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Daytime Naps Contribute to Brain Development in Infants

A recent study suggests that 30-minute naps for babies are greatly beneficial in helping them to develop a better memory. Infants were made to learn certain tasks and their behaviour was later analysed; those having napped after the learning process were better able to repeat the same tasks afterwards.

Why do babies nap so much?

Sleep is a blessing bestowed on us so we can find rest – this applies to our little humans as well. Babies generally sleep sporadically throughout the day. Those between 3 to 11 months nap several times a day for 30 minutes to 2 hours each time. Why do they sleep so much? Is their sleep to no purpose or do they actually gain something from it?

A new study, recently published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, has attempted to provide answers to these queries. The lead author, Dr Jane Herbert is of the University of Sheffield, UK, and other of the researchers are from Ruhr University Bochum, Germany.

They discovered that the daytime naps of babies might be playing a critical role in their brain development by aiding them remember skills and behaviour recently learned. Uptil now, not many studies have focused on the way sleep contributes to the evolution of children’s brains in spite of the relatively large amount of time spent by infants sleeping. Therefore, the researchers set out to bringing new perspectives.

The methodology: Visiting 216 babies twice

216 infants of 6 to 12 months were made to enlist their participation for the study with the aim of studying the effects of sleep on learning and memory.

The scientists would visit the homes of the infants twice to gather their data: once after the babies have fallen asleep, and the second time just before they are expected to sleep.

The first visit: Playing with mittens

A learning task was carried out whereby the babies were taught how to play and remove a mitten from a hand puppet.

The second visit: Monitoring behaviour

The second visit happened 4 to 24 hours after the first one. The response of the infants to seeing the mitten and hand puppet a second time was observed. The aim of this step was to verify whether the babies would have processed and remembered the actions that they had done beforehand.

Results & conclusion: Napping consolidates memory

It was found that infants having had a minimum of 30 minutes of sleep within 4 hours of the learning experience retained to memory how to remove and play with the mitten.
This data was compared with those infants of the same age but who did not sleep after the learning. These babies were unable to repeat the pervious actions. This suggests that they had not remembered how to perform those actions.

Furthermore, babies of the first group – those who napped after learning – displayed better memory after 24 hours as well as opposed to their counterparts.

Also infants who had napped for less than 30 minutes did not show signs of a better memory recall, indicating that naps lasting for less than 30 minutes do not generate the positive effects on memory.

Interpreting the results: Teaching infants just before they nap

Dr. Jane Herbert explained their interpretation of the results as follows:

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.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.


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