Naps are good for babies. More than just a way to facilitate physical development, napping also helps babies learn better, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Babies naturally spend a lot of their time sleeping but little is actually known about what sleep contributes to early memory processing. Researchers from the Ruhr-Universität Bochum in Germany and the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom worked with 216 infants 6 and 12 months of age to determine just what sleep does for a baby's memory.
A puppet with a removable mitten was used. Inside the mitten is a bell. A researcher would engage a child, remove the mitten and shake it three times to show how the mitten sounds and moves. Afterwards, the mitten was placed back on the puppet. The procedure was repeated several times.
Half of the babies took a nap within four hours of playing with the puppet while the rest either slept for under 30 minutes or not at all. The babies were tested the next day to see if they would be able to repeat what was done with the puppet.
According to results, one and a half tasks were repeated by babies who took substantial naps on average while those who had little sleep time were not able to repeat anything.
It had been assumed that being wide awake is best for learning but the study showed that events leading to sleep time may be the most important. This re-emphasized the importance of reading to children before they sleep.
Further study is needed to fully understand the role sleep plays in retaining memory in children but Sabine Seehagen, lead author for the study, said the link may have to do with babies losing information if they don't get a nap after a learning session.
Different babies may have different sleep requirements but on average a six-month-old would nap 3.4 hours during the day while a 12-month-old baby will require 2.4 hours of nap time. Parents would do well to recognize their child's unique sleep needs so they can take advantage of the benefits of napping. However, it is also not advised to simply schedule all forms of learning for when a child is about to go down for a nap.
At the other end of life, there is also growing interest in what sleep can do for memory in older adults, most especially those suffering from neurodegenerative disorders. It is believed that sleeping more will slow down decline in memory function.