SYDNEY, Australia — Daytime naps could boost reading skills among preschoolers, a new study finds. An international team says children learning what letters correspond to what sounds do better on tests if they have some sleep before the exam.
A child’s ability to match letters with sounds during preschool is a common measure of early literacy skills. Kids who perform well tend to become more literate and perform better in reading tests when they get older. However, study authors say how sleep affects children’s memory and reading skills has been unclear until now.
“Having a nap after learning might facilitate the capacity to utilize newly learned information in a new task,” says study author Dr. Hua-Chen Wang at Macquarie University in a media release.
“We found a positive nap effect on children’s learning of letter-sound mappings, and in particular, using that knowledge to read unfamiliar words.”
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A total of 32 children between three and five years-old who napped regularly took part in the study. Each child attended seven sessions over two to four weeks which began by evaluating their ability to pair letters and sounds.
The children took part in a letter-sound mapping exercise without taking a nap beforehand. They then repeated the exercise a week later, but this time after getting some rest. Afterward, the team assessed the group’s ability to match letters and sounds using a series of tests.
The children were asked questions like “Which sound does the letter C make?” and asked to recognize the sound of printed letters. Children tended to perform better on the printed test after enjoying a daytime nap. The benefits of taking a nap on a young child’s ability to match sounds and letters stayed the same the following day.
Study authors note that, because the study took place at two daycare centers in Sydney rather than a laboratory, they were unable to dig deeper into what biological processes contribute to these benefits. Looking at whether certain features of sleep like rapid eye movement (REM) are responsible for these benefits would be an important direction for future research, the researchers say.
“The research provides initial evidence that naps facilitate the acquisition and application of letter-sound mappings, abilities that are crucial to early reading development,” adds co-author Professor Anne Castles. “These findings may have implications for creating the optimal conditions for the acquisition of this fundamental literacy skill in preschool children.”
The findings are published in the journal Child Development.
South West News Service writer Tom Campbell contributed to this report.