Toddlers who miss daytime naps may be at increased risk for mood disorders later in life, a recent study indicates.

Researchers found that depriving toddlers of a single daily nap resulted in more anxiety, lower levels of joy and interest, and reduced problem-solving abilities.

The study was published in the Journal of Sleep Research.

The Study

The researchers videotaped the emotional expressions of toddlers, ages 30 months to 36 months, while they worked on solvable and unsolvable picture puzzles on two different days. One day, the test was conducted an hour after the toddlers had their normal 90-minute daytime nap. On another day, the toddlers were deprived of their naps and tested an hour after their normal naptime.

When they were nap-deprived, the toddlers had a 34% decrease in positive emotional responses after completing the solvable puzzles, a 31% increase in negative emotional responses when they were unable to complete the unsolvable puzzles, and a 39% decrease in the expression of confusion when they tried to complete the unsolvable puzzles.

"Confusion is not bad—it's a complex emotion showing a child knows something does not add up," noted study leader Monique LeBourgeois, PhD, an assistant professor in the integrative physiology department at the University of Colorado, Boulder. "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."


"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 Dr. LeBourgeois.

"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," she explained.

Missing a daytime nap may make it more difficult for toddlers to take full advantage of exciting and interesting experiences and to adapt to new frustrations.

"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," Dr. LeBourgeois said.

Prenatal Operation Works Best

Children with spina bifida, a debilitating spinal abnormality, were more likely to walk and had fewer neurological problems if they were operated on before birth rather than after. Researchers hope that this will open the door for more fetal procedures to address such problems as heart defects and bladder blockages.

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