It is well recorded that the benefits of day sleep are frail in comparison to the benefits of night sleep. We know that working night shift actually disorganizes your genetic material and makes your body more likely to develop cancer cells. We do not know why this is so, but living outside of your body's biorhythms and trying to cheat the night is not a good long-term health strategy. Why do some people, like the Mexicans and French, require a daytime nap, whilst others do not? Why do some babies nap beautifully during the day, but fail to sleep enough at night?
The latest twin study by Research Psychologist, Dr. Evelyne Touchette of Laval University in Quebec, Canada may have some answers. Dr Touchette studied approximately 1000 pairs of fraternal and identical twins. Fraternal twins share roughly 50% of genes whilst identical twins are closer to 100%. The study showed that genetics are the largest determinant for whether or not your child will sleep though the night, but environment determines a child's ability to take naps during the day.
She was quick, however, to caution parents about giving up. "The genetic influence is only part of the equation that controls sleep duration. One should not give up on trying to correct inadequate sleep duration or bad sleep habits early in childhood," reported Dr Touchette to LiveScience.
It appears that around 18 months children require only one daytime nap and are highly susceptible to parental influence for night time sleep duration. It is not clear why but at this age sleep interventions are more successful than at any other age. It is hypothesized that there is significant brain maturation around this age - the same way that there is brain growth at 6 weeks old which allows them to differentiate between day and night, and at 6 months which means they only require two daytime naps. Napping after 2 years is a cultural issue, but most children are no longer having a daytime nap by age 5.
Not blessed with genes that code for sleeping through?
Sleep Experts recommend implementing good sleep hygiene in the hour before bed. This includes a relaxing bed routine (supper, bath, teeth, stories and into bed) and excludes sleep baddies such as sugar, caffeine and/or any screen time (TV, computer, iPad etc...). It is key for a child to go to sleep at the same time each night and wake at the same time each morning.
If your child goes to sleep with ease, but wakes many times during the night than the problem may be that they are sleeping too long during the day. If dropping their nap does not help then there may be a medical cause to their repeated night time wakings. A check-up at your Paediatrician (preferably one that specializes in sleep) will be well worth it to determine the underlying cause. Most common ailments that rob children of sleep are allergic rhinitis, eczema, sleep apnea and ear infections.