Naptime for a toddler or preschooler is a welcomed respite for many parents and caretakers, but it may also provide an important benefit when it comes to a child’s ability to understand words and their meanings, according to a new study.
Researchers assessed 39 youngsters who were all 3 years old and found those who napped after learning new verbs had a better understanding of the words 24 hours later.
"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 study co-author Rebecca Gomez. She is principal investigator of the University of Arizona's Child Cognition Lab.
"What's really important about this phase is that essentially what the brain is doing is replaying memories during sleep, so those brain rhythms that occur during slow-wave sleep ... are actually reactivating those patterns -- those memories -- and replaying them and strengthening them," Gomez said in a university news release.
What if your child doesn’t have the opportunity to catch a few winks during the day? Researchers noted that parents shouldn’t worry about it. The most important thing is that children get the proper amount of overall sleep. Preschoolers should get 10 to 12 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period.
"We know that when children don't get enough sleep it can have long-term consequences," including poor performance on mental skill tests, Gomez said.
If you know that your child isn’t getting enough sleep at night, then naps become more significant.
"It's important to create opportunities for children to nap -- to have a regular time in their schedule that they could do that," Gomez said.
In the study, the investigators chose to test the children on how well they learned and understood verbs rather than nouns because action words are typically more difficult to grasp than names, such as "Mommy" or "doggie," which are often the first words kids learn.
In general, naps provide a variety of benefits for toddlers and preschoolers. They help children from becoming overtired, which not only takes a toll on their moods but may also make it harder for them to fall asleep at night.
Crucial physical and mental development is going on during this growth stage and naps help children with much-needed down time for rejuvenation.
For toddlers and preschoolers, sticking to a naptime schedule can be challenging. Though many do still love their nap, others don't want to miss out on a minute of the action and will fight sleep even as their eyes are closing. In this case, don't let naptime become a battle — you can't force your child to sleep, but you can insist on some quiet time. Let your child read books or play quietly in his or her room. Parents are often surprised by how quickly quiet time can lead to sleep time — but even if it doesn't, at least your child is getting some much-needed rest. If your child has given up daytime naps, consider adjusting to an earlier bedtime.
The study findings were published in the journal, Child Development.