Toddlers who don’t get their daytime naps are more prone to anxiety, show less joy and are poorer at solving problems than when they get a midday sleep, according to new research.
Children between two and a half and three years old who got insufficient sleep had altered facial expressions and responded less positively to exciting events and more negatively to frustrating ones.
If daytime naps are skipped continually, the authors of the research suggest it may shape the development of their emotional brain affecting them long-term.
“Many young children today are not getting enough sleep, and for toddlers, daytime naps are one way of making sure their 'sleep tanks' are set to full each day,” said assistant professor Monique LeBourgeois from the University of Colorado, Boulder.
“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.”
The researchers looked at the emotional expressions of healthy, but nap-deprived toddlers one hour after they would have normally had their nap and compared these with ones from the following day when they were allowed to sleep.
The toddlers’ faces were then filmed while they performed picture puzzles. One puzzle was frustrating for the toddler, as it contained a wrong piece, while the other could be completed, providing satisfaction.
Their facial expressions were coded second by second for emotions such as joy, interest, excitement, sadness and anger as they went about the tasks.
Nap-deprived children had a 34 per cent decrease in positive emotional response compared to when they had their naps, and a 31 per cent increase in negative emotions with the unsolvable puzzle.
There was also a 39 per cent decrease in confusion among nap-deprived toddlers working on the unsolvable puzzle. Confusion is a complex emotion that demonstrates the child understands something is wrong, the researchers said.
“When well-slept toddlers experience confusion, they are more likely to elicit help from others, which is a positive, adaptive response indicating they are cognitively engaged with their world,” LeBourgeois said.
“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."
“The goal of our study was to understand how losing sleep affects the way young kids respond emotionally to their world.
“This is important because toddlerhood is a sensitive period for developing strategies to cope with emotions and a time children naturally lose some sleep as they begin giving up their daytime naps,” she added.