A midday nap can help pre-school children remember what they learned in the morning.
According to recent research published with the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS)
“Pre-schoolers who went without a midday sleep fared worse on memory tests than those who napped. They also failed to improve their scores even after a good night’s sleep, the researchers found”.
The report titled “Sleep spindles in midday naps enhance learning in preschool children” suggests that carers and nurseries that phase out after-lunch sleeps may be harming children’s ability to learn, by disrupting the way their brains store memories.
For the study, psychologists went into pre-school classrooms and taught 40 children aged three to nearly five years old a simple computer game. It required them to memorise the positions on a grid of images including a cat, an umbrella, and a policeman. The children were trained from 10am until they could remember the positions of around 75% of the pictures.
The scientists visited each child twice over the course of the study. On one visit, the child slept for an hour or so between 1pm and 3pm, and stayed awake on the other. To see how sleep affected their memory, the scientists tested each child again later the same afternoon. Those who napped saw no change in their morning score of 75%, but the ones who stayed awake fared much worse, averaging scores of 65%.
The scientists went on to look at the brain activity of 14 children while they slept in the unversity’s sleep lab. They found that children with the best memory recall experienced more “sleep spindles” – brief bursts of activity thought to happen when the brain shunts memories from short-term storage in the hippocampus to the neocortex.