Nature publication: Mandatory naptimes in childcare do not reduce preschooler cortisol levels

14 Mar 2018

Professor Karen ThorpeDr Simon Smith and Dr Sally Staton, together with colleague Dr Cassandra Pattinson, examined cortisol levels in preschool children to determine the the association between mandatory naptimes and stress in childcare. Results were recently published in the prestigious Nature journal portfolio.

Read the abstract below, or download the full article on Nature: Scientific Reports.

Mandatory naptimes in childcare do not reduce children's cortisol levels


The majority of preschool children (aged 3–5 years) no longer habitually nap, yet in childcare settings daily mandated naptimes in which children lie down without alternative activity remains a common practice. Mandated naptimes are associated with observed reductions in emotional climate and increased incidence of distress. While intended to be restful, mandatory naptimes may induce stress in those children unable to sleep. To examine this possibility, we applied a 2 (mandated/flexible practice) × 2 (nap/no-nap) design to test group difference in stress responses of children (N = 43, mean age 56.3 months). Salivary cortisol level was measured at 4 time-points (waking, pre-naptime, post-naptime, and bedtime) across two days at childcare. Overall our results show a significant decline in cortisol level from wake to pre-naptime and from post-naptime to bedtime. No significant change in cortisol level was observed from pre- to post- naptime. Significant group differences in cortisol patterns were observed. Notably, children under mandatory naptime conditions who did not nap showed no significant reduction in cortisol level from post-naptime to bedtime. While cortisol measurement suggests naptime is neither stressful nor restful for children in any group, implications for bedtime arousal are raised for those unable to sleep under conditions of mandated naptimes.


Karen J. Thorpe, Cassandra L. Pattinson, Simon S. Smith & Sally L. Staton