Another reason to love naps: they may help preschoolers learn!

Yet another reason to love the daytime nap - they might be helping our preschoolers learn.
Yet another reason to love the daytime nap - they might be helping our preschoolers learn. Photo: Getty Images

Parents aren't the only ones who benefit from their kids' daytime nap (hello brief respite!). According to a new study, naps may actually help preschoolers learn language. Talk about a win-win!

A team of researchers from The University of Arizona found that three year olds who napped after learning new verbs, had a better understanding of the verbs when they were tested again 24 hours later.  According to lead author Michelle Sandoval  the results, which were published in the journal Child Development, suggest that parents might want to keep persevering with that daily nap - even though their little ones might think otherwise.

As part of the study, Sandoval and her team studied 39 three-year-olds - half of whom were "habitual nappers" (napped four or more days a week) and half who were "non-habitual nappers" (those who napped three or fewer days per week). Children were randomly assigned to either Team Nap where they slept for at least 30 minutes after learning a new verb - or Team Awake, who went nap free. 

All participants were taught two made-up verbs - "blicking" and "rooping". They were then shown a video where two people performed "separate whole-body actions" corresponding to the verbs. Twenty-four hours later, kids viewed a clip of two different people performing the actions and asked to identify which person was "blicking" and which person was "rooping"

Researchers measured how well children "generalised" the verbs - in other words their ability to recognise the actions when performed by different people.

"We're interested in generalisation because that's the target for word learning. You have to be able to generalise words to be able to use them productively in language," Sandoval said. 

Results highlighted that those who took a nap within about an hour of learning about "blicking" and "rooping" performed better than those who remained awake for at least five hours after learning the verbs - and this happened whether kids were regular nappers or not.

Why did the researchers study verbs? According to Sandavol they're more difficult to learn than simple nouns like "mummy" and "daddy".

"Verbs are interesting because we know they are very challenging for children to learn and to retain over time," said Sandoval in a statement.  "Individual objects have clear boundaries, and children learn about those very early in development — before they hit their first birthday, they know a lot about objects. Verbs aren't as neatly packaged."

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Researchers believe what's known as slow-wave sleep is responsible for the learning benefits of a good shut-eye.

"There's a lot of evidence that different phases of sleep contribute to memory consolidation, and one of the really important phases is slow-wave sleep, which is one of the deepest forms of sleep," explained study co-author Rebecca Gomez.

But don't worry too much if you're the parent of a child who simply will not nap under any circumstance. According to the researchers, the most important factor is the total amount of sleep our little ones are getting.

"Preschool-age children should be getting 10 to 12 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period, whether it's all at night or a combination of nighttime sleep and napping," Gomez said.

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