Prepare Your Child for Naptime at Daycare or Preschool

Laura Rubin

Preparing for your child’s first day at daycare or preschool can be overwhelming. You probably have a million questions about everything from the staff-to-child ratio to safety measures to childcare or teaching philosophy.

And then there’s the all-too-important naptime. Especially if this is your child’s first time away from home, you may wonder if your baby will even nap away from you, or if you’re going to be met with a cranky, overtired kid each afternoon. Rest assured that children do learn to nap in a childcare setting (sometimes better than at home), and we’re here to walk you through this transition.

In this guide, we’ll cover the big topics related to naptime at daycare or preschool, including information about the benefits of napping, naptime structure, regulations related to naptime in a childcare setting and what your child will need for naptime success.

Is Napping at Daycare/Preschool Beneficial?

Before diving into the logistics of daycare or preschool naptime, we’ll review the benefits of napping. Most parents know that babies need to nap during the day. But what about older children? And why do young children need so much sleep?

Sleep is important for all of us because it’s a time for rest and recovery, allows our brains to form new pathways and is a chance to replace chemicals and repair muscles. Because young children grow and develop so quickly, they need much more sleep—including daytime sleep—than adults.

It may be tempting to allow your child to nap less, or not at all, when in a childcare setting. Logic would follow that a tired child will sleep well at night. In reality, the opposite is true. Not only is it unhealthy for a young child to go without the daytime recharge a nap provides, but sleep begets sleep, meaning a child who naps well during the day is more likely to sleep well at night. An overtired child will have trouble falling and staying asleep.

Naptime is not only important for regaining energy, it’s also beneficial for brain development in young children. Several studies have shown that napping allows for improved cognition and memory development. In fact, one study had preschool children play the game “Memory” either after a nap or after quiet playtime. The children who napped showed better recall than those who did not.

Between the ages of three and five, many children stop napping, though the need for a nap during the day depends more on brain maturity than age. Be sure to follow your child’s lead in this matter rather than what is prescribed by the childcare setting. You can always work something out if your child isn’t ready to stop napping at the same time as his or her peers.

Nap Structure at Daycare and Preschool

How Long Should Your Child Nap?

There is no magic number of hours when it comes to child sleep, but there is helpful guidance concerning how much sleep—during both daytime and nighttime—a child likely needs, depending on age. The table below outlines suggestions for specific age ranges, with the caveat that children all have individual needs.

Age Total Hours of Sleep Hours of Night Sleep Hours of Day Sleep Number of Naps
0-2 months 14-18 hours 8-9 hours 7-9 hours Naps throughout day
2-4 months 13-15 hours 9-10 hours 4-5 hours 3-4 naps
4-8 months 13-14 hours 10-11 hours 3-4 hours 2-3 naps
8-12 months 12-14 hours 10-11 hours 2-4 hours 2 naps
1-2 years 11-14 hours 11 hours 2-3 hours 1-2 naps
3-5 years 10-13 hours 10-12 hours 0-2 hours 0-1 naps

Talk to Your Daycare or Preschool Provider about Nap Time

When choosing a daycare or preschool, it’s important to ask a lot of questions to see if the facility is right for you and your child. The way a daycare or preschool structures naptime may very well be a determining factor for you. Some questions to keep in mind include:

Do all children nap at one time?

It may be simpler for childcare employees to have all children around a certain age sleep at the same time, especially in larger facilities. If this is the case at your daycare or preschool, decide if their schedule works for you. It might benefit your child to stick to a nap routine, and you can replicate it during the days your child is at home. If, however, your child’s schedule is wildly different from that of the daycare or preschool, you may want to talk about special accommodations or look elsewhere.

Can children nap individually based on their own sleep schedule?

If your child has a nap schedule that works well for him or her, it may be worth finding a facility that allows kids to nap individually. For example, your child may thrive with two naps a day while others the same age only need one. Look for a facility that advocates paying attention to each child’s sleepiness cues and allowing that child to nap when needed. You may want to seek out a smaller facility to find this type of flexibility.

How long do children nap?

Whether or not a nap is restorative depends a great deal on the length of that nap. Ask how long naptime is and how length is adjusted by age. Some facilities have a window of quiet time, allowing children to nap for as long as they need and to play quiet games when they wake up. Some advocate letting children nap as long as they want, while others will wake children up when official naptime is over.

If your child does not nap, are they able to play quietly while the other children nap?

While quiet time can be good for kids, “forcing” a child to nap can actually be stressful. Some facilities require all kids to lay down for a specified amount of time, even if they aren’t napping, while others allow non-nappers to play quietly. If your child has stopped napping or is an unreliable napper, you may want to opt for a facility that will let your child engage in another activity during naptime.

Do you play music during naptime?

Some children can’t fall asleep without white noise or soft music, and studies have shown that soft, classical music can help young kids fall asleep faster. Especially if your child is used to music during naptime at home, make sure that the facility you choose has a similar routine.

Naptime Safety Regulations

Perhaps more important than the logistical considerations of daycare and preschool naptime is naptime safety. All childcare facilities must be licensed by the state in which they’re located, and regulations happen at the state level. It’s important to research and understand the specific regulations for your state, and this database from the National Center on Early Childhood Quality Assurance can help.

It can be difficult to navigate regulation documents, so we’ve outlined the most important safety questions to research and ask your childcare facility:

Does the facility follow safe sleep guidelines?

The American Academy of Pediatrics outlines safe sleep guidelines, and many states require childcare facilities to follow these. Guidelines are  primarily geared toward babies under twelve months and include such rules as providing a firm sleep surface, including nothing in the sleep environment except a fitted sheet and placing babies to sleep on their backs.

Shoes on or off?

Some states require facilities to keep childrens’ shoes on during naptime so that if an evacuation needs to happen during naptime, children’s feet will be protected when they go outside. If your child is used to napping without shoes, you may want to practice napping with shoes on so they’re used to it before daycare or preschool starts.

What are the required thickness for mats?

Toddlers usually sleep on cots or mats in a childcare setting. Many states require that mats be a certain thickness, usually two inches.

Are naps in areas separate from play areas?

It’s important to have a relatively quiet place for children to nap, so many states specify that nap and play areas remain separate. If there is no separation, check to make sure that quiet play is allowed to occur during naptime.

Lights on/off/dimmed?

To create an environment conducive to sleep, many states specify that childcare facilities dim the lights during naptime. For safety reasons, most do not advocate turning the lights completely off. That way, childcare employees can easily observe children and safely navigate the room.

How many teachers are required to be present during nap time?

Because less supervision is needed for children who are sleeping, many states have a lower staff-to-child ratio rule during naptime than during the rest of the day. Be sure to still make sure your facility follows this rule as children do still need an adult on-hand while they’re sleeping, especially if some children wake up before others.

Do teachers rotate or take breaks during nap time?

Because the staff-to-child ratio is lower during naptime, many states specify that breaks or shift changes happen during this time. Be sure to check that your facility still has the required number of employees on hand during these times.

Can children leave the napping area once they wake up?

Some states specify that children should be allowed to leave the napping area if they’re unable to nap or wake up before others. That helps avoid forced napping. If you live in a state without this regulation, you may want to find a facility that specifies it as part of its approach.

What will Your Child need for Nap Time?

To help ensure naptime at daycare or preschool is a success, it’s important to provide your child with everything he or she might need. Different facilities will supply different items, so be sure to ask what’s provided and what you need to send with your child. Items will likely include:

  • Nap mat: Once children move out of the infant room, they often nap on some sort of mat. This is especially common in preschools. Some facilities will provide a mat, while others ask parents to bring a portable mat. Be sure that whatever mat is used is waterproof and easy-to-clean. If your child is using a mat provided by the facility, ask about their cleaning practices.
  • Cot: Some facilities provide cots that sit low to the ground instead of nap mats. Parents are often asked to provide a fitted sheet, blanket and pillow or portable nap mat to go on top of the cot.
  • Portable nap mat: If your facility doesn’t provide a nap mat or you’d like something to fit atop a cot, a portable nap mat is a great option. Many include an attached pillow and blanket and easily fold up for transport.
  • Blanket: Parents are usually encouraged to send a blanket or wearable blanket to keep their children warm during naptime. These typically aren’t provided by the facility.
  • Pillow: If your child sleeps with a pillow, be sure to send it along. These are also not usually provided by the facility.
  • Stuffed animal or favorite toy: Once your child is old enough (usually 12 months or older), he or she might like sleeping with a stuffed animal or toy. This item can be especially comforting in a childcare setting because it will remind your child of home and provide a feeling of safety.

Additional Tuck Resources

If you’re looking for more resources related to child sleep, look no further than these Tuck guides.

Take a look at some of our baby sleep product guides that can help your child with their sleep needs.