Naptime In The Hospital: 4 Ways To Keep Your Child’s Nap Schedule On Track

If there’s one thing most parents of young children can bond over, it’s this: Naptime is the most magical time of day.

You love your child, and you always want to spend time with her. But those few hours when she’s out like a light give you time for yourself and allow you to reboot.

Naps are just as helpful for her as they are for your sanity.

Sleep is an important factor in a child’s health. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM), a healthy sleep schedule improves your physical and mental health, and helps a child develop better behavior and attention skills.

Sleep also helps boost the immune system, AASM notes. This is especially critical, since kids with cancer often have weakened immune systems.

Naps can ensure that kids get the recommended amount of sleep. But if your child is hospitalized, the new environment can be distracting and present sources of stimulation she’s not used to.

Here are 4 ways keep your child’s nap schedule on track.

1. Understand The Importance Of Routine—And Stick To It.

It happens all the time—a child goes into the hospital, and rules go out the window.

We’re always advocating for sticking to a normal routine and set of rules as much as possible. It gives your child a sense of normalcy, and will help him adjust when he goes home. And this is especially true when it comes to sleep time.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children thrive on routine. If he follows a similar schedule every day—including regularly scheduled naps—he will feel more comfortable and secure.

Having a set naptime may also make it easier for your child to fall asleep. If his body gets used to always sleeping at the same time every day, he might be able to close his eyes and fall asleep instantly.

2. Allow Naps When He’s Tired.

It’s tempting to try to keep your child awake, so she sleeps more soundly during the night. But according to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), it doesn’t quite work that way. In fact, it can make overall sleep patterns worse.

Young children need naps just as much as they need nighttime sleep. Naps keep them less cranky (thank goodness), and actually help them sleep better at night.

For newborns (0 to 2 months old), sleep patterns are pretty irregular. But after the newborn stage, the NSF recommends different amounts and lengths of naps depending on a child’s age:

  • Infants (2 to 12 months): 3 to 4 naps per day, cut down to 1 to 2 per day by 12 months. Naptime should total 2.5 to 5 hours.
  • Toddlers (1 to 3 years): Morning and afternoon naps, cutting out the morning nap by 18 months. Naptime should total 1.5 to 3.5 hours.
  • Preschoolers (3 to 5 years): Slowly wean off daily scheduled naps by age 5, but allow a nap if your child needs one.

That all being said—cancer treatments can cause fatigue, so your child might need a few more naps than other kids her age. Talk to your child’s pediatrician or nurse if you’re worried that she’s not getting the right amount of sleep.

3. Create A Sleep-Friendly Environment.

It doesn’t matter if he’s exhausted. Without the right environment, it can be next to impossible to get your child to fall asleep.

A good sleep environment is a little harder to create in the hospital than it is at home. Your child might be bothered by the bright lights or noisy machines, or he might simply miss the comfort of his own room.

There are a few items you can bring to the hospital to get rid of the distractions. Bring in a nightlight, so you can turn off bright lights but still keep some light on if your child is afraid of the dark. Try a light with a red bulb—red light isn’t as stimulating as a regular bulb.

If your child is bothered by the noises that come along with the hustle and bustle of the hospital, try putting on a fan or white noise machine. You might also be able to lull him to sleep with soothing music or a quiet lullaby.

Perhaps bring along comfort items that remind your child of his room at home. Getting into bed in his comfiest pajamas with his favorite teddy bear and blanket could be all he needs to fall asleep.

4. Limit Screen Time.

This one’s for the toddlers and preschoolers who have discovered the magical world of electronics.

Smartphones, tablets, and TVs can be lifesavers when you’re trying to make the hospital more fun for your child. But they can be disastrous if they’re used too close to bedtime.

The American Sleep Association (ASA) explains that electronics can negatively impact sleep in several ways:

That doesn’t mean you need to avoid electronics use completely. The ASA recommends cutting off screen-time at least 15 to 30 minutes before it’s time to go to sleep.

These strategies should help your child keep a regular naptime schedule in the hospital. If you’re still having issues or need ideas, please don’t hesitate to talk to your child’s medical team or a child life specialist. We’re here to help.

Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Anisa Hoie
I've been a nurse for nearly 32 years, mostly taking care of kids with cancer. My job is to give the kids and their families a personal touch while they go through treatment.

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