Thursday 20 July 2017

Babies learn best just before bedtime

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Freya Drohan

Freya Drohan

Bedtime stories are an essential part of a baby’s routine, as a new study reveals that little ones retain information best right before a nap.

New research has revealed that babies improve their memories through taking lengthy naps and retain most information when they are sleepy.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, the average infant (aged 3-11 months) will nap between one and four times a day.

Keen to investigate the link between baby’s sleeping patterns and learning skills, Dr Jane Herbert of the University of Sheffield in the UK and investigators from Ruhr University Bochum in Germany assessed 216 healthy infants.

Dr Herbert and fellow researchers made two visits to each infants' home - either straight after they had slept or just before a scheduled nap.

On the first visit, the researchers conducted a learning task whereby infants were shown how to remove and play with a mitten that had been placed on a hand puppet.

On the second visit - either four or 24 hours later - the researchers monitored how the infants reacted to seeing the mitten-wearing hand puppet again.

Dr Herbert wanted to investigate whether the infants would try to remove and play with the mitten, indicating they had processed and remembered these actions from the learning task hours previously.

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Interestingly, the researchers found that infants who had at least a 30-minute nap within four hours of the learning task remembered to remove and play with the hand puppet's mitten on the second visit.

After 24 hours, the babies who had napped after the original task continued to show much better memory recall than those who had not napped.

Infants of the same age who did not nap after the learning task, however, were not able to perform these actions, suggesting they did not remember the learning task.

Infants who napped for less than 30 minutes after the learning task did not display better memory recall, indicating that less than 30 minutes sleep is not enough time for infants' brains to consolidate new information.

“Until now, people have presumed that the best time for infants to learn is when they are wide awake, rather than when they are starting to feel tired, but our results show that activities occurring just before infants have a nap can be particularly valuable and well-remembered," Dr Herbert commented.

She adds that engaging in educational activities with children just before bedtime, such as reading a story, could significantly help their learning and memory development.

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