A study of 3,819 elementary school children, published in the journal Sleep, reveals children napping in school are happier, excel academically, and have fewer behavioral problems.
“Children who nap three or more times per week benefit from a 7.6% increasing academic performance in grade 6,” Adrian Raine, a professor of criminology, psychiatry, and psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, and co-author of the paper said. “Who will not want their scores to go up by 7.6 points out of 100?” he asked.
The study was a combined research effort of the University of California, Irvine, and the University of Pennsylvania. Researchers wanted to learn if midday napping could be an effective strategy for reducing negative cognitive and health impacts of poor sleep. Sleep studies are mostly done for toddlers and infants. However, this time researches wanted to study the effect of daytime napping on school going kids.
To get the base data, researchers turned to the weekly nap frequency and average duration data collected from 3,819 elementary school children from grades 4-6 as part of the China Jintan Child Cohort Study. Just before completing grade 6, the teachers were asked to evaluate their students’ academic achievements and behavioral traits. The children themselves were asked to self-assess on positive psychology measures like grit (their strength of character), self-control and happiness.
Why did researchers turn to China for data on napping in schools? In the United States, as children start attending school and becoming engaged in more social and family activities, their daytime napping decreases rapidly and then usually disappears completely. In Asian cultures, daytime napping is common, sometimes even mandatory.
In the current study, napping was definitively associated with higher happiness levels and greater self-control. It also induced higher IQ, better academic achievement and reduced behavioral problems.
Improved academic scores were more evident for the sixth graders in the study.
How Napping in Schools Helps
When we sleep, “the brain tries to rebuild the exhausted neurons by rejuvenating the mediators at nerve endings, [which] helps us in thinking and carrying out other activities,” Dr Anand Jaiswal, Director of Respiratory and Sleep Medicine, Medanta, explains to Parentology. “That’s the reason [when] we get up from sleep, we feel refreshed and energized.”
Sara Mednik, associate professor of cognitive sciences at the University of California, Irvine, and a co-author of the study agrees. In her book Take a nap! Change your life, she writes, “While sleep deprivation causes irritability, depression and anger, napping bathes your brain in serotonin, reversing those effects and creating a more positive outlook.”
Should You Modify Your Child’s Routine?
While we can’t force schools to take on naptimes during the day, Professor Jianghong Liu, lead author of the paper, stated it’s an easy and inexpensive way to improve kids’ IQ, as well as behavior. She adds that sleeping anywhere between 30 to 60 minutes during the daytime may also help reduce screen time, the negative effects of which are well-documented and widely accepted.
While other studies have shown the quality of a young person’s sleep means more than the hours in bed, more research is needed to corroborate the findings of this napping study. That said, making your child take daytime naps may well turn out to be an effective, easy and inexpensive tool in raising happier, better behaved and more intelligent kids.