Staff in preschool education jobs may find children exhibit better educational progression if they are allowed to take naps, a new US study has suggested.
Researchers at University of Massachusetts Amherst examined the performance of more than 40 children drawn from six preschools in a visual-spatial task in which they were shown pictures and then had to recall where they were located.
These children were asked to perform the tests under two different conditions: in the first instance, they had an afternoon nap, lasting 77 minutes on average, before taking the test; in the second, they stayed awake for this duration instead.
The subjects were also asked to participate in the task again the following morning to gauge how night time sleep affected performance.
According to the researchers' findings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, children had an overall success rate of 75 per cent on the test if they napped in the afternoon and 65 per cent if they did not.
The report's authors explained: "While the children performed about the same immediately after learning in both the nap and wake conditions, the children performed significantly better when they napped both in the afternoon and the next day.
"That means that when they miss a nap, the child cannot recover this benefit of sleep with their overnight sleep. It seems that there is an additional benefit of having the sleep occur in close proximity to the learning."
Moreover, the researchers examined biophysiological changes during sleep in 14 preschoolers and detected a correlation between sleep spindle density, which is associated with integrating new information, and the memory benefit of sleep during the nap.
Commenting on this study, Dr Robert Scott-Jupp from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health told BBC News the findings were significant as at present pre-school nurseries are divided on whether they should allow their children to have a nap.
He said toddlers need around 11-to-13 hours of sleep per day in order to let their minds "wind down and re-charge" and that it is now clear daytime sleep is as important as sleeping at night.
Posted by Tim Colman