Toddlers stop sleeping “when their brains are developed, not after a certain age” | UK News


Toddlers nap when their brains are ready, rather than after a certain age, a study found, as experts urged parents to let their children sleep.

Napping is known to be crucial for brain development and memory processing, but scientists are still unsure of when and why toddlers stop napping.

Professor Rebecca Spencer of the University of Massachusetts is leading a study into why some four- or five-year-olds prefer daily naps while some three-year-olds have stopped.

The results showed a “relationship between sleep transitions and underlying memory and brain development” and were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by Prof. Spencer and co-author Tracy Riggins of the University of Maryland.

Prof Spencer added: “When young children nap, they consolidate emotional and declarative memories, so one wonders if this is such an important time of learning, why would they get out of the nap when napping helps with learning.” ? Why not just go back to sleep?”

The study focused on the brain’s hippocampus, which plays an important role in learning and memory processes during development.

Her previous work has shown a difference in hippocampal development in children who nap and those who have stopped.

When young children have an immature hippocampus, it reaches a limit of memories that can be stored without being forgotten, triggering the need for sleep, the authors say.

Napping then allows those memories to be processed in the cortex, freeing up space in the hippocampus to store more when they wake up.

“If the hippocampus is inefficient, it’s like having a small bucket — your bucket will fill up faster and overflow, and some memories will spill out and be forgotten,” Prof Spencer said.

“We think that’s what happens with the kids who are still asleep. Their hippocampus is less mature and they need to empty that bucket more often.”

When the hippocampus is more developed, children can get away from napping because their hippocampus has matured enough that their “bucket” doesn’t overflow.

The suggestion is that they are able to hold onto memories until the end of the day, when nighttime sleep can do its job of transporting memories to the cerebral cortex.

Prof Spencer said growing evidence suggests it’s important for all young children to have the opportunity to nap.

However, she said more studies are needed to track children over time.

Forcing children to stop napping “could result in suboptimal learning and memory,” she added.

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