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Toddlers need naps for more than just sleep

Heather Rudow January 4, 2012

(Photo:Flickr/slightlywinded)

If your toddler misses a nap, you might think the only risk you’re putting him or her at is a few hours of being cranky. But according to a University of Colorado at Boulder study, depriving toddlers of naps could be more detrimental than previously thought.

The study revealed that toddlers between the ages of 2.5 and 3 who miss even just one daily nap show more anxiety, less joy and interest, and a poorer understanding of how to solve problems, said study leader Monique LeBourgeois.

The researchers assessed the emotional expressions of healthy toddlers who were deprived of their daily nap one hour after their normal naptime. They were then tested again another day following their normal nap. For the study, the toddlers were asked to solve kid-friendly puzzles, and their facial expressions were recorded:

“The study showed nap-deprived toddlers completing the solvable puzzles had a 34-percent decrease in positive emotional responses compared to the same children completing similar puzzles after their usual midday naps. The study also showed a 31-percent increase in negative emotional responses of nap-deprived toddlers when they attempted to complete unsolvable puzzles when compared with puzzle-solving attempts after they had napped. In addition, the study found a 39-percent decrease in the expression of ‘confusion’ when nap-deprived toddlers attempted to put together unsolvable puzzles.”

“Confusion is not bad — it’s a complex emotion showing a child knows something does not add up,” LeBourgeois said. “When well-slept toddlers experience confusion, they are more likely to elicit help from others, which is a positive, adaptive response indicating they are cognitively engaged with their world. … Just like good nutrition, adequate sleep is a basic need that gives children the best chance of getting what is most important from the people and things they experience each day.”

Source: University of Colorado at Boulder

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Email her at hrudow@counseling.org.

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