem logical, unfortunately it couldn’t be much further from the truth.

Up until your child drops their daytime nap, which is normally around 3 or 4 years old, they need regular daytime sleep to be able to sleep well, both day and night.

If your child does not get enough daytime sleep, they become overtired, which can make things really difficult for them (and you). It can lead to nap struggles, bedtime battles, frequent overnight wakings and very early morning wake-ups.

Overtiredness explained

Being overtired actually affects your child’s body on a physical level. Stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol flood into their bloodstream, making it harder for them to fall asleep. Once they do fall asleep, these hormones actually make it more difficult for them to sleep well for long periods of time.

This can often result in a vicious cycle, with overtiredness causing very early morning wake-ups, shorter daytime naps and broken overnight sleep. All of these things compound things even further, meaning that your child just gets progressively more and more overtired.

Ensuring that your child is having enough daytime sleep is a great way of avoiding this cycle.

How much daytime sleep should my child be having?

As your child gets older, the amount of daytime sleep they need will gradually reduce until they stop napping together, usually around the age of 3 or 4.

Use the following table as a guide for how much daytime sleep your child needs. Please remember that these are just averages, so if your child is sleeping slightly more or less than this, don’t worry. If, however, your child is sleeping significantly less than the average amount, you may want to think about increasing their daytime sleep, especially if they are experiencing sleep issues like the ones mentioned above.

Age Average daytime sleep
0-2 months 4-7 hours (across 3-5 naps)
2-4 months 3-4½ hours (across 3 naps)
4-6 months 3-3½ hours (across 3 naps)
6-9 months 2½ -3 hours (across 2-3 naps)
9-12 months 2½ hours (across 2 naps)
12-18 months 2-2½ hours (across 1-2 naps). Most children drop down to one nap between 15-18 months
18 months+ Your child’s remaining nap will gradually reduce down in length until they stop napping altogether, at 3-4 years of age.

In case you missed parts 1 and 2 of this common sleep myths series, here they are: Always nap your child in a light room and Never wake a sleeping baby,