Sleeping like a baby helps infants to learn, Sheffield University study finds

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Napping helps infants to develop their memory and retain new behaviours they have learned, a new study from the University of Sheffield has revealed.

Babies devote the majority of their time to sleeping, but until now very little was known about the links between sleep and the unprecedented levels of growth and development that take place during their first year of life.

In a groundbreaking study Sheffield researchers found that the notion of ‘sleeping like a baby’ is extremely important in memory consolidation - such as retaining facts, events and knowledge.

Researchers explored whether daytime sleep after learning helped babies to remember new behaviour.

The study focused on 216 healthy six to 12 month-old infants and tested their ability to recall newly learned skills.

The youngsters were shown how to remove and manipulate a mitten from a hand puppet and were given the opportunity to reproduce these actions after delays of four and 24 hours.

Infants who did not nap after learning were compared with age-matched infants who napped for at least 30 minutes within four hours of learning the target actions.

The study found that only infants who had napped remembered the target actions while those who hadn’t showed no evidence of remembering the new information and behaviour.

After a 24 hour delay children in the napping group also exhibited significantly better recall compared with infants in the no-nap group.

Dr Jane Herbert said: “These findings are particularly interesting to both parents and educationalists because they suggest that the optimal time for infants to learn new information is just before they have a sleep.”