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You probably already know what sleep is for. You know that your brain is actually just as active during sleep as it is when you’re awake, organizing what was learned during the day and laying down memories. The purpose of sleep is to minimize the need for activity so the important brain work can be accomplished. It’s sort of like what happens after-hours at your local grocery store. The shelves get rearranged, stock is replenished, improvements are made – things that couldn’t happen as well when the place is full of customers.

So it’s important that your children – and you! – get enough sleep at night. But now a new study indicates that for children, at least, daytime naps serve the same function. Preschoolers who nap know more than preschoolers who don’t.

Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst taught children to play a game like “Memory” in which they needed to remember the location of different pictures. They played the game in the morning, Then, during their regular naptime, some children were encouraged to sleep while others were kept awake. Nappers typically slept for 77 minutes. In the afternoon, they played the game again and again the next day. Children who napped remembered significantly more of the Memory game picture placements than children who didn’t, both immediately and on the following day.

According to lead researcher, Rebecca Spencer, “Our study shows that naps help the kids better remember what they are learning in preschool…When they miss a nap, the child cannot recover this benefit of sleep with their overnight sleep. It seems that there is an additional benefit of having the sleep occur in close proximity to the learning.”

A follow-up study using brain scans confirmed that during naps, “sleep spindles” increase. These indicators of brain activity are associated with formation of new learning.

What does this mean for us?

  1. Make certain your preschool child gets sufficient sleep at night and also during naps. Don’t hurry to eliminate naps.
  2. Don’t push your child’s preschool to replace naptime with more academic time. Insist that your child who takes naps at home be allowed to nap at school.
  3. Counter administrative efforts to eliminate naps, increase homework, and shorten recess. Downtime is needed for learning to happen.

Spencer says, “Children should not only be given the opportunity, they should be encouraged to sleep by creating an environment which supports sleep.” Do that for your child.


© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Developmentally Appropriate Parenting, at your favorite bookstore.