Sleep researchers study value of preschool naps

September 14, 2012
A new investigation of the value of naps for young children conducted by researchers at UMass Amherst will take sleep study techniques out of the bedroom and into preschool classrooms across western Massachusetts. Credit: UMass Amherst

Parents may feel it's clear that missing a nap means their young children will be grumpy and out-of-sorts, but scientists who study sleep say almost nothing is known about how daytime sleep affects children's coping skills and learning.

Now neuroscientist Rebecca Spencer at the University of Massachusetts Amherst has received a five-year, $2 million grant from NIH's Heart, Lung and Blood Institute to significantly advance knowledge about how napping and sleep affect memory, behavior and emotions in preschoolers.

Spencer says with pressure mounting in some school districts to eliminate naps, "we feel it's important to study this and know their value more precisely. There's a sense among some educators that kids have to 'get over' napping in preparation for kindergarten, but it could be misguided. There's some evidence in and in older children that naps are beneficial. So I suspect there is a benefit for younger children too. We need to know whether keeping naps in the school day is important."

Attending preschool offers life-long benefits in , and quality of life, Spencer points out, and in the United States, 70 percent of four- and five-year-olds attend. There is a trend now toward incorporating new curricula in preschool such as anti-bullying messages and lessons on how to brush your teeth. If sleep protects and enhances physical and emotional learning in young children as it does in older kids, taking away naptime could undercut such efforts, she adds.

"Right now, there's nothing to support teachers who feel that naps can really help , there's no concrete science behind that," the neuroscientist says. "But if sleep is going to enhance all these benefits of attending preschool, we need to know it."

Over the next five years, Spencer and her graduate students hope to study about 480 preschoolers between 3 and 5 years old, boys and girls in across western Massachusetts. The research will include fact-based and emotional memory studies with and without napping, measures of physical activity levels and parent reports of their children's' nighttime sleep, to find out how classroom experience interacts with sleep and physical activity and whether daytime sleep enhances learning. The research will also explore the relationship between sleep and behavior disorders.

"I think we'll have a rich data set for examining sleep, and the child's behavior," says Spencer. "We think that the nap benefit is going to be especially useful for kids who don't get optimal overnight . Culture plays a role in how late you stay up, and some kids live in noisy inner city neighborhoods. If we can help them with a nap, we want to know that."

Explore further: Study finds obese children at risk of serious illness

Related Stories

Study finds obese children at risk of serious illness

September 19, 2016

A unique New Zealand study has found that obese children are showing signs from a young age that they are at risk of developing serious weight-related problems, such as Type 2 diabetes, heart, and liver disease.

Perinatal psychiatry, birth trauma and perinatal PTSD

August 25, 2016

It is now blatantly clear that a woman's increased vulnerability to developing PTSD is closely linked to that fact that, when compared to a man, she is much more likely to be the victim of the toxic traumas of childhood sexual ...

Family key to helping teens avoid obesity

July 1, 2016

(HealthDay)—Having a stable family and a good relationship with mom and dad makes young people more likely to develop healthy habits that may protect them against obesity, a new study suggests.

Recommended for you

Can nicotine protect the aging brain?

September 20, 2016

Everyone knows that tobacco products are bad for your health, and even the new e-cigarettes may have harmful toxins. However, according to research at Texas A&M, it turns out the nicotine itself—when given independently ...

Science can shape healthy city planning

September 23, 2016

Previous studies have shown a correlation between the design of cities and growing epidemics of injuries and non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer. A three-part series published in The Lancet ...

50-country comparison of child and youth fitness levels

September 21, 2016

An international research team co-led from the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) and the University of North Dakota studied the aerobic fitness levels of children and youth across 50 countries. The results are ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.