As part of the never-ending quest to get more bang for the education dollar, administrators and parents have been questioning the need for preschoolers to nap in school. And as more and more preschools become funded with public money, the calls for naptime to be replaced with more schooling have only grown louder.
Doing away with daily naps could very well be counterproductive. A new study that finds that giving preschoolers a chance to nap during the school day actually helps kids learn.
The study used a variation of the game, “Memory,” in which children are shown cards arranged in a 3 X 3 or 3 X 4 grid, each with an image on them. The children are supposed to remember which card has the lion on it, which card the umbrella, and so on.
The effects of nap deprivation cannot be reversed by overnight sleep.
Children remembered more of the images correctly when coming back to the game later in the day when they had napped. They made about 10% fewer mistakes than on the day when they had not napped.
The same results were seen on the next day, 24 hours after being taught the game, indicating that the effects of nap deprivation cannot be reversed by overnight sleep.
To further examine what was occurring during the nap, an additional 14 children went through the process in a sleep lab, where their naps were monitored by polysomnography, which records electrical and other physiological activity during sleep.
How much a child's memory benefited from the nap was directly related to the number of sleep spindles on his or her EEG during the nap. Sleep spindles, sometimes called sigma waves, are brief bursts of brain activity during sleep that last only for a second or less but have been associated with memory consolidation in adults.
These results suggest that it's wrong to begrudge the time children spend napping in class and try to fill it with added instruction. It also suggests that naps could play a part in aiding young children who are having difficulty learning.
The study appears in PNAS, Proccedings of the National Academy of Science and is freely available.