ABCs and Zzzz: How school naps are getting a makeover
Schoolwork can be tiring. A bit of a midday nap can be reinvigorating and healthy for young pupils. Listen to the quiet hum in the hallways of China's primary schools.
The Ministry of Education has sent out a directive emphasizing the need for suitable conditions for student naps, and many primary schools are taking heed by transforming desks into beds and providing pillows and bedding.
Napping is now regarded as a key factor in the health and academic success of students.
Creative ways are being adopted to turn limited classroom space into ideal environments for a snooze, according to a report by state broadcaster CCTV.
Primary schools in the Fujian Province city of Quanzhou, for example, have installed special desks and chairs that can be transformed into beds for napping. These adjustable desks and chairs can be tilted to suit different heights and weights of students.
In the central Chinese province of Henan, the Longteng Primary School in the city of Zhengzhou has repurposed vacant fifth- and sixth-grade classrooms into nap rooms equipped with moisture-proof pads, bedding and pillows.
Another school in the district plans to convert indoor sports areas and activity rooms into nap zones, a practice now adopted by 18 elementary schools in the region.
In the city of Zhushou in Hunan Province, even rural schools like Meixia Complete Primary School are providing small, foldable beds for 40-minute nap periods.
The majority of Meixia's students are "left-behind children" whose absent migrant parents work in big cities and who live too far from school to take a midday rest at home. The changes came after surveys revealed that students couldn't take naps at their desks because it was too uncomfortable.
With limited resources, the school initially planned to lay moisture-proof mats and foam pads on the floor. A charitable organization later donated 130 foldable beds, enabling a more comfortable environment for a bit of shut-eye.
Schools have in the past have assumed that short naps at desks were adequate. However, many pupils couldn't fall asleep and most experienced crook necks and other discomforts.
Mao Leilei, a pediatric specialist at Xiangya Hospital at Central South University, told CCTV that sleeping at desks poses health risks, including pressure on the eyes and oxygen deprivation in the brain.
The practice of taking naps in school isn't globally widespread. In most Western countries, napping is typically phased out after kindergarten. Only in several countries, like Spain and Italy, are siestas retained but not always integrated into school routines.
In June this year, China's Ministry of Education issued guidelines emphasizing the importance of adequate sleep time for students.
The guidelines recommend 10 hours of sleep a day for primary school students, nine hours for middle school students and eight for high school students. They also suggest at least a 30-minute nap at school.
"A proper nap aids digestion, boosts growth and enhances immunity by giving the body time to rest and fight fatigue," Wang Zhixin, a pediatrician at China Japan Friendship Hospital in Beijing, said in an online reply.
He stressed the importance of quality sleep for children, not only for their health but also to prevent them from becoming overly tired at school.
Moreover, with the onset of winter, children are more susceptible to respiratory infections. Ensuring adequate sleep is a sound, preventative measure, he said.
Parents have expressed mixed reactions. While many appreciate the focus on child well-being, others worry about whether the practice can be effectively implemented in densely populated urban schools.
"It's a good initiative, but I wonder how comfortable a nap can be in a crowded school," said Liu Huan, the Shanghai mother of a third-grade boy.
Professor Wang Yunfei from Anhui University advocates for adaptable solutions in schools with limited resources.
"Schools can also offer alternative restful activities during nap times, like reading, to prevent napping from becoming a burden for students," Wang told Xinan Evening News.