How Naps Help our Children to Learn

By Jennifer Cuttriss

Running around all day with a busy schedule can make the entire family tired, especially if your child still relies on naps during the day. It can sometimes be tempting to skip nap time when we are in the middle of running errands, or it is inconvenient for us to head home for a nap. But hindering our children’s sleep can have more consequences than just a tired and cranky kid. 

Naps never lose importance  

Naps continue be important at any age and stage of life. Even as adults, when we are exhausted, we can also benefit from a quick cat nap in order to improve our focus, concentration, creativity and alertness to name a few! For our growing children, the benefits are even bigger, with positive impacts on emotional regulation and cognitive development, as well as boosting your child’s memory!  

We know that all babies differ in the number of naps they need, and this depends largely on their age. The length, quality and number of naps a child has, can impact on how well a child may sleep at night. Well-rested babies have shown to respond better to night sleep when there are sufficient naps in place. If you would like to know more about how many naps are recommended for your baby’s age, click on the link here.

As I always talk about, it is important to watch your baby for tired signs as if the ideal time is missed, a baby can develop a second wind where they suddenly seem wide awake and uninterested in napping. This buys them a longer period of alert time before they are ready to fall asleep again and re-entering a tired state. A good routine and nap plan can work with these periods of alertness and tiredness, ensuring the baby is napping at the most appropriate time for them. Again, it’s flexible so if they are showing clear signs of being tired and ready for sleep, abbreviate or eliminate the routine and jump straight to the sleep part. 

As I always talk about, it is important to watch your baby for tired signs as if the ideal time is missed, a baby can develop a second wind where they suddenly seem wide awake and uninterested in napping.

The science bit 

During sleep, our bodies grow, recover and restore. These processes are crucial for brain development and memory formation. In order to highlight this, a recent study performed with young children less than a year old came up with some interesting results. The children were shown some new and different ways to play with some toys that they hadn’t seen before. After the demonstration, half of the children went and had their usual nap, while the other half were kept up during nap time. When the napping was finished, the children were given the same toys to play with, without any demonstration. The children that had napped were able to precisely demonstrate the action they had seen prior to the naps. The children that did not take a nap, showed obvious deficits and were largely unable to remember how to play with the particular toys in the exact ways that they were shown! 

The study also indicated that even when a child is able to go home and sleep overnight, they still performed poorly with this task the next day. So, what does this mean? It tells us that the children who took a nap, were able to move the short-term memory of how to play with those toys into their long-term memory, allowing them to remember and repeat the actions later on. The study also indicated that when a nap is missed, a child cannot compensate their learning with overnight sleep. There also seems to be additional benefit in having sleep occurring in close proximity to the learning in how the information is retained. 

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