A joint comprehensive study conducted by researchers at Pennsylvania University and University of California (UC) show a connection between midday naps and better child development. Lead study author Jianghong Liu, says sleep deficiency and feelings of drowsiness during the day are widespread among school children. According to Liu, drowsiness hits up to twenty percent (20%) of all children.

Jianghong Liu, who is an Associate Professor of Nursing and a Senior Fellow at the Center for Public Health Initiatives at the University Of Pennsylvania, performs research on public health concerns to address children and adolescents behavioral outcomes and mental health. She explained that previous research is mostly centered on children of preschool age and below. That is notwithstanding that there is well established evidence that poor sleep habits yield negative physical, emotional and cognitive effects.

Together with co-author Adrian Raine, a Penn neurocriminologist, Penn biostatistician Rui Feng, and Sara Mednick, sleep researcher at the University of California Irvine, they conducted a study of about 2,928 children belonging to 4th, 5th, and 6th grade levels, whose ages ranged from 10 to 12. They collected data showing napping frequency of children once they reach Grade 4, until they hit Grade 6 level. On the Grade 6 students, they also gathered outcome data pertaining to psychological metrics for happiness and grit (perseverance), as well as physical measures, such as glucose levels and body mass index (BMI).

The study group headed by Liu also compiled information about the behavior and academic performance of each student as provided by their respective teachers. Based on all data gathered, they analyzed the connection between midday napping frequency of each child from Grade 4 to 6, to their corresponding Grade 6 outcomes. Their analysis made adjustments for factors like gender, grade level, location of school, educational attainment of parents, and schedule of night time sleep.

Outcomes Revealed by Comprehensive Study of Midday Naps

Sarah Mednick, the UC Irvine sleep researcher said that in their first-of-its-kind comprehensive study, they were able to ask adolescent school children, real-world questions covering a wide range of measures, from academic, behavioral, physiological to social. She remarked that numerous lab studies on all ages have shown that napping can demonstrate improvements in the same magnitude as sleeping for a full-night.

Penn University neurocriminologist Adrian Raine added that the strongest findings were those associated with academic achievement. Raine reported,

“Children who napped three or more times in a week benefited from a 7.6% increase in academic performance when they reached Grade 6.”

In closing, Liu says future endeavours could look at reasons why children of parents with better education, nap more often than offspring of less educated parents. Another area that would be of interest to investigate is whether or not personality and culture are influential factors, as a means of determining if nap interventions could be advanced worldwide.