Running around all day and packed schedules can make the entire family tired—especially our kids who still rely on naps during the day. Whether we're in the middle of running errands or it's a matter of convenience, it can be tempting to skip nap time and opt for an earlier bedtime for the kiddos. But hindering our little's sleep can actually have more consequences than just a tired and cranky kid.
We know that our bodies rejuvenate and grow during sleep, and it's crucial for healthy brain development. But insufficient sleep can threaten our ability to learn by jeopardizing the memory formation process.
One study found that classroom naps support learning in preschool children by enhancing memories acquired earlier in the day, compared to equal-time spent awake. What did this mean? Children who napped performed significantly better on a visual-spatial task in the afternoon after a nap, and the next day, than those who did not nap. It also discovered that the nap benefit is greatest for children who nap regularly, regardless of their age.
And when they miss a nap, a child cannot recover this benefit of sleep with their overnight sleep. The study also indicated that there seems to be an additional benefit of having the sleep occur in close proximity to the learning.
So why are naps so crucial to your little one's ability to learn? Research has brought to light that memory consolidation may be one of the primary functions of daytime napping in preschool-aged children.
When we sleep, we process what happened during the day and learn from those events by creating new neural connections. During sleep, our memories are solidified and connected to our existing memories, which happens when they transfer from our short-term to long-term memory. This process is called memory consolidation and involves structural and chemical changes to the cells and networks in our brain. We need these lasting memories for the development of the cognitive ability that enables us to reason, problem solve, plan, comprehend and learn—all from our experiences, and all of which make up our IQ.
In a study published in Oxford Academia's journal, Sleep, researchers found that not creating an opportunity for enough quality sleep has a direct effect on academic performance, even among children without a history of behavioral problems or academic difficulty. And a study published in Sleep Medicine found that longer regular naps in healthy school-age children were "associated with better performance on measures of perceptual reasoning and overall IQ."
Bottom line: Respecting our children's need for sleep, regardless of our agendas and busy schedules, pays dividends when it comes to helping them learn.