We typically think of it as a bad thing to “fall asleep on the job.” But when your job is learning, a midday nap might be just what the psychologist ordered.
A new study of 3,819 elementary school children in China suggests that lunchtime naps are associated with better performance in school.
As it turns out, China’s public schools are an ideal place to study the effects of napping because students have an extended break in the middle of the day. The students in this study had a school day from 8 AM to 4:15 PM, with a lunch break from 11:10 AM to 1:25 PM. Many students used part of this time to sneak in a little extra sleep.
What the study found was that those students who did fit in a nap during their lunch break had better academic outcomes. Besides getting better grades, they demonstrated more self-control and persistence, and they were happier. They also tested as having higher verbal IQs and had fewer behavioral problems.
One thing that’s not clear from this study is the causality. To what extent does napping make children better students, and to what extent do children who are already better students choose to nap more?
But it’s not so far-fetched to think that napping could directly improve children’s academic performance and overall wellbeing. For example, studies show that naps can boost teens’ memory and learning abilities, leading some high schools to install “nap pods” for their students.
What we can say for sure is that adequate sleep is crucial for the health of both the body and the brain. Increasingly, it looks like an afternoon nap can be a useful part of getting that sleep. In general, sleep is something we should value as a society because getting enough sleep makes us all happier and healthier in our waking hours.