I know a girl.
She’s like a wild animal. A honey badger. Her hair is tangled and frizzy. She drools from the sides of her mouth. Her clothes have stains on them and holes from where she’s recently thrashed about.
She’s unreasonable. Moody. Hateful.
She’s violent. She bites and claws. She won’t eat food or drink water. Her eyes are bloodshot and swollen. She scares me.
This girl is someone I’m very close to. She’s my 4-year old daughter…when she doesn’t get her afternoon nap.
I’ve seen a lot of internet action surrounding a meta-analyses which assessed “evidence regarding the effects of napping on measures of child development and health” for children 0-5 years old. It was published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood.
A meta-analyses is a study that basically looks at a bunch of other studies and comes to a conclusion. This meta-analyses looked at 26 sleep studies and it sort of came to the conclusion that there was an “association between napping and later onset, shorter duration and poorer quality of night sleep, with evidence strongest beyond the age of 2 years.”
So because of that little tid-bit, a bunch of articles have sprung up here and there about how maybe letting kids older than 2 take naps could be a bad thing.
What a lot of those articles AREN’T telling you about is this little snippet towards the end of the Abstract:
The evidence regarding behaviour, health and cognition is less certain. There is a need for more systematic studies that use stronger designs”
and this one:
The findings regarding cognition, behaviour and health impacts were inconsistent…
Also, many of the studies relied on parents to report on napping habits and not based on actual sleep studies.
Now — I’m all for doing this meta-analyses. Good for the researches who took time to do this. Sleep studies are important.
But before we start forcing little ones to stay awake throughout the day because we think they might not be able to fall asleep quick enough at night and not get good sleep at night because of a nap…let’s just take a deep breath and think this through.
Will kids fall asleep faster at night if they haven’t had a nap? Of course. Because they’re exhausted. And one of the things I tell adults and parents is that if they or their children are falling asleep as soon as their head hits the pillow, they are not in a good place.
Despite what many people think, conking out as soon as you lay down is a sign of over-exhaustion and means that you need to either get more sleep or manage your stress better.
Another thing this study can’t account for is how many of these kids in these studies were exposed to artificial light after dark on a consistent basis — I bet it was a large percentage. And any data you collect from kids who are trying to go to sleep in an unnatural sleep environment (one that is filled with WAY too many stimuli like TVs, phones, tablets and computers) can just be thrown right out the window as far as I’m concerned.
That’s like doing a meta-analyses on obesity rates for people who eat exclusively at Cinnabon and Chuck E Cheese’s. Not going to get a great read on reality there.
You have kids? Good.
Then you probably know the child I described at the beginning of this post. It’s not fun. I remember in my “Pre-Kid” life that I used to roll my eyes at parents that would ruin a whole afternoon of fun because their “precious little angels” had to take “naaaaap”.
How silly I was.
Here’s a quote from John Medina in his book Brain Rules:
When you look at all of the data combined, a consistency emerges: Sleep is rather intimately involved in learning. It is observable with large amounts of sleep. It is observable with small amounts of sleep; it is observable all the time.
He goes on to make a solid case that adults who don’t get enough sleep have poor attention, executive function, motor dexterity, short-term memory, mood and more.
And that’s in ADULTS. Do we really want to try and take naps away from KIDS whose brains are firing on all cylinders trying to learn new things every second of every waking hour? And if you take motor dexterity away from my already clumsy 4-year old…that’s just an ER visit waiting to happen.
She doesn’t ever look where she’s going — HEY! LOOK UP! WATCH WHERE YOU’RE….[CRASH, BANG, WAAAAAAAA!!!!!]
No. Your kids need sleep. They need ALOT of sleep. I would bet they need more sleep than they’re getting — no matter what age they are. I would bet YOU aren’t getting enough sleep.
So save yourself from having to deal with a moody, irritable, clumsy, forgetful little person and for goodness sakes — make your kids take an afternoon nap and eliminate the artificial lights from TVs, computers, and tablets after dinner.