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Do midday naps benefit children?

A recent study assessed the cognitive, behavioral, psychological, and metabolic benefits of naps in children.

Poor sleep affects physical, mental, and psychological factors in children. Napping may be valuable in insufficient sleep compensation and reduction of daytime sleepiness.

Napping is practiced as part of a healthy lifestyle in China, among all age groups. In most Chinese schools, students start their classes at 8:00 am and finish at 4:15 pm. During the day they have a long lunch break, during which they typically take a post-lunch nap either at home or at school.

To investigate the benefits of naps in children, researchers collected information from 2,928 children from the China Jintan Preschool Cohort Study, a study that followed toddlers through to adolescence, to investigate the influence of various environmental health factors on long-term health outcomes. For this study, children in grades 4-6 reported how often and how long they usually took a midday nap. The researchers assessed children’s cognitive abilities, behavioral outcomes, and psychological well-being. The results of the study were published in the journal Sleep.

Students in grade 6 had more frequent (4-5 times per week) naps of 31-60 minutes compared to other grades, with a slightly higher percentage reported by girls. Students who took frequent and prolonged naps showed a significant improvement in academic achievements and IQ tests, especially those in grade 6. Children who napped more than three times per week for at least 31 minutes improved their school performance. Verbal IQ was 7 points higher in these students, however, there was no discernable difference in performance IQ.

Napping was also associated with markers of psychological well-being such as grit, self-control, and happiness. Children who reported the most frequent and longest naps scored higher for these psychological markers. However,  students in 6th grade had minor changes in marker “happiness” in comparison with non-nappers, which the researcher suggested may be linked to academic pressure and exam preparation. Children who napped at least 3-4 times a week showed a considerable reduction in emotional and behavioral problems.

The researchers suggest that further research is needed for a better understanding of why children of better-educated parents nap more; if the distance from home to school affects nap frequency and duration; or if naps are linked to culture and personality.

Written by Anna Otvodenko

Reference: Liu, J., Feng, R., Ji, X., Cui, N., Raine, A. and Mednick, S. (2019). Midday napping in children: Associations between nap frequency and duration across cognitive, positive psychological well-being, behavioral, and metabolic health outcomes. Sleep.

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