Friday, January 20, 2012

Naps Important for Toddler's Cognition, Emotions

Photo credit: crimfants'
Have you ever spent the day with a toddler who's missed her nap? If you have, then this news shouldn't surprise you, but a new study confirms what many of us have seen first hand. Sleep is very important for rapidly growing little ones and missing a nap can significantly effect their ability to solve problems and their emotional reactions to events.

Monique LeBourgeois, leader of the study out of the University of Colorado Boulder, says: "The goal of our study was to understand how losing sleep affects the way young kids respond emotionally to their world. This is important because toddlerhood is a sensitive period for developing strategies to cope with emotions and a time children naturally lose some sleep as they begin giving up their daytime naps." The team of researchers put toddlers between the ages of two and three years old on 12-hour sleep schedules for five days before testing, to ensure their circadian rhythms were in balance. Then the toddlers were introduced to challenging puzzles on a day when they had their normal nap and on another day when they went without one. Toddlers who napped were more likely to express confusion - a healthy and complex emotion - and ask for help when they were unable to solve a puzzle. This reaction is evidence of cognitive engagement with the world. The toddlers without a nap had less positive reactions if they were able to solve a puzzle and much more negative reactions if they were unable to solve a puzzle.

LeBourgeois says of the results: "Many young children today are not getting enough sleep, and for toddlers, daytime naps are one way of making sure their ‘sleep tanks' are set to full each day. This study shows insufficient sleep in the form of missing a nap taxes the way toddlers express different feelings, and, over time, may shape their developing emotional brains and put them at risk for lifelong, mood-related problems." Sleep deprivation has repeatedly been shown to have a negative effect on cognitive functioning and emotional well-being in adults, so it should hardly come as a surprise that this is true of toddlers as well. Nevertheless, it's a good reminder to make sure toddlers are getting enough sleep each day.

Have you tried phasing out naps with your toddler?

Nap-deprived tots may be missing out on more than sleep, says new CU-led study [CU]