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It doesn’t take a scientific study to tell you that toddlers aren't exactly at their most adorable when they skip a nap, but a new study out of the University of Colorado Boulder demonstrates that missing that all-important daytime snooze can affect a whole lot more than mere crankiness. The study shows that "toddlers between 2 and a half and 3 years old who miss only a single daily nap show more anxiety, less joy and interest and a poorer understanding of how to solve problems.” If they consistently don’t get enough sleep their tantrum-y ways could negatively affect how others, including their own parents, view them. Yikes -- and hello, therapy!
“This study shows insufficient sleep in the form of missing a nap taxes the way toddlers express different feelings, and, over time, may shape their developing emotional brains and put them at risk for lifelong, mood-related problems," CU-Boulder Assistant Professor Monique LeBourgeois, who led the study, said in a press release. “For toddlers, daytime naps are one way of making sure their ‘sleep tanks’ are set to full each day.”
To study the negative nap effect, researchers tracked the facial expressions and emotional responses of toddlers who worked on puzzles on a day when they had their normal naps, and a day when they didn’t. The kids were given two puzzles -- one that had all the correct pieces laid out in front of them, and another that included an incorrect piece, which made the puzzle unsolvable.
Not surprisingly, the nap-deprived kids were significantly more frustrated when attempting the unsolvable puzzle than they were after their usual daytime rest. Specifically, there was a 31 percent increase in negative emotional responses of the no-nap toddlers. But interestingly, the well-rested kids also appeared much more joyful when they successfully completed the solvable puzzle. On the day they hadn't napped, there was a 34 percent decrease in positive emotional responses. In other words, just like sleep-deprived teenagers, the non-nappers just couldn’t muster the energy to get excited.
The bottom line is that the authors concluded that tots who don't get enough sleep and routinely skip their naps are at significantly greater risk for tantrums and general unpleasantness, which can negatively affect the way other kids and adults react to them -- including their own parents. And that’s a big deal. “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," said LeBourgeois.
My own toddler son is certainly less agreeable on a day when he hasn’t napped well -- which is exactly why I'm a bit of a nap nazi around my house. But it’s eye-opening to see what a downward spiral can be created if he doesn’t get enough zzz’s on a regular basis. This study demonstrates that a well-rested toddler is a happier, more well-adjusted toddler -- and that’s more than enough for me to keep that consistent afternoon nap, well, consistent.