Naps may solve the problem of chronically sleep-deprived teenagers. A study in the journal Nature finds that naps may help students learn and retain information, according to coverage by Education Week.
In the study, students who slept only five hours at night, but were given a 1 1/2-hour nap at 2 p.m., did better remembering pictures and facts than the students who slept 6 1/2 hours a night.
The study shows that naps don’t impair learning and memory retention and may actually improve it. A few districts, including the Chicago Public Schools and the Las Cruces Public Schools in New Mexico, have carved out nap time for older students and have created sleep areas.
The teenage years are not conducive to sleep. Homework, extra curricular activities and the need to make extra money from part-time jobs all cut into a teen's sleep schedule. In addition, teens’ circadian rhythms are working against them. Their melatonin doesn’t kick in until after 11, yet they have to get up early for school. That's why more districts have been experimenting with later high school start times. The advocacy group Start School Later urges districts to find solutions that allow high school students to sleep in. So far, districts in 46 states have delayed high school start times. But because of transportation challenges, these aren't easy changes to make.
Mounting evidence suggests that sleep breaks improve cognitive function and memory. Many companies, including Google and Proctor and Gamble, already recognize the benefits of allowing employees to take nap breaks when they are feeling tired.
A University of Delaware study found that napping can help teenagers with neurocognitive functioning tasks. The study was performed in China where mid-day napping is culturally acceptable. The study found that a 30- to 60-minute nap was able to invigorate students, but was not too long as to affect their circadian rhythms. The study also found that habitual nappers slept better at night.
The National Sleep Foundation encourages teens to nap, but points out that if the naps are too long or too close to bedtime they will negatively impact nighttime sleep.