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How much sleep does a 3-year-old child need?

By Dr. Rhonda Patt
Dr. Rhonda Patt
Dr. Rhonda Patt is a pediatrician with Charlotte Pediatric Clinic and past president of the Charlotte Pediatric Society.
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ROBERT LAHSER -

Q. Our 3-year-old daughter naps for two hours at day care. Lately, we've had a hard time getting her to fall asleep at night. She doesn't seem sleepy in the evenings and will stay awake until 10 p.m. How much sleep should she be getting at 3 years old? Does she still need a nap?

A. The average 3-year-old child requires between 11 and 13 hours of sleep a day. At age 3, 75 percent of children still take naps; however, this number drops to 25 percent by age 4.

One reason children still need naps at age 3 is to get their total daily sleep requirement. Also, many toddlers don't have the stamina to remain awake for such an extended period of time.

To determine whether a child is ready to give up the afternoon nap, parents should consider:

• If your child misses her nap, is she still happy and playful?

• If your child lies down at nap time, does she fall asleep or play?

• Does your child frequently fall asleep in the car?

• Does she become cranky after missing the afternoon nap?

In this specific case, it's important to discuss these issues with the day care teacher because a child may be more tired in such an active environment compared to home. In the meantime, you could also try:

• Starting the bedtime routine a little earlier on weeknights.

• Asking the day care to shorten the naps to one hour if your daughter has gotten an adequate amount of sleep during the night prior.

• Keeping the same schedule on weekends as weekdays.

If you don't see an improvement in her sleep schedule, consider seeking advice from your pediatrician or a behavioral specialist.

Rhonda Patt is a pediatrician with Charlotte Pediatric Clinic. Email living@charlotteobserver.com; put “pediatrician” in the subject line.
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