The connection between nap time and toddler learning

Who loves nap time? (I am raising my hand as you read this.) While nap time is always a much-needed mom break, it is - more importantly - a biological necessity for toddlers. Children learn by playing, exploring, reading, touching, and creating. Since they are constantly growing and learning, getting healthy sleep allows their body and brains to restore, develop, and retain.


How many naps a day does my toddler need?

Around 15/16 months, most toddlers will make the transition from two naps to one nap. Once on a single daily nap schedule, a toddler can naturally tolerate approximately five to six hours of awake time. Think of this as two blocks. Strive for five to six hours from morning wake up until his/her nap, then five to six hours from nap wake up until bedtime. This will help your little one to not be over-stimulated and over-tired.


How does sleep affect my child’s learning ability?

Naps play a crucial role in a toddler’s learning and development. In 2017, a study was conducted by the *University of Arizona that tested pre-school age toddlers and verb learning. The findings showed that the toddlers who slept after learning the new verbs, we’re able to generalize and remember the newly learned verbs 24 hours later. The toddlers who were in a wakeful state post learning and did not nap, were not able to generalize the new verbs.

This study is important to note, because it is healthy rest that toddlers need in order to cope with the stimulating world we live in while be able to learn, grow and develop. It is during nap time, that the brain is able to take the learned information and store it as a memory, helping with information retention and their critical thinking ability when awake. Nap time rest also contributes to a child’s mood and temperament. So both at home, as well as any preschool or daycare setting, naps should always be prioritized.


How long is a preschool nap time?

An ideal time of the day for nap is between 12pm-3pm. The nap length goal is anywhere from 1.5-2.5 hours as this will provide the necessary mental and physical rest. Often, at many preschools, they have nap time from 1pm-3pm to allow for a noon lunchtime.

My toddler attends preschool, how do I make sure my child is napping?

When I work with families with toddlers in preschool or daycare, I always encourage them to ask the care team specific questions. It is important to know the nap environment, the nap schedule, and the post-nap routine. When a child wakes from their nap early, do they continue with quiet time, or are a they able to get up and play? It is also great for preschool to share with you if your child napped and for how long.

What is an ideal nap environment?

While at preschool, most care centers have all the children in one room on floor mats or cots. Toddlers are incredibly adaptive, so do not worry if their school environment is different than your home, they are still capable of taking a proper nap in a group setting. My recipe for a great preschool nap is simple, a dark and quiet room, white noise, a comfortable cute nap mat that your child loves or even picked out themselves, and a snuggle buddy or lovey if they have one. While toddlers do tend to resist nap and bedtime, we actually want them to love their sleep environment and know that they are getting healthy rest so they can continue to grow and learn.

Anne Del Valle
WeeSleep Consultant and Specialist
anne.del.valle@wee-sleep.com
https://www.wee-sleep.com/anne-del-valle/

References:
Alexis Blue, Study Finds Naps May Help Preschoolers Learn, University of Arizona UA News, 2017, Web, March 2020.