Why it's time to wake up to the benefits of napping in school (for pupils, not teachers)

15th October 2015 at 17:31
Simon Creasey
Research says a short sleep can boost memory, productivity and learning. Is it time to introduce formalised napping to schools?

This is an edited version of an article in the 16 October edition of TES. To read the full article, subscribe to TES

Several research projects conducted around the world show that napping offers benefits such as increased productivity and improved memory. Napping, it turns out, is great for learning.

Earlier this year, researchers from the Experimental Neuropsychology Unit at Saarland University in Germany found that napping for about an hour improved the associative memory performance of healthy young adults.

“Our findings revealed that sleeping helps to ‘save’ information,” says Sara Studte, a graduate biologist specialising in neuropsychology, who coordinated the research.

The business world has already woken up to the benefits of napping. In both the US and Japan some businesses are offering employees the option of sleeping on the job in “nap pods”.

But could formalised napping opportunities be worked into the school timetable?

Russel Tarr, a history teacher based in Toulouse, says: “In France, in [the early years] age group, a nap is built into the day as part of the natural routine – the kids are completely frazzled without it.”

But what about allowing older age groups to have naps? Hans van Mourik Broekman, principal of secondary academy Liverpool College, is not keen. “Memory, while massively important, is not the sole purpose or goal of what happens in a school or classroom,” he says.

“The [most recent] research does not indicate whether other school activities [such as reading, discussing and singing] might be more conducive than napping to memory improvement, as well as being fun and providing other benefits.”

Studte admits more research needs to be done in this area, but says her study should still interest schools and universities. As for how best to introduce napping to the classroom, one suggestion she makes is that schools create “a room with the possibility to relax or sleep at any time in between lessons”. It has already been introduced at the University of East Anglia, which earlier this year opened a dedicated “nap nook” – a room students can book for 40 minute slots between 12pm and 6pm.

As far-fetched as adding a “nap room” to schools might sound, Tarr doesn’t rule the option out but believes it might be harder to convince older kids of the benefits of napping. “As kids get older they don’t think they need – maybe correctly – a nap during the day,” he says. “Quite the opposite, actually. The concept of me getting secondary school kids to take a nap is laughable. They are desperate to get outside and run around and burn off energy.”

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