Hippocampal Development and Sleep-Dependent Memory Consolidation in Pre-Schoolers
Naps benefit learning and memory in young children. However, children transition out of naps during the preschool years (~3-5 yrs). Whether naps should be encouraged in preschools or eliminated to provide more time for early learning is not clear. Reflecting this uncertainty, there are currently no formal recommendations regarding napping in childhood (e.g., from American Academy of Pediatrics).
Dr. Tracy Riggins, in collaboration with Dr. Rebecca Spencer at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, received federal funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) to study the role of sleep and brain development on memory during early childhood, specifically when children transition out of naps. The study will examine whether maturation of memory-related brain structures (specifically, the hippocampus) results in more information being retained without interference, reducing the need for frequent consolidation, which underlies the transition out of naps.
This study will include preschool children some of whom are habitual nappers and some of whom are non-nappers. Using a within-subjects design, children will be promoted either to nap or remain awake during their normal naptimes in their homes. During the nap we will record sleep physiology (Polysomnography, or PSG) in order to examine quality of sleep during the nap. In addition, children will participate in some memory games such as remembering pictures, stories, and recent events from their lives. Finally, children will come to the University of Maryland for a brain scan or MRI. The brain scan will allow us to examine memory-related brain structures such as the hippocampus. Finally, participants will be followed for one year in order to track changes in each child's memory ability, nap status, and brain development. This multimodal and longitudinal study will allow for the comparison of memory performance and brain development between habitual nappers and non-habitual nappers over time.