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Researchers say babies learn better before sleep

University of Sheffield
One more reason to love nap time.
By Sonali Kohli
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

If you want your baby to remember a lesson, teach them right before a nap.

That’s the verdict from new research out of the University of Sheffield and Ruhr-Universität Bochum, published recently in the US journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The researchers tested 6- and 12-months old babies to see whether learning right before a nap would improve memory. They used a method called deferred imitation, in which a researcher demonstrates an action (in this case removing a mitten from a puppet, shaking a bell on the mitten three times and replacing the mitten) then tested whether babies could reproduce those action after four hours and 24 hours, to gauge memory.

The 216 babies were split into groups—one group napped for at least 30 consecutive minutes, one was not permitted to nap for more than 29 consecutive minutes in that four-hour period, and one was a baseline group that didn’t get any demonstration from researchers.

Here’s what happened: Babies with a nap longer than 30 minutes remembered the actions significantly better than the baseline, which means that they learned the action. The children without a nap performed slightly better than the baseline, but not enough to be significant and prove that they learned the action, according to the study.

A second experiment tested different babies to see if they remembered those actions a day later, after all the babies had a chance to sleep through the night. The results were the same—babies who had napped right after the initial action had significant learning, while the babies without a nap did not—they had no recollection of the bell-shaking action.

Research has suggested that bedtime stories are beneficial to children’s development, helping them build up their vocabulary early in life. This study suggests there might be a good reason why the timing of those stories should be before bed, co-author Jane Herbert told the BBC.

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