When my kids were little, I was kind of extreme about naps. If I had it my way, the world would have revolved around my kids’ nap schedules. I’m being facetious, of course, but the truth is that when my kids missed a nap, all hell would break loose and the whole rest of the day would be ruined because of a bad case of the cranks.
And although I wasn’t that much of a drill sergeant about it, and would sometimes attend events at naptime, there had to be a very good reason for me to do so (weddings, funerals, and the like). Without fail, there were a ton of people who just didn’t understand why I was so strict about the whole thing. More than once, a family member or friend said, “Oh come on! Nothing bad will happen if they skip a nap.”
And more than once, I offered to let them spend the rest of the day chasing around my whining-bumping-into-furniture-lying-on-the-floor-kicking-and-screaming tyke after they missed their nap. (OK, so I never actually made that offer, but I really should have.)
Because, seriously, if it’s not your kid, and you don’t have to deal with their bullshit for the rest of the day (or week, because one missed nap can seriously mess things up for days!), you can just zip your freaking lips.
You know what would have been a good support for the “my kids really need their nap” argument, though? Some good, old scientific evidence that naps aren’t just necessary to avoid the cranks, but actually super important for things like optimal brain development and raising smart kids. I mean, any over-involved grandparent can get behind that kind of thing, am I right?
Luckily, a team of researchers recently released just that piece of science-y data that all of us naptime sticklers have been waiting for. Basically, the researchers combed through several years worth of recent academic studies on naps and their effects on kids, age 5 and under. Then they put everything together and published their findings in the latest issue of the medical journal Nature and Science of Sleep.
And let me tell you, this stuff is golden, and will make any naptime nayser STFU.
The researchers—Kim Plunkett, professor of cognitive science at Oxford University in the U.K., and Klára Horváth, professor of psychology at Semmelweis University in Budapest—found several key nuggets of data about kids and their naps. In most of the studies they looked at, “a beneficial or a crucial role for naps was found,” especially with respect to cognitive generalization and retention. That’s a fancy way of saying that naps help kids learn new information as well as keep it secure in their little noggins.
Furthermore, the researchers found that napping plays an important role in how young children retain their memories, which is actually super interesting when you think about it, because little ones are absorbing so many new experiences and ideas in those first few years.
“Napping seems to provide an optimal environment for consolidating memories, perhaps because it protects fragile memories from interfering stimuli or makes active consolidation and generalization of information possible for young children,” explain the researchers.
Dang, that’s cool. Yay, naps!
What the researchers are not so clear about is exactly how long napping is beneficial in this way for little ones, because the bulk of the research they looked at is based on kids under 2 years old. For this reason, the researchers don’t yet have an age in mind for how long a child should continue napping past the toddler years (which is kind of a relief to those of us whose preschoolers just would not nap).
“[O]n the basis of recently published data, it is not evident that beyond the age of 2 years, or after the child stops napping, naps fail to have beneficial cognitive effects,” explain the researchers. “More studies on this question are needed to be able to identify if and when there is an ideal time to stop napping.”
So there you have it. Naps are awesome, they make our kids smarter, and they should probably continue for as long as kids are willing to take them.
Of course, there are parents out there who are the polar opposite of how I was about naps, and take a much more laissez faire approach. And there probably are some kids who can get away with not napping more easily than others. Plus, there are definitely kids who will sleep anywhere on the fly (though my kids were not like that at all!).
I don’t think these researchers are saying skipping a few naps here or there means that your kid’s cognitive development will be drastically thrown off. And seriously, even having a kid who barely naps at all will not be significantly damaging. That’s just silly!
But if you’re anything like I was, you know that naps are seriously vital for your kids as well as for your own sanity. And now you have further proof that naps really are the awesomest thing ever.