Sleep Helps Infants with Language Development

We’ve all heard that sleep is good for you, and a new study found some fascinating results about sleep habits of infants. Amazingly, the research shows that very young babies (six to eight months old) can associate meanings with words. For the study, researchers made up words to be assigned with different types of objects — much like there are many types of mushrooms but we can identify a new type of mushroom as a mushroom. The names were made up so that outside or previous knowledge wouldn’t help in the study.

Researchers found that the babies couldn’t associate the names to the objects in the mornings but after a long nap their skill improved — during the nap, their brains stored the knowledge they had learned in the morning and that knowledge actually processed into information allowing them to figure out the term for new objects. The length of the nap varied how the baby was able to process the knowledge — shorter naps (30 minutes) gave the babies some recognition ability without any real understanding, much as even younger infants can. Babies taking a nap of 50 minutes showed learning abilities formerly only seen in adults and older children!

Research showed that the second of the four stages of sleep was key to learning even though this is a lighter sleep, and it does fall into the 50 minute window.

Key Points:

  • 1Infants are able to learn the meanings of new words at a much earlier age than was previously thought possible.
  • 2Infants who sleep immediately after a learning situation, can commit new words to memory while sleeping.
  • 3The use of sleep to help infants learn new words, only works when certain stages of sleep are reached.

The research shows that children can consolidate word meanings into their long-term memory a lot earlier than initially assumed.

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