Study shows naps prime young ones for learning
Kari Redman has a formula for a smooth day with young children: Let them take their naps.
The Mt. Lebanon resident knows from experience with her toddler son, Wyatt, 3. She also directs the Tender Care Learning Center in Green Tree, where preschoolers get naps for 2 hours a day.
“When (Wyatt) gets a nap during the day, we have a much more productive and happy evening, we can go to dinner as a family, and we can actually make it to a restaurant,” Redman, 37, says. “Sometimes on the weekends, he gets so busy, and he misses (a nap), and I kick myself.”
And at work, children who get a nice nap are nicer to their peers, solve problems better and just seem happier and sharper, she says.
Adults also get a much-needed break when young children nap. So, who would want to skip this part of the day? Though preschools get pressure to eliminate naps in order to add to the learning curriculum, kids that age need naps and benefit greatly from them, according to a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study found that kids who took afternoon naps, averaging a little more than an hour, performed tasks better on that day and the next day, compared to napless kids.
The study's lead researcher — Rebecca Spencer, associate professor of psychology at University of Massachusetts at Amherst — and her team followed 40 children, ages 3 to 5 1⁄2, from six western Massachusetts preschools. Though the length of naptimes at full-day child care centers varied greatly, the average naptime with the study kids was 70 minutes. The researchers taught the kids a task, remembering where pictures were located on a grid. The kids played the game without a nap, and again after a nap, repeating the next day. Though researchers didn't see much difference right after the nap, later in the afternoon and the next day, the nappers recalled 10 percent more of the picture locations.
“What's important to note is that these were the same kids,” says Spencer, who specializes in the psychology of sleep. “One week, we went in and had the child nap. One week, we had the same child stay awake. It's not that you have kids that habitually nap versus kids who don't nap.”
Anecdotally, many parents will tell you that their toddler is cranky because he or she is due for a nap — and much of the time, that is indeed just what the child needs, says Dr. Sangeeta Chakravorty, a pediatric sleep specialist with Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC in Lawrenceville.
“I completely agree,” Chakravorty says about the study findings. Napping has “physiological roots ... and it's necessary.”
“It's been part of human life for a very long time,” she says.
Napping is good for adults, too, and some countries promote afternoon siesta time, Chakravorty says. (An afternoon break from our jobs in America? We wish.)
“We all have a normal dip in our circadian rhythm in the afternoon ... directed by our bodies and hormones,” she says. “That's a reason why this nap is so important, so refreshing and necessary.”
Kids who do not nap are more likely to become cranky, and experience disrupted sleep at night, Chakravorty says. Likewise, the study found that nonnappers could not make up for sleep deficits overnight.
Napless, overly tired children can become grumpy, emotionally disregulated and mischievous, Spencer says. Or, fatigued children actually can become wired and giddy, she says.
Stephanie Phillips, director of the Tender Care Learning Center in New Kensington, says that the center's nap times are good for the children.
“Sleep is necessary for healthy growth and development,” she says. “We feel much of the day is spent with hands-on learning, so (kids) also need quiet parts of the day to kind of regroup and build back up.”
Just like adults, children are different: Some need more sleep than others, and some sleep more deeply than others during naps. But even kids who don't fall all the way asleep can enjoy some rest and down time, Phillips says.
The kids bring their own mats and blankets, and often stuffed animals, for their two-hour naps sessions.
“It does make the afternoon go better for some children,” she says.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.