Having a nap in the day seems like a luxury but for children in the 1920s this was compulsory.
Compulsory? That almost sounds like I have made it up but it’s true. As Soňa Nevšímalová and Oliviero Bruni (2016) note, “It was not until the 1920s that child-rearing manuals picked up the question of children’s sleep and doctors dispensed sleep advice and recommended increasing amounts of sleep.”
Watching the BBC’s Back In Time For School series filmed at Bablake School in Coventry has been a real eye-opener packed with insights about how we used to live.
Napping in the day sounds like the sort of thing you’d get the cane for back then but in Episode 2 we learn that this was encouraged for the wellbeing of pupils. This was often taken outdoors and for an hour. Sounds like bliss.
Taking a nap at school is something we have come to associate with younger children but compulsory napping was for all ages in the 1920s. Some argue that napping shouldn’t be encouraged in the day because it can decrease our nighttime sleep. Alarmingly, and for many reasons, hospital attendances for children under 14 with sleep disorders have tripled over the past 10 years.
Taking ‘power’ naps has long been associated with better health and even businesses are realising what a better-rested workforce can do for them. Far from being a sign of laziness or incompetence, naps are an essential means of maintaining attention and performance.
Sleeping in the day can boost your energy and alertness, its good for your heart and it can make you more productive. Some say that napping in the day is natural too because we are among only a few mammals that sleep in monophasic sleep cycles. Many animals sleep on and off in the day.
According to Tracy Riggins, an Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Maryland, “There is somewhat of a debate regarding whether naps should be encouraged in preschool or eliminated to provide more time for early learning.”
It’s an interesting debate because it can boil down to where you live in the world. For some countries, taking a nap in the day is “woven into the tapestry of everyday life.”
Primary and secondary schools today just wouldn’t have the time to for a nap and it would be actively discouraged but if you are tired sleeping makes sense. We can’t all ‘catch-up’ at night or the weekends, it just doesn’t work that way.
However, some seem to be coming around to the idea that sleep is important and the start time of the school day needs to be looked at. The American Academy of Paediatrics issued a policy statement saying that for teens, schools should start after 8:30 AM “because there was compelling scientific evidence, that early start times put students under physical and psychological stress correlated to emotional problems, obesity, sports injuries and other health risks”.
Napping daily can be beneficial for students, working wonders for both their mood and performance. It can let the brain ‘breathe’, reboot and recharge.