While it may just look like a restful nap, what is happening inside a child’s brain during sleep is helping prepare them for later learning. A new study shows that preschool naps are vital for memory consolidation.
Study researcher Rebecca Spencer, a psychologist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and colleagues evaluated 40 children from six preschools throughout western Massachusetts who were given a visual-spatial task similar to the game “Memory.” The children on one day of the experiment were allowed a 77-minute (average time) nap while the second day, they remained awake during the same time.
After the nap, the children showed better recall, with an accuracy of 75% after the snooze versus 65% after staying awake.
The researchers found that brain activity occurs during sleep that helps with integrating new information and storing memories, the foundations of learning.
Parents and administrators in publicly funded preschools have considered eliminating nap times to make additional time for learning. However, Spencer says that napping should be a part of any preschool curriculum because of the benefits found in their study.
"Our study shows that naps help the kids better remember what they are learning in preschool,” she says. “These results should give schools, center directors and policy makers motivation to not only preserve nap opportunities but to focus on encouraging nap opportunities.”
"Children should not only be given the opportunity, they should be encouraged to sleep by creating an environment which supports sleep," she urges.
Sleep spindles in midday naps enhance learning in preschool children; Laura Kurdziel, Kasey Duclos, and Rebecca M. C. Spencer; PNASpublished ahead of print 23 September 2013; DOI:10.1073/pnas.1306418110