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Nap time crucial to preschool memory formation

Nap time can make or break a young child's – and a family's – afternoon. Now a new study suggests that nap time plays a crucial role in preschool development, learning, and memory formation.

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Charlie Roberts, 9 months, keeps cool with a wet towel while taking a nap in the Eisenhower building at the Kansas State Fair in Hutchinson, Kan., Sept. 9, 2013.

AP Photo/The Hutchinson News, Sandra J. Milburn

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Any parent knows that a daytime nap helps keep preschoolers from getting cranky. Now a small study suggests that afternoon siestas can not only stave off tantrums but also help them learn, too.

The lesson for grown-ups: Don't cut out the naps if you try to cram more learning activities into a preschooler's day, say researchers from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

They studied 40 children, ages 3 to 5. In the mornings of test days, the children were shown a grid with pictures of nine or 12 items like a cat or an umbrella. That afternoon and the next morning, the children were tested on how well they remembered the location of each image.

All the children were tested twice. First, half of the children were encouraged to nap before the afternoon test, while the other half of the children were kept awake. The following week, researchers administered the test a second time but reversed the two groups. Without a nap, they were about 65 percent accurate. With a nap, their accuracy reached about 75 percent.

The research shows that "naps are important for preschool children," Rebecca Spencer, senior author of the study, said in a statement.

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