Nap time can be a lifesaver. Naps are a necessity for babies and toddlers. Plus, these short pockets of time can provide parents with a small break to rest. Or, let’s face it, to get things done.

But despite the fact that young children need naps, the process doesn’t always come without tears. You might find yourself in a situation where your child cries and refuses to nap.

There are a few approaches to this scenario: stay with your child until they fall asleep, let them cry it out (CIO), or skip nap time. For years, pediatricians recommended the CIO method, which is also called sleep training. But today, there are some serious concerns about this method of forced nap time.

What’s the cry it out method?

The CIO method is a philosophy that children who cry when put to bed will eventually get themselves to sleep without intervention. For new parents, such a scene can be especially stressful. But keep in mind that crying is extremely common at nap time, especially for babies. The crying often continues for a few minutes.

The cry it out method first emerged because of hygiene concerns. Parents were encouraged to let their babies cry it out as early as the 1880s as a means of germ prevention. The idea was that if you touched your baby as little as possible, they would be less likely to get sick.

For proponents of sleep training, the process doesn’t mean that you let your child cry for hours on end. The go-to recommendation is to check on your child if the crying lasts more than a few minutes, and offer reassurance. If you do follow the cry it out method, you won’t want to pick up your baby, as this will only confuse them once you put them down again for bed time.

Pros of crying it out during nap time

  1. Children may eventually learn to fall asleep on their own during naps.
  2. Parents can get more done if their child takes a successful nap.
  3. Your child may eventually become more comfortable with nap time.

Pros of crying it out

Proponents of this method say that if you constantly interfere with nap time, your child will never learn how to take naps on their own. This can become extremely problematic, as naps play an important role in early childhood development.

There is also parental sanity to consider. In previous generations, extended family households helped share the responsibilities tied to childrearing, including nap time.

Now that many families have only one or two adults in the household, successful naps are considered a necessity for parents who need time to get things done.

Cons of crying it out during nap time

  1. Experts say there are psychological concerns to letting your child cry it out.
  2. Crying it out may be stressful for both parents and children.
  3. Crying it out may result in feelings of insecurity for children.

Concerns and negative effects

Despite the practicality behind letting your child cry it out during naps, there are potential serious long-term concerns. Experts say there are concerns over potential psychological damage that this method could carry. Some of the potential negative effects include:

  • increased levels of cortisol (the stress hormone)
  • damage of the vagus nerve (which could lead to digestive issues)
  • feelings of insecurity
  • inability to trust others
  • relationship problems later in life

Nap timing is everything

One of the most important keys in nap time success is to be able to determine your child’s sleep patterns. Some children take better naps in the late morning, while others have more success in the afternoon.

Consistency is more important than the actual time of day. Your child will likely be more cooperative during nap time if you put them to bed at the same time every day.

The timing depends on when your child goes to bed at night, and when they wake up in the morning. It’s not reasonable to expect a child to willingly take a nap if they are not tired yet. At the same time, you’ll also want to make sure you get your child to take a nap before they become overtired.

How long should your child nap each day?

Knowing how long your child needs to nap is another key to nap time success. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), newborns often take one to two-hour naps frequently during the day and night. As babies grow the first year, the length of naps can increase, but the number of naps usually decreases to two to three times per day.

Children ages 1 to 5 will likely take a single afternoon nap. The Mayo Clinic says the length is usually between two and three hours. You might need to adjust your child’s bedtime to make sure that naps don’t interfere with nighttime sleep.

To cry or not to cry?

There are arguments on both sides of the spectrum. Parents who support the cry it out method ultimately want consistency and to help make their children more independent sleepers.

Those who don’t use this method fear that its potential negative effects outweigh any benefits of independence or sanity for the parents.

There is also some debate as to how much hands-on intervention is needed to help your child fall asleep. The AAP, for instance, recommends employing a “soothing sensation,” including holding and rocking, for young babies.

On the other hand, the Mayo Clinic is entirely against this method. They argue that your child could become dependent on these methods and not be able to learn to fall asleep on their own. Most experts recommend putting your child to bed when they are drowsy, not waiting until they are fully asleep.

Is the cry it out method safe?

Ultimately, as with many other parenting dilemmas, the decision is yours to make. Some children adapt well to the cry it out method, while others do not. This is based on several factors, including sleep patterns, temperament, lifestyle, and overall health. Your doctor can help recommend the most appropriate nap techniques for your child and offer advice if you are having trouble.

Once you establish a routine, it’s crucial that you stick with it. So if you decide not to use the cry it out method, you shouldn’t suddenly try it when your child is older. This could be even more damaging. However, don’t worry too much if your routine is interrupted rarely due to a special event.

The takeaway

The prospect of letting your child cry it out is just half the battle when it comes to nap times. Some children (especially preschool-aged children) can be stubborn and refuse to take naps. Before you assume that your child is too old for naps, consider adjusting their routine. You may also want to engage them in some active play shortly before nap time to get them tired and ready for a nap. And, if you catch them acting sleepy, get them to bed before they become overtired.

At the same time, there are things you also want to avoid. Pacifiers for infants are OK, but putting your little one to bed with a bottle or cup for comfort isn’t recommended. This can lead to tooth decay.

Once your child feels comfortable with nap time, they will ultimately be able to get themselves to sleep without worry. According to the AAP, a good sleeper is a baby who wakes up frequently but can get themself back to sleep.

In the early stages of your child’s life, this can seem impossible, especially if you aren’t getting any sleep, either. Take comfort in knowing that your child will eventually reach this milestone.