Want your children to be happier while also increasing their academic performance? New research out this week has a solution, but it will involve your child bringing their pillow to school.

Pulling out your blanket and taking a nap at your desk may sound odd for those of us who grew up in Western culture. However, in other countries including China, Spain and Italy, post-lunch naps are embedded in daily life and taken by almost all of the population, from children in school to company executives.

Many employers and teachers believe these naps are good for productivity and that well-rested workers are happy workers so lunch breaks in these countries are scheduled for at least two hours to allow time for eating and napping in the middle of the day.

Most mammals sleep for short periods throughout the day and humans all started with naps in their lives. From being babies and napping all the time to dedicated nap-time scheduled into our kindergarten and pre-school activities our appetite for naps when we were young was nicely catered to.

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Something changed when we got older and in New Zealand our napping privileges tend to be taken away by the time we turn 5 and attend primary school. Children are expected to grow up balancing busy school timetables, after-school clubs and homework tasks all while pushing through the day and staying awake until bedtime.

Our napping privileges tend to be taken away by the time we turn 5 but overseas a post-lunch nap for adults is common. Photo / File
Our napping privileges tend to be taken away by the time we turn 5 but overseas a post-lunch nap for adults is common. Photo / File

Previous research from China, where mid-day napping is common, showed that early adolescents who napped five to seven days a week had sustained attention, better non-verbal reasoning ability and better spatial memory.

As this study was quite small, researchers in the US decided to look into it further by pulling data from the China Jintan Cohort study to see if there were any measurable benefits to a regular lunch-time nap. They analysed information from almost 4000 children aged between 10 and 12 where weekly nap frequency and average duration had been recorded in addition to other information, including the students' academic achievement and behavioural reports.

The study published in the journal SLEEP showed that students who took mid-day naps at least three times a week for between 30 and 60 minutes showed significantly better academic performance as well as improvements in their behaviour compared to students who didn't nap in the day.

Specifically, the napping children displayed better self-control, significantly greater levels of happiness, increased grit and determination, higher IQ and better academic achievement. The academic benefits were the greatest for the oldest children in the study with a 7.6 per cent increase in academic performance displayed by the regularly napping 12-year-olds.

Napping doesn't just help our children; research on pilots showed that a 26-minute nap in flight while the plane is manned by a co-pilot enhanced pilot performance by 34 per cent and overall alertness by 54 per cent.

Other studies on adults show napping increases learning and memory abilities, reduces stress and also reduces the risk of heart attacks, stroke and diabetes. Many adults worry that napping might affect how they sleep through the night, but this research showed that as long as the naps were kept to under 60 minutes and occurred before 4pm then overall napping led to better nighttime sleep.

The advantages to nap-taking, especially for our children, seem to be pretty clear and rather than pushing our kids to do more at school, maybe we should be focussing on helping them to do less, with a scheduled nap time as part of their improved lesson plan.

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