There’s a really interesting article in the New York Times detailing the science behind how and why babies and children need naps. Any mom will you you that kids nap because they’re tired. (A mom might or might not add “duh” to the end of that statement, depending on how polite she is). She might also say that kids nap because the universe wants her to remain sane. But actually, there’s all kinds of fancy scientific ways to explain naps:
The “circadian process,” which has been localized to a specific place in the brain, works a little like a clock, tying our sleep to schedules and to cycles of light and dark, regardless of how much we have or have not slept. This interacts with the “homeostatic process” which works differently, pushing us harder toward sleep the longer we stay awake and building up sleep pressure, which can be measured via EEG recordings.
Napping happens “because children have a much faster sleep homeostasis — they build up sleep pressure more quickly, they are not so tolerant toward longer waking periods,” said Dr. Oskar Jenni, a pediatrician who is director of the child development project at the University Children’s Hospital Zurich.
I think “sleep pressure” is the single best scientific term I’ve ever heard. It’s a perfect description for what I’ve observed in my kids as they near nap- or bed-time. Their energy flags, they start showing drowsy, then sleepy signs like slowed movements and eye-rubbing, and they begin to unravel emotionally, becoming inconsolable over the littlest thing. The idea that sleep pressure is growing in their brains like some sort of X-Files-esque fog monster, forcing them away from conscious thought and behavior and toward dreamland makes total sense.
Now, if only the science guys could figure out how to get children to stop fighting the sleep pressure and go down for naps easily, we’d be in business!
Photo credit: photo stock
MORE ON BABBLE