Many parents will likely empathise with the daily battle to get their preschooler down for a lunchtime nap. But do they really need it?
Recent research suggests that the benefits of getting them to sleep during the day might outweigh the stress of the fight.
A study by sleep experts at the University of Massachusetts Amherst indicates that preschool-age children who nap in the daytime are better able to perform visual-spatial tasks later that day and the next day, than those who don’t.
According to the study, daytime naps are crucial for memory consolidation and early learning. The lead researcher Rebecca Spencer says her research proves the sleep helps preschoolers better remember what they were learning in preschool – equivalent to FS1 in the UAE – with the study uncovering evidence of increased activity in the region of the brain linked with learning and integrating new information. So is daytime sleep vital?
The Dubai-based midwife educator and sleep specialist Cecile De Scally says yes – 3- to 4-year-olds definitely do need a nap in the daytime. “A child only starts to drop their day sleep at the age of 4,” she explains. “They need at least an hour before then and some will still want two hours.”
The consequences of not napping can be a reduction in concentration and a change in play habits, De Scally finds. “Children have a limited tolerance and [without enough sleep] their play will be more erratic; they tend to build things when they’re not tired, but break them down when they’re tired,” she says.
The Indian mum-of-two Priyanka Anand found herself under pressure to phase out her 3-year-old daughter Naya’s nap, both from parents and childcare books, but resisted as she noticed Naya was much easier to manage on the days when she did nap. “On school days she naps for an hour and a half and I find she’s much better able to concentrate and focus her attention,” Anand explains. “She’s also in a much better mood on the days she naps, and is far more content.”
However, some parents averse to daytime napping express concern that if their children sleep too much in the daytime, they’re less likely to sleep well at night. In fact, according to De Scally, the opposite is true. “A child who sleeps for the appropriate time in the day will sleep much better at night,” she says.
Anand agrees – her daughter Naya still sleeps a solid 12 hours a night even on days when she has her regular daytime nap.
Jean Thomas, a Dubai-based mum of a 6-year-old girl, says her daughter didn’t nap enough when she was preschool age. Thomas is now concerned this lack of sleep may have contributed to her needing learning support at school.
“My daughter was at nursery full-time when she was younger and, more often than not, she didn’t have a daytime nap because there was too much going on and the nursery didn’t have a set nap schedule,” Thomas explains. “Now she’s in year one and having learning support because I’ve been told by her teachers that her learning isn’t on a par with her peers, and they’ve said it’s partly to do with her memory and retention skills.”
Thomas worries the situation is only being exacerbated now, as her daughter still isn’t sleeping as much as she should be.
“She goes to bed at a reasonable time, but she tends to stay up colouring and drawing for at least an hour,” she says. “Although I know she should be asleep, I don’t want to stop her from doing anything she enjoys that might help her learning, so I really don’t know what to do.”