Contributions of memory and brain development to the bioregulation of naps and nap transitions in early childhood

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2022 Nov;119(44):e2123415119. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2123415119. Epub 2022 Oct 24.


The transition from multiple sleep bouts each day to a single overnight sleep bout (i.e., nap transition) is a universal process in human development. Naps are important during infancy and early childhood as they enhance learning through memory consolidation. However, a normal part of development is the transition out of naps. Understanding nap transitions is essential in order to maximize early learning and promote positive long-term cognitive outcomes. Here, we propose a novel hypothesis regarding the cognitive, physiological, and neural changes that accompany nap transitions. Specifically, we posit that maturation of the hippocampal-dependent memory network results in more efficient memory storage, which reduces the buildup of homeostatic sleep pressure across the cortex (as reflected by slow-wave activity), and eventually, contributes to nap transitions. This hypothesis synthesizes evidence of bioregulatory mechanisms underlying nap transitions and sheds new light on an important window of change in development. This framework can be used to evaluate multiple untested predictions from the field of sleep science and ultimately, yield science-based guidelines and policies regarding napping in childcare and early education settings.

Keywords: brain; development; hippocampus; memory; sleep.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiology
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cognition
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology
  • Memory Consolidation* / physiology
  • Sleep* / physiology
  • Wakefulness / physiology