New Study Says Kids Who Nap May Learn Faster
Dr. Michael McKenna talks about how napping is beneficial for children.
Putting a toddler down for a nap might not only help curb crankiness, it might help them learn faster, according to a recent study.
Researchers concluded that 3 year olds who napped after they were introduced to new verbs appeared to have a better understanding of them when tested 24 hours later. Their results are significant in part because nouns are often tangible objects, so their meanings tend to be easier for kids to grasp, but understanding verbs generally are tougher, the authors wrote in the journal Child Development. And 3-year-olds were of particular interest to them, they wrote, because that’s the period in kids’ lives when naptime tends to dwindle for a variety of reasons.
“For better or worse, many times parents make decisions because it might be easier or convenient even though it’s not necessarily better for the child,” says Dr. Michael McKenna, MD, a pediatrician at Riley Children’s Hospital at IU Health. “Kids this age might not want to nap, and parents might decide, ‘We have so much going on that it’s easier to just not do this anymore.’”
Cutting off naptime might not harm children, but this study is a good reminder that sleep is important for kids’ development, he says, but adds that parents also should trust their instincts.
“The key to all of this, however, is to recognize that some kids might not need naps but others do,” he says. “A general rule I’ve found useful is to cut out naps if you find that kids can’t get to sleep at night, probably because they slept too much during the day. Whereas a child who’s falling asleep at 6 p.m. could probably still use an afternoon nap.”
Rather than get alarmed that your child’s nap-free days could be inhibiting his or her ability to develop language skills, consider how much total sleep kids are getting and figure out whether it seems to be enough, Dr. McKenna advises.
“Sleep isn’t only important for rest and feeling refreshed; it helps the brain function at its highest capacity,” he says. “It’s kind of like defragging a computer – removing redundancies and making new connections.”
Dr. McKenna agrees with the study authors that regular naptime for toddlers might be a good idea to help maximize their learning potential, but says that fostering lifelong habits of good sleep hygiene might have a more significant impact.
An hour of quiet time, even if kids aren’t sleeping but just hanging out by themselves while parents do their thing, can help kids grasp the importance and benefits of regular rest, Dr. McKenna says.
“Many older children and adults have bad sleep habits that they can’t break,” he says, such as reading on your phone before bed or trying to sleep in rooms that aren’t dark enough. “So prioritizing good sleep practices for small children is the most important thing about all of this.”
-- Virginia Pelley