Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child
186
Naps A Review (4 of 5)
April 22, 2024

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Introduction

A Healthy Child Needs a Healthy Brain, A Healthy Brain Needs Healthy Sleep

Blog Posts 15, based on the United States of America Department of the Army Field Manual: Holistic Healing and Fitness, describe what really matters for your child’s sleep. If sleep is an important enough topic for national defense than surely sleep should be considered a serious topic for parenting!

Blog 186Naps A Review (4 of 5)

  1. Parents Offer Nap Opportunities
  1. Habitual nappers versus non-habitual nappers (Blog Post 183)
  1. Skipping naps

Emotional regulation

• Experimentally, in toddlers 30-36 months, when only one nap is eliminated, Dr. Rebecca Berger observed “dampened positive emotion displays when positive responses are expected [children solve a solvable puzzle] as well as increased negative emotions when negative emotions are expected [children are presented with an unsolvable puzzle].” Specifically, when nap restricted, they showed less joy and pride and more worry and anxiety. (Blog Post 118).  

• Among 3–5 years-old children, experimental nap deprivation showed that naps influence emotional processing. “Without a mid-day nap, attention to emotional stimuli is heightened and may impair the child’s ability to regulate emotions.” A video abstract of the article can be viewed at www.youtube.com/watch?v=JIoZ8mzxQgg.  

Memory (Blog Post 184):

Nine-month-old infants were evaluated twice under two separate conditions (Blog Post 118):

  1. Nap-Nap: They were allowed to take a morning nap and an afternoon nap.
  2. Wake-Nap: They were not allowed to take a morning nap, but they were given an opportunity to take an unrestricted nap later on that day.

“We used an elicited imitation task, in which infants learned new objects and actions before their morning and afternoon naptimes. In the Nap-Nap condition, infants’ memory was probed following both naps.  In the Wake-Nap condition, infants were kept awake for their morning nap but engaged in an unrestricted afternoon nap, with memory tested across the morning wake period and after the afternoon nap.”

Conclusions: “In the Nap-Nap condition, infants showed memory retention across morning and afternoon naps.  In contrast, infants forget items learned across morning wake in the Wake-Nap condition.  Moreover, morning wake was associated with a significant decline in post-nap retention of items learned in the afternoon.  We conclude that two naps per day (rather than one) aids memory at 9 months. We were surprised to find that infants’ memory decline was only significant for their afternoon memory performance.  That is, infants’ memory decay in the Wake-Nap condition was only significant for items learned in the afternoon, following an unrestricted afternoon nap.  Taken together, these findings suggest that skipping a morning nap, while possibly being modestly detrimental to morning learning in infants, may disrupt the afternoon nap’s ability to protect and consolidate memories learned later in the day.”

Bottom Line: If your baby needs two naps, skipping the morning nap impairs your baby’s brain’s ability to learn in the morning and especially in the afternoon, even after a single mid-day nap.  The single mid-day nap does not fully restore your baby’s brain’s ability to remember what was learned before the nap.  This may be true even if the single mid-day nap is very long; the total daytime sleep duration might be less important than the number of naps (Blog Post 183).

In older children, the benefit of a nap might be delayed. Among 3–5 years old, emotional memory was enhanced, not immediately after a nap, but following overnight sleep, compared with a no-nap challenge. In other words, there is some interaction between a nap and subsequent night sleep that helps memories to consolidate. 

(to be continued)

Comments

  1. Hi Dr. Weissbluth, my toddler (barely over 2 yrs old) regularly sleeps 12-13 hours at night, but only naps once for about an hour (sometimes less). She has a consistent (somewhat early) bedtime and appears well-rested, but I thought that at this age the afternoon nap should be 2-3 hours. Sometimes, if she wakes up earlier than normal, she naps for longer. Should I wake her up a bit earlier in the morning to try to get a longer nap? What do you recommend is better for the brain?

    1. Following your own child’s drowsy signs, mood, and behavior is your best guide. I think imposing an artificial schedule such as awakening in the morning or capping naps is unnatural and maybe not best for brain development. Watch closely for subtle drowsy signs and you might notice that the nap time or bedtime could become a little earlier and her naps might lengthen.
      Does this help?

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