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Naps in the first seven years of life follow a predictable course and do not appear to be influenced by such factors as having a new sibling, moving to a new home or having parents divorce, researchers say.

In a report in the journal Sleep, the scientists said the longest such study ever tracked the sleeping patterns of 172 healthy youngsters from 6 months of age to 7 years.The scientists found no gender differences in nap patterns nor any variations between first-born and later-born children.

"The number of naps children take at six months has no bearing on when they later stop napping," said Dr. Marc Weissbluth, a pediatrician at Northwestern University.

"The birth of a sibling, move to a new home, or parents' divorce typically leaves napping unscathed."

The study, which began with 266 babies, followed the children's snoozing habits every three months until age 2, then at annual intervals.

Typically, the 6-month-olds napped two to three times a day for a total of three and a half hours. During the first two years of life, the number of naps and amount of time spent sleeping gradually dwindled. The third nap disappeared universally by about nine months of age. The morning nap went between the ages of 15 months and 24 months.

Between ages 2 years and 6 years, most children still napped once a day, for an average of two hours. This pattern was present despite differences in the children's home lives and daily activities.

Weissbluth advised parents to "strive to create an environment conducive to napping."