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Safe Sleep for Preschool Age Children

Rest time is important for young children. This lesson will describe ways to make sure preschool children are safe while they rest.

  • Recognize the varying amounts of sleep preschool children need.
  • Explain how to promote restful sleep.
  • Plan safe supervision practices for rest time.



Sleep is an important part of a healthy childhood. Naps give children time to rejuvenate and let active bodies rest. Young brains and muscles also do serious work during sleep. Without naps, children may become overtired. Children who are overtired often are easily upset and may even have a harder time falling asleep at night (for more information, see

We often think of infants when we think of “safe sleep” practices. Although preschoolers are not at risk for sudden infant death syndrome, rest time is not without risk. It is still our responsibility to keep all children safe during this important time.

Developmental Stages and Sleep

As children progress from infancy through the preschool years, they typically need less and less sleep during the day. Typically, preschool children benefit from one afternoon nap. This nap usually lasts around one hour, but each child’s sleep needs are different. The amount of sleep a child needs during the day is also related to the amount of sleep a child gets at night. A child who sleeps 10 to 12 hours per night may nap less than an hour during the day. A child who gets less sleep at night will likely need a longer nap during the day. Some children do not sleep during naptime, but they still benefit from a quiet period of rest.


Creating a Restful Environment for Sleep

There is a lot you can do to promote a peaceful rest time. First, each child in a full-day program should have a cot or mat for rest time. Children should not sleep directly on the floor. Think carefully about cot arrangement as well. If children are too close together, they may distract each other and spread illnesses. Children’s faces should be at least three feet apart or separated by a solid barrier, such as a shelf unit, according to the National Association for the Education of Young Children. This means the distance can be accomplished by staggering the direction in which children lie: head-to-toe and toe-to-head. Playing soothing music can help children fall asleep. Your interactions can also help soothe children to sleep. Patting children on the back, quietly reading a story, or comforting an upset child can create a peaceful environment for sleep.

This short video provides a few more ideas for helping you get ready for rest time.

Preparing for Rest

This video describes ways to help children rest safely in your classroom.


Supervision During Rest Time

A lot can happen while the children look so peaceful. An unexpected fire alarm, dangerous weather situation, or lockdown can turn rest time into an emergency event. A child may become ill. A child may begin bothering other children. Adults must be vigilant and ready to keep children safe at all times.

Watch these videos to learn about unique situations that affect rest time.

Unique Situations at Rest Time 1

This video helps you know how to receive children safely during rest time.

Unique Situations at Rest Time 2

This video helps you prepare for emergencies and illnesses during rest time.

Staff-to-child ratios can be doubled during rest time to allow for training or planning within the building. At least one adult must be present in a room of resting children. The other staff members must remain in the facility at all times and be ready to return to the classroom if needed. Maximum group size cannot be exceeded. The adult who stays in the room must also have a fast way to ask other adults for help without leaving the children.

While children are resting, at least one adult must be actively supervising the children. If all children are resting quietly, this adult can take care of daily tasks like lesson planning, working on portfolios, washing toys, or reading staff development materials. Remember though, your first job is to keep children safe. These teacher activities during rest time must not distract from your primary job of child supervision. Teachers should not conduct personal business during naptime.

It is important to remember that each child is unique. If you know there is a child in your classroom with special mobility or health needs, more adults may be necessary to help keep children safe.

What about Children Who Don’t Nap?

By the age of 5, many children no longer need a daily nap. It is not uncommon in a classroom of 3- to 5-year-olds to have a number of children who do not need a nap. There are several things you can do to accommodate these children:

  • Encourage a brief quiet time. Provide cots and a collection of books or quiet toys for the children to play with for a brief period of time.
  • Provide supervised play in a different location. Allow non-nappers or early risers to play in a lit room with the supervision of a familiar adult. Be sure to maintain required teacher-to-child ratio and maximum group size.
  • See the Apply section for more ideas about engaging children who do not need naps.


What Would You Do? Read the Rest Time Scenario activity. Share your responses and discuss it with your trainer, coach or administrator. Then compare your answers with the suggested responses.


Do you have children who do not nap? The risk for injury increases when children are bored. Here are quiet ideas to keep them engaged during a brief quiet time on their mats or at tables. Read the ideas in the Activity Cards below and create an “I’m Not Sleepy” card set for your classroom. Let children who are not napping choose one each day.


Maximum group size:
This is the maximum number of children permitted in one classroom by licensing or program guidelines
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome:
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is the sudden, unexplained death of an infant under 1-year-old. Deaths typically occur while the infant is sleeping


True or False? Some preschool children do not need a nap each day.
Finish this statement: For maximum safety, cots must be…
Which of the following is correct about staff-to-child ratios during rest time?
References & Resources

American Academy of Pediatrics, American Public Health Association, National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Child Care and Early Education. (2019). Caring for our children: National health and safety performance standards; Guidelines for early care and education programs. (4th ed.). American Academy of Pediatrics. 

National Association for the Education of Young Children. (2018). NAEYC early learning program accreditation standard and assessment items. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children. 

Nemours Foundation (n.d.). KidsHealth.