Afternoon naps boost learning

Three to five-year-olds benefit from an hour’s sleep in the middle of the day

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Napping for an hour after lunch could help with children’s learning, according to a study.

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Researchers tested the memory skills of 40 children aged three to five. The children were taught a visual-spatial task where they saw a grid of pictures and had to remember where each one was located. They all did this twice with two different grids on different days.

On the first occasion, they were tested once they’d had a midday nap. These lasted, on average, 77 minutes.

On the second occasion, they were tested without having an afternoon nap.

Then they got to have a nap after lunch, the children got a 10% higher score in the test than they did when they skipped the snooze.

The naps, said the authors of the study from the University of Massachusetts, help with memory consolidation and early learning. They also found that when the children napped, their retention of the information was still strong the next day.

“We found the kids who stayed awake forgot 15 percent of the information they learned in the morning, whereas when the kids took a nap during naptime, they remembered everything they had learned in the morning,” explained Rebecca Spencer, the study’s author.

“Essentially we are the first to report evidence that naps are important for preschool children,” she said.

“Our study shows that naps help the kids better remember what they are learning in preschool.”

Dr Robert Scott-Jupp, of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, told the BBC: “It’s been known for years that having a short sleep can improve the mental performance of adults, for example doctors working night shifts. Up until now, no-one has looked at the same thing in toddlers. This is important, because pre-school nurseries are divided on whether they should allow their children a nap.

“Toddlers soak up a huge amount of information everyday as they become increasingly inquisitive about the world around them and begin to gain independence.

“To be at their most alert toddlers need about 11-13 hours of sleep a day, giving their active minds a chance to wind down and re-charge, ready for the day ahead. We now know that a daytime sleep could be as important as a nighttime one. Without it, they would be tired, grumpy, forgetful and would struggle to concentrate.”

If your child won’t nap, we have some tips on how to get them into a routine, which might help. Or ideas for quiet time activities, which could help them wind down.

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