Parents know that babies need a lot of sleep (even if the babies don’t necessarily agree). And new research has figured out why naps are so important – they help infants learn.
A study suggests the best time to learn may be just before sleep, and has highlighted the importance of reading at bedtime.
University of Sheffield and Ruhr University Bochum researchers taught babies aged six to 12 months old three new tasks involving hand puppets. Half the 216 babies slept within four hours of the exercise, while the others had either no nap or a sleep of fewer than 30 minutes.
The results, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, found babies were unable to remember the new tasks if they did not have a long sleep afterwards.
The babies were urged to repeat what they had been taught the day after the exercise. On average one-and-a-half tasks could be repeated after having a substantial nap, while no tasks could be repeated if there was little sleep time.
“Those who sleep after learning learn well, those not sleeping don’t learn at all,” researcher Dr Jane Herbert tells the BBC.
The researchers say while people spend more time asleep as babies than at any other time in their lives, little is known about the role of sleep in the first year. Dr Herbert, of the University of Sheffield, says it has been assumed that wide awake is best for learning, but it “may be the events just before sleep that are most important”.
She says the results show how important books are in any bedtime routine.
Now, if someone could just figure out a way to convince babies that long naps are a good idea!