Toddlers who regularly take naps may develop better language skills than those who do not take a nap, researchers say.
The findings showed that three-year-olds who napped within about an hour of learning a new verb performed better than those who stayed awake for at least five hours after learning, regardless of whether they were habitual nappers.
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While an infant between birth and six months old may take up to six naps a day, many children are down to one nap or no naps a day by preschool.
The learning benefit of napping could come from what is known as slow-wave sleep, the researchers said.
“There’s a lot of evidence that different phases of sleep contribute to memory consolidation, and one of the really important phases is slow-wave sleep, which is one of the deepest forms of sleep,” said Rebecca Gomez, Associate Professor at University of Arizona in the US.
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“During this phase, what the brain is doing 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,” Gomez added, in the paper published in the journal Child Development.
Preschool-age children should be getting 10 to 12 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period, whether it’s all at night or a combination of nighttime sleep and napping.
If they do not get enough sleep it can have long-term consequences including deficits on cognitive tests, Gomez said.
For the study, the team tested 39 typically developing 3-year-olds, divided into two groups: habitual nappers and non-habitual nappers.
Parents may want to consider maintaining regular nap times for preschoolers, who are at an age at which naps have a tendency to dwindle, the researchers suggested.