Exactly one week after their second birthday, Paul Goodian's twins gave him a Sunday- afternoon surprise. "I had just put Carrie and Eric down for their nap and was settling in for some quiet time of my own," says the Livingston, New Jersey, father, "when two excited voices behind me squealed, 'Hello, Daddy!' "
The twins had climbed out of their cribs and made their way downstairs for a visit. "I put them back to bed but wondered if their great escape meant that they didn't need their afternoon nap anymore," says Goodian.
Not at all, say experts. Although at around 18 months, toddlers typically go from two naps a day to one, napping is still vital to their health and well-being. In fact, experts recommend that 2-to 3-year-olds get 10 to 12 hours of sleep during the night, with an additional 1 to 2 hours of shut-eye during the day.
"Toddlers are going through a marathon of development," says Jodi Mindell, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at St. Joseph's University, in Philadelphia. "So much is happening intellectually and physically. Sleep is the only way they can restore themselves and keep up the pace." In fact, according to sleep expert Marc Weissbluth, M.D., author of Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Children (Ballantine, 1999), naps facilitate your toddler's cognitive development. "Research has found that cortisol, a hormone that increases with stress, falls dramatically during a nap," says Dr. Weissbluth. "As a result, your toddler awakens happier, more alert, and better prepared to learn about and explore his world."
Greg Prazar, M.D., a developmental and behavioral pediatrician in Exeter, New Hampshire, notes another good reason to keep your toddler napping. "Naps are actually a learning opportunity," says Dr. Prazar. "When he takes a nap, your toddler gets some time alone to learn how to soothe or even entertain himself."
To make the most of toddler naps, Dr. Mindell recommends that your child settle down at the same time and in the same place each day; try not to let him sleep in the car or stroller, which could disrupt his nap schedule. And don't worry if your child's schedule is different from his friend's. "Your toddler may nap twice a day for an hour or take the occasional three-hour snooze," says Dr. Mindell. "It all depends on your child's individual needs."
Two-year-olds are often ready to relax after lunch, so read your child a story and settle her down in a quiet, dark room. Remember, however, that you are dealing with a willful toddler; like so many aspects of this age, napping may require some negotiation. Here, some typical toddler naptime hassles and how to solve them.