URC

Assessing the Value of the Day Time Nap among Preschools: An Exploratory Study

Syndee Brown
Southeastern Louisiana University

Abstract

Recent literature has cited that day time sleeping (i.e. nap) is critical for preschool children in many areas of development: cognitive, physical, and psycho-social (Ellenbogen, Hulbert, Stickgold, Dinges, & Thompson-Schill 2006; Sadeh, Gruber, & Raviv, 2003; and Williams & Horst, 2014). Because of the academic demands placed on early childhood educators, a debate regarding the value of nap time has been quietly brewing among some administrators (Rebecca Spencer, personal communication, August 2014). The purpose of this study was to assess various attitudes of preschool teachers and administrators regarding nap time, and to learn more about the structure of nap time among various preschool settings.

Introduction

Taking a mid-day nap during the preschool day has been shown to be beneficial in many areas of development. First, napping has been linked to improved cognitive development, especially in children’s episodic memory (memories of personal experiences) and semantic memory (remembering factual information). Kurdziel, Duclos, and Spencer (2013) found that children (ages 36–67 months) who napped on the average of 70 minutes per day performed 10% better at finding the spatial location of pictures on a grid, similar to the game Memory, than their peers who did not nap. For children less than 44 months of age, a 9-item grid was used, and for children older than 44 months a 12-item grid was used. This improvement continued for the children who napped the following day, but sleeping overnight did not help the children who did not nap. This showed that the negative effect on memory consolidation due to the nap deficiency was not reversed by night time sleeping.

Additional studies looking at the potential impact of napping on cognition have revealed similar results. In their study, Williams and Horst (2014) looked at three year olds and their ability to learn words. The children were divided equally into four groups: two groups who napped, one group was read one book twice and the other group was read two different books and two groups who did not nap one group was read one book twice and the other group was read two different books. The children were tested by asking them questions immediately after the reading, 2.5 hours later, 24 hours and 7 days later. The children who heard the same book twice and napped learned more words than the children who heard different stories; however, the children who did not nap and heard the different stories failed to demonstrate any word learning during the study. Sleep leads to the protection of episodic memories and interference after learning new episodic information (Ellenbogen, Hulbert, Stickgold, Dinges, & Thompson-Schill, 2006). Children recalled 10% more spatial locations following a nap than when they did not nap (Kurdziel, Duclos, & Spencer, 2013). For children to be able to learn they need to be well rested before and after material is presented to them otherwise they will not retain the lessons taught (Van der Helm, & Walker, 2009).

Napping has also been associated with better physical and psychosocial health among young children. In their 2008 study, Ward, Gay, Alkon, Anders, and Lee looked at the cortisol levels (indicator of stress) of 38 preschool-aged children. They found that children who napped during the day had lower afternoon cortisol levels, and displayed fewer disruptive behaviors than the children who did not nap. Another study involving 62 children found that children who did not take naps had higher levels of anxiety, hyperactivity, and depression (Crosby, 2009).

Because the benefits of daytime napping for preschool children have been cited throughout the research literature, and there have been recent discussions regarding the value of the day time nap, it became important to assess the attitudes of teachers and center directors toward keeping the nap as part of the preschooler’s day. The purpose of the study was to learn more about the structure and perceived necessity of the preschool nap.

Participants

Names and contact information for preschool centers were researched via the internet. Eighty-one centers were contacted, and 23 centers agreed to participate in the study. Three centers were public preschools, 70 centers were private preschools, five centers were Montessori preschools, and three centers were Head Start programs.

Measure

To assess the structure and perceived necessity of the preschool nap, an online “Sleep Survey” was developed by the authors through the SurveyMonkey online survey management system. The survey consisted of 12 questions, and was pilot-tested for clarity. During pilot testing it was found that the survey took less than 10 minutes to complete.

Procedure

Participating centers were emailed a cover letter that explained the purpose of the study, and confirmed their agreement to participate. A link to the “Sleep Survey” was also sent, and the participants were asked to complete the survey within one week. A reminder to complete the survey was sent approximately two weeks later, and a final reminder email was sent out after the survey had been available for one month. Data were imported into SPSS for analysis.

Results of the study show that even though the children at the centers ranged in ages from 1 year to 5 years, 96% of the preschool teachers and administrators believe it is very important for the children to have a nap/rest time to be able to perform the tasks required of the children. Because not all children fall asleep during nap time, 74% of centers offer alternatives like reading or writing, and extra outside time. The centers reported that of the children who do sleep, 74% of them sleep more than an hour, and often need to be roused when nap time is finished. While some teachers feel an hour is sufficient amount of time for napping, 60% of them would prefer a longer nap time opportunity, but say there are too many other tasks to accomplish. Understanding the current napping structure in place among the various types of preschool settings is important because when analyzing the daily schedule looking for extra teaching time, the focus has turned to the 60+ minutes used for naptime (Table 1). However, napping may be the best use of this time because it is during nap time when young children’s brains are processing information learned from the morning, and studies show that sleeping after learning actually facilitates the brain’s ability to encode and consolidate memories and aide in initial learning (Sadeh, Gruber, & Raviv, 2003).

Infants’ sleep patterns naturally progress starting with a polyphasic pattern (sleeping several times throughout the day and night) of sleep to a biphasic pattern (napping during the day and longer at night) by the time they are 5-6 years old it becomes consolidated into one night time sleep. Even with daytime naps, getting enough sleep can be difficult for some preschoolers. Children who had disrupted nighttime sleep patterns also had problems sleeping during the day and children who sleep well at night also slept well during the day. Children who have difficulty sleeping at night are not rested enough to learn and by removing the naptime, it will furthermore limit their ability to learn (Ellenbogen, Hulbert, Stickgold, Dinges, & Thompson-Schill, 2006). The lack of sleep has been shown to impair and hinder learning; therefore, making sure children get enough sleep can make a difference in their ability to learn and retain the information (Sadeh, 2003 & Williams & Horst, 2014).

Sleep consolidation is a natural process children go through. Having the opportunity to nap during the day supports the sleep consolidation process, and helps children better retain information and perform on tasks. Before policymakers consider a deduction or elimination of napping, more studies need to be done to assess the potential consequences of the action. Interfering without knowing more information could result in negative, unintended consequences.

Table 1
Summary of survey responses

Survey Question:

Responses

What are the ages of the children in your class?

 

0-1

  0.00%

1-2

13.04%

3-4

43.48%

0-5

43.48%

On average, what time does the nap opportunity start?

 

12:00 (Noon)

60.87%

12:30 PM

30.43%

1:00 PM

 4.35%

2:00 PM

 0.00%

2:30 PM or later

 0.00%

Does your center offer alternative activities to nap time?

 

A Wake Room

4.35%

Quiet play in resting area

47.83%

Class activities

13.04%

No, they are required to sleep.

30.43%

N/A

8.70%

How long do they sleep?

 

None, we do not have a required rest time.

0.00%

1-30 Minutes

0.00%

30 Minutes -1 Hour

26.09%

1 Hour +

73.91%

On the average what is the percentage of the children that sleep during nap time?

 

0-25%

0.00%

26-50%

4.35%

51-75%

13.04%

76-100%

82.61%

How important do you believe it is for the children to have a nap/rest time to be able to perform the tasks required of them?

 

Not important
No effect

0.00%

Somewhat Important

4.35%

Very Important

95.65%

What impedes your center from offering a longer nap opportunity?

 

Children do not sleep the length of the current nap opportunity, so there is not a need for a longer nap time.

39.13%

There many other requirement in the schedule to include a nap time.

8.70%

N/A

52.17%

Are parents happy that their children are sleeping during rest time?

 

 

1-25%

26-50%

51-75%

76-100%

Yes

0.00%

0.00%

17.39%

82.61%

No

100.00%

0.00%

0.00%

0.00%

N/A

0.00%

0.00%

0.00%

0.00%

 

References

Crosby, B. (2009). Napping and psychosocial functioning in preschool children. Paper presented at the annual conference of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies, Seattle. 
 
El-Sheikh, M., Arsiwalla, D. D., Staton, L., Dyer, W. J., & Vaughn, B. E. (2013). Associations between preschoolers' daytime and nighttime sleep parameters. Behavioral sleep medicine, 11(2), 91-104. doi:10.1080/15402002.2011.625460

Ellenbogen, J. M., Hulbert, J. C., Stickgold, R., Dinges, D. F., & Thompson-Schill, S. L. (2006). Interfering with theories of sleep and memory: sleep, declarative memory, and associative interference. Current Biology, 16(13), 1290-1294.

Gruber, R., Michaelsen, S., Bergmame, L., Frenette, S., Bruni, O., Fontil, L., & Carrier, J. (2012). Short sleep duration is associated with teacher-reported inattention and cognitive problems in healthy school-aged children. Nature and science of sleep, 4, 33.

Sadeh, A., Gruber, R., & Raviv, A. (2003). The Effects of sleep restriction and extension on school‐age children: what a difference an hour makes. Child development, 74(2), 444-455.
Kurdziel, L., Duclos, K., & Spencer, R. M. (2013). Sleep spindles in midday naps enhance learning in preschool children. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 110(43), 17267-17272.
Van der Helm, E., & Walker, M. P. (2009). Overnight Therapy? The Role of Sleep in Emotional Brain Processing. Psychological Bulletin, 135(5), 731–748. doi:10.1037/a0016570

Ward, T. M., Gay, C., Alkon, A., Anders, T. F., & Lee, K. A. (2008). Nocturnal sleep and daytime nap behaviors in relation to salivary cortisol levels and temperament in preschool-age children attending child care. Biological research for nursing, 9(3), 244-253, doi:10.1177/1099800407310158

Williams, S. E., & Horst, J. S. (2014). Goodnight book: sleep consolidation improves word learning via storybooks. Frontiers in psychology, 5. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00184

 


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