University of Massachusetts Amherst

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Sanna Lokhandwala



Graduate Student Dissertation Award

School or College: 

College of Natural Sciences


Sanna is a PhD candidate in developmental science in the department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. Under the mentorship of her advisor, Dr. Rebecca Spencer, her research broadly focuses on the role of early childhood sleep on memory and brain development. Her dissertation will examine how the consolidation of memory changes across the nap transition and how the relations between sleep activity and hippocampal volume might change across this unique period in sleep development.


Broadly, my research focuses on better understanding early childhood sleep and the relations between early life sleep and brain development. Sleep has been shown to benefit learning and memory across the lifespan. What is particularly special about early childhood is that it is not only a time of immense cognitive, social, emotional, and physical development, but also of clear changes in sleep patterns and structure. Young children (3-6 years old) often nap during this age and missing the nap opportunity has been shown to be detrimental to learning processes. At some point during the preschool years, many children begin transitioning naturally out of napping, some ceasing napping as early as 3 years and some as late as 7 years. The driving force behind this transition is unclear. Considering that early childhood is a time of significant changes in both sleep and the brain, it is possible that the cessation of napping may have to do with brain development. My dissertation aims to explore this notion.   

My hope with this work is that it can eventually help educators, caregivers, and policy makers make more informed decisions about prioritizing naps and fitting them into children’s busy schedules. In the U.S in particular, there has been a strong focus on building more instruction time into the educational curriculum. It is important to think about the effect of missing a nap has on learning. Part of the challenge is that we do not yet fully understand what is typical in development when it comes to naps. When should children give up naps? Understanding how sleep develops may render opportunities to better care for our children. My dissertation will help provide critical information to eventually provide recommendations and inform early education teachers. Providing an understanding of whether and when naps should be encouraged will support early education, which has been shown to have lifelong benefits on health and wellness. By growing our knowledge of how sleep function and patterns change across typical development, we come to better understand and recognize atypical development and early sleep disparities. 

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