Are you concerned about how much your child naps? Or maybe they don’t nap enough?
A study from the U.K.’s University of East Anglia shows that children’s sleep needs are closely linked to their cognitive development. Those who nap more frequently tend to have poorer cognitive skills and vocabularies than their peers do.
This is not to say that naps can slow your brain development. Numerous studies have shown that naps provide a range of cognitive benefits for both children and adults, including memory consolidation, enhanced attention and emotional regulation. And children with poorer cognitive abilities need to spend more time sleeping to improve their abilities to process the world around them.
“We believe children with less mature cognitive skills can store less information in short-term memory and therefore need to consolidate this information in long-term memory more frequently, freeing up space in short-term memory,” study author Teodora Gliga told Newsweek.
“The next big question we are investigating now is how does the brain signal to the individual the need to consolidate information,” she said. In other words, she added, “how does filling up short-term memory trigger the onset of sleep.”
The study, which was published in the journal JCPP Advances, observed 463 infants between 8 months and 3 years old during the 2020 pandemic lockdown. Parents were surveyed about their children’s sleeping patterns, their memory, their ability to focus and their vocabulary.
“Lockdown gave us an opportunity to study children’s intrinsic sleep needs because when children are in child care, they rarely nap as much as they need to,” Gliga said. “Because nurseries were closed, it meant less disturbance to the children’s natural sleep patterns. None of the children taking part were attending day care.”
She continued: “What we found is that the structure of daytime sleep is an indicator of cognitive development. Infants with more frequent but shorter naps than expected for their age had smaller vocabularies and worse cognitive function. We also found that this negative association between vocabulary and frequency of naps was stronger in older children.”
This study is part of the Social Distancing and Development project, which is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council as part of the U.K. Research and Innovation’s agency’s rapid response to COVID-19.
The project “highlights the impact the pandemic has had on families from lower socioeconomic backgrounds,” Gliga said.
“In this study, we show that children from low socioeconomic status had their sleep more disturbed, which is likely to amplify developmental disparities. Only by addressing socio-economic disparities [can we] hope to provide children with the best chances in life,” she said.
Ultimately, these results highlight the need to trust your children when it comes to their sleep needs. “We’d like parents to appreciate the importance of napping, and we suggest they take the child’s lead when organizing naps, rather than being concerned with what is age-appropriate,” Gliga said. “Some 4-year-olds may still need a nap.
“With the right environmental support, including fulfilling their sleep needs, most children can accelerate their development,” she said.
The post Frequent Naps Linked to Poor Cognitive Skills in Kids appeared first on Newsweek.