All children are different, so it’s not a surprise that their nap durations are different. In my house of two children, I have two very different nappers. One is a short, specific napper and the other a long, easy-going napper. Same family, same environments, two very different outcomes.
Before we discuss the details of a short and long napper, I must clarify “short” napper. As I stated in The Need for Naps; A 3-Blog Series on Daytime Sleep, no nap is complete unless it is over 60 minutes in duration. Biologically, children are meant to nap at least 1 hour in length otherwise they may suffer from nap deprivation. In that one hour your child has the ability to cycle through two sleep cycles.
My classification of a short napper is one who wakes anytime after one hour of sleep but rarely sleeps two hours long.
A long napper is a child who sleeps anywhere between two – four hours in one napping session. (Lucky you!)
When working with families in The Become an Amazing Little Sleeper package, we work hard on naps. We nit-pick the timing, we discuss how to give the child space to connect their sleep cycles and we evaluate the environment making sure it is oh-so-perfect for daytime sleep! We do everything we physically can to help improve the child’s naps. And it works, especially for those who are consistently napping 30-40 minutes! When families finish their package, their child is consistently sleeping over one hour in length – a sufficient nap. Now the part I have less influence over is if their child sleeps 1 hour and 15 minutes or 3 hours long. Children are either inherently short nappers or inherently long nappers. Biologically they are driven that way.
Why can’t parents make their babies/child sleep longer? We have to look at the science of sleep and how it is wired within the brain. Dr. Marc Weissbluth, author of Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child states, “Sleep is not the absence of wakefulness; rather the brain automatically and actively turns on the sleep process and simultaneously turns off wakefulness. You, and your child, can force wakefulness upon sleep, but you cannot force sleep upon wakefulness.” When working together, we provide your child with all the tools they need to sleep, but in the end, it is their job to fall asleep independently and stay asleep. We cannot will them into a deeper sleep. On the flip side, to help organize naps and elongate them, we can impel wakefulness upon their sleep (and we do wake them at times!) to preserve their later naps and bedtime.
In the end, sleep and wake states are different, but not opposite. Always strive for a nap over an hour in length, but know that their nap pattern (whether they sleep 1 1/2 hours or 3 hours) is largely an individual trait that stays stable until later childhood.