Afternoon slump? Naps can improve a preschooler's attention span

Naps improve the attention of preschool children which could lead to more success in their learning, found a study in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology this month. The nap versus no nap battle has played out in sleep research over the years, with some suggesting that nighttime sleep is more consolidated and important, and other research leaving it based on total number of hours children clock in based on their age in a day.

What new information does this article give us? Should our preschool aged kids nap especially as they start to age up towards Kindergarten? The good news is that science keeps evolving and giving us new information to consider as parents. Of course, sometimes that information is confusing. This new research gives us more to consider as parents of young kids.

Who are the preschool children?

The children who participated in this research are “older” preschoolers—toddlers just under 3 to children who were almost 6. The older children, overall, were more likely to meet criteria to be included, since they are more accurate overall. This isn’t surprising, and interestingly may suggest that older kids, who we assume do not need naps, still really benefit from a mid-day snooze.

Naps help with attention and accuracy

The study used the “Flanker” task to measure executive functioning: the ability to attend in the presence of other information. Children had to attend to images with fish on a screen and decide whether the fish all faced the same direction. Overall, the research found that preschoolers who napped had significantly higher accuracy with this task than children who did not nap before completing the task. In other words, children who napped had better ability to attend to tasks they were asked to do on a more consistent basis.

Daily naps don’t necessarily matter!

One of the behaviors tracked and analyzed was how often children napped and if being a regular or habitual napper had impact on kids’ performance. The study showed that regular naps had no greater impact on attention than the individual nap before the task. Kids who napped daily did not perform any better than kids who only napped once in awhile, or only napped before the experimental task.

How does this impact your child?

The good news is that this research shows us yet another way to help our kids improve their functioning. Still, it is hard to know exactly how to apply finding to your own children and individual family life. Overall, this shows that napping and sleep during the day indeed helped children perform better on tasks related to executive function and attention after that sleep.

However, the naps don’t need to be consistent in order to improve kid’s accuracy. If your child is tired, or having trouble with focus, attention, or other behavioral tasks, a nap is never a bad idea. This study took children up to 6 years into consideration, offering some evidence that occasional naps for kids within this age range (older than many kids nap!) may be really effective in helping them perform better on tasks that require attention. Generally, if your child seems to struggle with attention, it might be best to find a preschool or daycare that makes time for some rest each afternoon.