UMass sleep researchers study value of preschool naps

By Chelsie Field

MCT

Remember when there was a scheduled part of your day strictly reserved for a nap?

As long ago as that may have been, little is known about the actual value of naps. And scientists studying sleep say not much is known about what impact daytime sleep has on kids’ coping and learning skills.

But at the University of Massachusetts, this could change.

Rebecca Spencer, a UMass neuroscientist, has received a five-year, $2 million grant from National Institute of Health’s Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute to study how napping and sleep affect memory, behavior and emotions in preschoolers, according to a Sept. 13 press release.

“We feel it’s important to study this and know their value more precisely. There’s a sense among some educators that kids have to ‘get over’ napping in preparation for kindergarten, but it could be misguided,” Spencer said in the press release. “There’s some evidence in young adults and in older children that naps are beneficial. So I suspect there is a benefit for younger children too. We need to know whether keeping naps in the school day is important.”

Spencer and a team of graduate students plan to study preschoolers in various western Massachusetts communities over the next five years. The research will study children “with and without napping, measures of physical activity levels and parent reports of their children’s’ nighttime sleep, to find out how classroom experience interacts with sleep and physical activity and whether daytime sleep enhances learning,” according to the press release, adding that “the research will also explore the relationship between sleep and behavior disorders.”

About 70 percent of American 4- and 5-year-olds attend preschool, Spencer said in the release, noting that sleep affects one’s attentiveness when learning.

“Right now, there’s nothing to support teachers who feel that naps can really help young children, there’s no concrete science behind that. But if sleep is going to enhance all these benefits of attending preschool, we need to know it,” Spencer added.

Spencer believes that she and her team will have a rich data set to advance the knowledge of the effects of napping in children.

“We think that the nap benefit is going to be especially useful for kids who don’t get optimal overnight sleep,” she said in the release. “Culture plays a role in how late you stay up, and some kids live in noisy inner city neighborhoods. If we can help them with a nap, we want to know that.”