When a parent has an hour or two each day to catch up on the zillions of other things they need to accomplish, or, if they’re really lucky, an entire 15 minutes to themselves, they can relax during the children’s nap time.
Unfortunately, naps suddenly do not seem to be in a toddler’s wiring at some point, usually around the age of 4 or 5.
The brief respite that parents formerly received when their children suggested taking a nap can now result in a tantrum.
So why is it that one day a kid is okay with taking a nap, and the next, they are done with naps altogether? And why do some children experience it earlier than others? Researchers think it has to do with how the toddler’s hippocampus develops.
Recent research by Professor Rebecca Spencer of psychology and brain sciences at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, examines why children shift from taking daily naps to having only one extended sleep cycle per day as they age.
The findings of Spencer and her co-author Tracy Riggins, a child psychologist at the University of Maryland who specializes in memory development, were combined with the scant information already available on the subject to form the following conclusion: the maturation of the hippocampus, which controls memory and stores new information, determines when a child no longer requires naps.
Early infancy is a time of fast hippocampal growth. Spencer compared how the brain is organized to a bucket of water being filled. She compared having an ineffective hippocampus to having a little bucket that will fill up quickly and overflow, causing certain memories to spill out and be forgotten. Toddlers can symbolically “empty the bucket” by napping in order to resume remembering new knowledge.
Correlation Between Taking Naps
Ability To Retain Information
Children’s capacity to recall knowledge and napping has been linked in previous research. For instance, Spencer discovered in a 2020 study that kids who slept after hearing a novel story recalled more details about the storyline and characters than kids their age who did not nap.
Now, this isn’t to argue that kids who still take naps at age 6 are behind in any way or that kids who start avoiding naps at the age of 3 are ahead of the development curve. Different bodies require various amounts of rest.