Naps play a crucial role in helping nursery-age children to learn and retain information, according to a new study from the US.
Carried out by the University of Arizona, the research analysed verb learning in three-year-olds and found that those who napped after learning new verbs had a better understanding of the words when tested 24 hours later.
A group of 39 typical three-year-olds were enrolled in the study and divided into two groups, with the first cohort consisting of habitual nappers who took time out to nap four or more days a week, while the second napped three or fewer days per week. Within each group, children were randomly assigned to nap for at least 30 minutes after learning a new verb, or to stay awake.
After being taught a word and then shown a video in which actors performed separate whole-body actions to correspond with each verb, the children who had napped after learning were shown to perform better on the test than those who stayed awake for at least five hours after learning, regardless of whether they were habitual nappers.
Another test was also carried out in which different actors were used in the training and testing videos, in order to measure how well children "generalised" the new verbs, meaning they were able to recognise them even when performed in a different context by different people.
Once again, children who were asked to nap after learning showed the most aptitude on this assessment, whereas those who stayed awake were not able to generalise 24 hours later. This was true regardless of their typical napping behaviour.
Study co-author Rebecca Gomez, an associate professor of psychology, cognitive science, and second language acquisition and teaching at the University of Arizona, said: "We know that when children don't get enough sleep, it can have long-term consequences.
"It's important to create opportunities for children to nap - to have a regular time in their schedule that they could do that."