TUCSON, Ariz. — Could naptime be the key to your child’s success in school? A new study finds preschoolers who nap may learn and remember more than peers who don’t.
Past research has revealed that healthy sleep routines can benefit one’s ability to learn and retain information. The new study finds that naps can achieve similar advantages for young children.
Researchers at the University of Arizona studied the ability of 39 “typically developing” 3-year-olds to understand and apply language skills by teaching the children verbs.
Michelle Sandavol, who led the team of researchers, illustrates the importance of using verbs for the research, as opposed to nouns. “Individual objects have clear boundaries, and children learn about those very early in development – before they hit their first birthday, they know a lot about objects,” she says in a release. “Verbs aren’t as neatly packaged.”
Each participant in the study was taught two fake verbs. Animated characters on a computer screen performed two separate full-body gestures; one represented “blicking,” while the other represented “rooping.” Some of the group was selected to take a nap within an hour of learning the verbs, while the others waited at least 5 hours.
Twenty-four hours later, the kids were presented with a set of new characters performing the same gestures. The researchers found that the children that napped identified the verbs better than those that did not.
It was important that the group was capable of recognizing the verbs while performed by different characters. Researchers were attentive to their capablitiy of generalizing the verb as well.
Sandavol emphasizes that in order to understand a verb, one must be able to identify it within various contexts. “We’re interested in generalization because that’s the target for word learning. You have to be able to generalize words to be able to use them productively in language,” she says. “Regardless of typical napping behavior, children who were in the sleep condition — who were asked to nap after learning — were the ones who generalized, and those who stayed awake were not able to generalize 24 hours later.”
Study co-author Rebecca Gómez, associate professor of psychology at the university, says parents needn’t worry if their preschoolers no longer nap. The most important thing is the total amount of sleep the child gets in a day, which should be 10 to 12 hours. The total can be a combination of nap time and nighttime slumber.
“We know that when children don’t get enough sleep it can have long-term consequences,” Gómez says. “It’s important to create opportunities for children to nap — to have a regular time in their schedule that they could do that.”
The findings were published in the journal Child Development.