- Ongoing research about preschool and Kindergarten napping patterns conducted by cognitive researchers Rebecca Spencer of the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Tracy Riggins of the University of Maryland indicates that, for young children, missing a nap significantly and negatively reduced memory in several areas ranging from motor-skill development to regulation of emotions, Education Week reports.
- During the research, funded by the National Science Foundation, Riggins and Spencer have recorded rapid bursts of electrical activity called “spindles” during typical 60-to-90-minute naps, a pattern they say occurs as the brain transfers what it has recently learned into longterm memories. This is critical for developing brains during the period of rapid hippocampus growth between ages 3 and 6, though they note that older children who still need to nap several times a week showed less maturity in that region and other areas of the brain associated with critical thinking.
- Peg Oliveira, executive director of the Gesell Institute of Child Development, suggests nap time is especially important for children who experience trauma or instability in their lives, as they may not be able get adequate sleep at home. Children ages 3 to 5 should get 10 to 13 hours of daily sleep including naps, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends.
The research mentioned in this article echoes research published by the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2013. In that study, one of the same researchers, Rebecca Spencer, worked with colleagues to test the effect of naps on memory in preschoolers and came to the same conclusion as this study. The 2013 study was billed as first concrete evidence to support the educational benefit of naptime for preschoolers. This conclusion seems logical, since even adult memories have been shown to improve after a nap.
However, a research review in 2015 that has proven controversial threw the benefits of napping into question. “The evidence indicates that beyond the age of 2 years napping is associated with later night sleep onset and both reduced sleep quality and duration,” the abstract of that study said. However, even this report indicated that “the evidence regarding behavior, health and cognition is less certain.”
Drawing from the overall body of research, it seems that forcing sleep on preschoolers who no longer need naps has little positive effect and may, in some cases, affect their nighttime sleep patterns. However, since 60% of 4-year-olds still need naps, taking it away can have negative effects on the learning process for the majority of children at that age. Childhood development patterns vary widely, especially in these early years, so applying a one-size-fits-all-pattern does not work well.
Preschool, and even Kindergarten, programs may be better off keeping quiet time — or restarting it, if it has been abandoned. Students who still need naps should have a quiet environment conducive to sleep during that period, while those who no longer need naps can either be separated for a quiet activity or allowed to look at picture books while others are resting.
The benefits of naptime for students who need it are clear, though they may not be easily measured. Memory and behavior both suffer when children are over-tired, and naptime gives preschool teachers a little downtime to plan, as well.