Q: Our 13-month-old has a very regular sleep routine and takes a nap in the morning and afternoon. We'd like to sign him up for a toddler class, but it interferes with naptime. Should we change his nap?
A: Don't underestimate the importance of a baby's daily dozes, says Stephen H. Sheldon, D.O., director of the Sleep Medicine Center at Children's Memorial Hospital at Northwestern University, in Chicago. You might be able to eliminate his morning nap -- children usually give them up on their own between 15 and 21 months -- but if he takes long naps of two hours or so, it may not be advisable. "The rhythms of sleep develop over time, and they are key milestones, just like rolling over and walking," Dr. Sheldon says. "Sleep is critical to your baby's neurological development, and depriving him of sleep that he needs would be like skipping a meal."
However, if his morning naps are becoming shorter, you can try rousing him 15 to 30 minutes before his usual wake-up time for a few days and assess his response. If he's consistently grumpy, he needs the sleep. But don't mess with the afternoon nap, Dr. Sheldon warns. The dip in body temperature that takes place somewhere between 1 and 3 p.m. encourages sleep, and without it, you're going to have one cranky baby. He has a lifetime to take classes, and this period of development is crucial.