Importance of Naps for Preschoolers
While many parents see their children’s napping taper off around age 3 or 4, a new study showing a link between naps and language learning suggests the continued extra sleep could be important.
Researchers at the University of Arizona studied verb learning in 3-year-olds and found that those who napped within an hour of learning new verbs had a better understanding of the words 24 hours later than children who waited more than five hours before sleeping.
Researchers were interested in napping’s effects on preschoolers because that is often when children start napping less frequently. The findings suggest a regular naptime for preschoolers could still be beneficial.
Researchers think the learning benefit of napping comes from what is known as slow-wave sleep. The brain “is replaying memories during sleep, so those brain rhythms that occur during slow-wave sleep and other phases of non-REM sleep are actually reactivating those patterns — those memories — and replaying them and strengthening them,” says study co-author Rebecca Gómez.
However, there’s no need for parents to worry if they can’t get their preschoolers to keep napping. The most important thing, Gómez says, is total amount of sleep. Preschool-age children typically need 10-12 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period, whether at night or in a combination of nighttime sleep and napping.
Karen Lewis Taylor is a former high school teacher with extensive experience writing about education, child mental health and students with special needs. A lifelong resident of the Triangle, she lives with her family in Apex.