Midday napping in children: associations between nap frequency and duration across cognitive, positive psychological well-being, behavioral, and metabolic health outcomes

Sleep. 2019 Sep 6;42(9):zsz126. doi: 10.1093/sleep/zsz126.


Study objectives: Poor sleep and daytime sleepiness in children and adolescents have short- and long-term consequences on various aspects of health. Midday napping may be a useful strategy to reduce such negative impacts. The effect of habitual napping on a wide spectrum of cognitive, behavioral, psychological, and metabolic outcomes has not been systematically investigated.

Methods: This study characterized midday napping habits in 3819 elementary school children from the China Jintan Cohort Study. In 2011, weekly nap frequency and average duration were collected once from students at grades 4-6. Prior to their completion of elementary school at grade 6 (in 2011-2013 respective to each grade), the following outcomes were collected once: behavioral and academic achievement evaluated by teachers, and self-reported positive psychology measures including grit, self-control, and happiness. IQ tests were conducted on a subgroup. Metabolic indices, including body mass index and fasting glucose concentration, were measured through physical exams. For the whole sample, we assessed associations between napping and each outcome, adjusted for sex, grade, school location, parental education, and time in bed at night. We also conducted stratified analyses on grade 6 (cross-sectional), grade 4 (2-year gap), and grade 5 (1-year gap) data.

Results: Overall, napping was significantly associated with higher happiness, grit, and self-control, reduced internalizing behavior problem, higher verbal IQs, and better academic achievement, although specific patterns varied across frequency and duration for different outcomes. More limited significant associations were found for decreased externalizing behavior problems, compared to non-nappers, while no significant associations were found for performance IQ and metabolic outcomes.

Conclusions: Results indicate benefits of regular napping across a wide range of adolescent outcomes, including better cognition, better psychological wellness, and reduced emotional/behavioral problems. The current study underscores the need for further large-scale intervention studies to establish causal effects.

Keywords: academic achievement; behavior problems; cognition; externalizing; glucose; grit; happiness; internalizing; metabolic health; nap; positive psychology; psychological well-being; self-control; sleep.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Academic Success*
  • Adolescent
  • Body Mass Index
  • Child
  • China
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Habits
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care
  • Parents
  • Self Report
  • Sleep / physiology*
  • Sleep Initiation and Maintenance Disorders
  • Sleepiness*
  • Students