In a new study published in Child Development, researchers found that preschoolers who napped regularly retained information better than those who did not, suggesting that nap time could improve language learning in young children.
Researchers found that 3-year-olds who napped four or more days a week had better verb retention and understanding 24 hours post-learning than their counterparts who only napped less than three days a week. To test their findings, the research team taught the children two made up verbs (‘blicking’ and ‘rooping’) and showed them videos to explain what these words meant. Twenty-four hours after learning, the children in both groups were shown the videos again and asked to name the verb corresponding to the video. Once again, preschoolers who napped more performed better during the post-test compared to their counterparts.
The principle investigator, Michelle Sandoval, explained:
“Verbs are interesting because we know they are very challenging for children to learn and to retain over time. Individual objects have clear boundaries, and children learn about those very early in development — before they hit their first birthday, they know a lot about objects. Verbs aren’t as neatly packaged. Besides a physically perceptible action, a verb contains information about the number of people involved and can contain information about when the action took place.”
The stronger learning in habitual nappers can be explained with previous research which points to the fact that sleep improves memory retention since it allows the brain to replay and strengthen memories.
While this study suggests that parents should consider allowing their children to still nap past the age 3, an age when nap times tend to dwindle, the researchers conclude that what is most important is that children get enough total amount of required sleep. For preschool aged children, that means 10-12 hours of sleep in a 24-hour time period.