In the best news that kids will learn today, a new study suggests that scheduling in a midday nap could help teenagers learn.
We know that sleep helps consolidate our memories and that a lack of sleep can affect our cognitive abilities. Researchers at the Universities of Delaware and Pennsylvania, however, wanted to look specifically at the relationship between napping during the day and brain function in adolescents. Their results are published in the journal Behavioral Sleep Medicine.
What they found will please teens everywhere (because who doesn’t want more sleep?).
In their adolescent years, kids are under intense pressure due to the high demands of both formal and non-formal learning and education, which are constant. Neurocognitive function, essential for learning, behavior, and emotion control, is in overdrive and not enough sleep can cause impairment at this important developmental time.
The researchers looked at adolescents in China, where it is normal cultural practice for school-age children (and adults) to have scheduled post-lunch naps during the day. They gathered data on midday naps, sleep duration at night, and quality of sleep – which were all self-reported – and then got the kids to perform neurocognitive tasks.
The study looked at frequency and duration of sleep to try to find the optimal time and amount of sleep. They found that those who took naps five to seven days a week performed better in the tasks. They showed greater sustained attention, non-verbal reasoning, and spatial memory. The most productive amount of time was between 30 and 60 minutes, but not after 4pm.
They were surprised however to find a positive relationship between midday napping and night sleep – the assumption being if you sleep too much in the day it will affect your quality or ability to sleep at night.
According to the researchers, circadian rhythms – our internal body clocks – dip between midday and 2pm. This is the time we are most likely to feel unproductive, sluggish, and slow. In Western schools, this is not taken into consideration in the way it is in schools in China.
"Daytime napping is quite controversial in the United States. In Western culture, the monophasic sleep pattern is considered a marker of brain maturation," lead author Xiaopeng Ji said in a statement. "In China, time for napping is built into the post-lunch schedule for many adults in work settings and students at schools."
The authors do admit that this research is observational and cannot confirm causality, but it adds to the growing data that suggest current school hours and schedules are not the most conducive to students' learning or the most accommodating to biologically being a teen.