Toddlers who nap a lot have smaller vocabularies and poorer thinking skills, according to new research.
Parents the world over tend to worry about their children getting either too little or too much sleep.
But the new study suggests that some children are more efficient at consolidating information during sleep, so they nap less frequently.
Meanwhile, others – usually those with fewer words and poorer cognitive skills – need to nap more often, according to the findings.
Researchers say that reducing naps for those children will not improve brain development and that they should be allowed to snooze as frequently and for as long as they need.
Lead researcher Dr. Teodora Gliga said: “There is a lot of parental anxiety around sleep.
“Parents worry that their kids don’t nap as much as expected for their age – or nap too frequently and for too long.
“But our research shows that how frequently a child naps reflects their individual cognitive need.
“Some are more efficient at consolidating information during sleep, so they nap less frequently.
“Children with smaller vocabularies or a lower score in a measure of executive function, nap more frequently.
“Young children will naturally nap for as long as they need and should be allowed to do just that.”
The research team studied 463 children between eight months and three years of age during lockdown in 2020.
Parents were asked about their children’s sleep patterns, their ability to focus on a task, keep information in their memory, and the number of words that they understood and could say.
The researchers also asked mums and dads about their socio-economic status – including their postcode, income, and education – and about the amount of screen time and outdoor activities their child engaged in.
Dr. Gliga, of the University of East Anglia (UEA), said: “Lockdown gave us an opportunity to study children’s intrinsic sleep needs because when children are in childcare, they rarely nap as much as they need to.
“Because nurseries were closed, it meant less disturbance to the children’s natural sleep patterns. None of the children taking part were attending daycare.
“What we found is that the structure of daytime sleep is an indicator of cognitive development.
“Infants with more frequent but shorter naps than expected for their age had smaller vocabularies and worse cognitive function.
“We also found that this negative association between vocabulary and frequency of naps was stronger in older children,” she added.
“While the majority of parents told us that their child’s sleep was unaffected by lockdown, parents from lower socio-economic backgrounds were more likely to report a worsening in sleep.
“Screen time increased during lockdown and outdoor activities decreased, but these did not explain differences in children’s sleep.”
She added: “Previous work suggested that caregivers should encourage frequent naps, in preschool children.
“Our findings suggest that children have different sleep needs – some children may drop naps earlier because they don’t need them anymore. Others may still need to nap past three years of age.
“In the UK, preschools enrolling three to five-year-olds have no provisions for napping.
“Caregivers should use a child’s mental age and not chronological age to ascertain a child’s sleep needs,” she added.
The study, published in the journal JCPP Advances. was led by UEA in collaboration with researchers at Oxford University, Oxford Brookes University, the University of Leeds and the University of Warwick.
Produced in association with SWNS Talker
Edited by Suparba Sil