The University of Massachusetts Amherst
University of Massachusetts Amherst

Search Google Appliance


Rebecca Spencer (FRS '11-'12) Receives $2.64 Million from NIH for Preschooler Sleep Study

Rebecca Spencer has received a five-year, $2.64 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to investigate the cognitive and emotional benefits of mid-day napping in young children. Improving a child’s experience in early education can enhance child development and school readiness, aiding physical and mental health later in life.

Spencer and her colleagues will add new tasks to their ongoing research of napping in preschools, seeking to find out more about how mid-day naps effect a child’s learning and development. They will also study whether sleep is important for emotion processing.

Spencer notes, “Teachers and parents know that many times napless kids are more emotional, they cope with emotions less well or react more quickly with strong emotion. If someone steals your ball on the playground in the morning or you read a story with sad emotional content, we hypothesize that your emotional memory processing benefits by consolidating that emotional memory in sleep. You then have a ‘clean slate’ on the playground or in the classroom when you’re faced with an emotional challenge after napping. From our own research we know that for young adults, sleep is important for emotional memory consolidation and coping with emotion but it hasn’t been explored in young children.”

The researchers will also record the sleep stages of young children outside of the classroom, performing studies in the new UMass sleep laboratory housed on campus at the Institute for Applied Life Sciences. Spencer explains, “In the lab, we can look at mechanisms, which will help to address two important questions. One is how long do young children need to nap, and another is what part of the nap is most important, early or late.”

Overall, Spencer says she would like to contribute to current knowledge and recommendations on such topics as nap length to parents and to guide nap policy for preschools and teachers. Parents who are interested in having their preschool-age children participate in Spencer’s research are invited to contact her at

Article courtesy of UMass Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences