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Naptime Helps Babies Remember New Things

Developing brains retained more when sleep followed learning, research shows

WEDNESDAY, Feb. 24 (HealthDay News) -- Naps play an important role in infant learning by helping children's developing brains retain information, a new study has found.

Researchers at the University of Arizona in Tucson found that infants who have daytime naps are more likely to exhibit an advanced level of learning called abstraction -- the ability to detect a general pattern contained in new information.

In this study of 48 infants, phrases from an artificial language were repeatedly played to the 15-month-olds until they became familiar with them. Follow-up tests showed that infants who slept within four to eight hours after hearing the phrases showed evidence of abstract learning. This wasn't the case for infants who didn't have a nap within that timeframe.

"What we know is that infants have mostly REM sleep, given the type of sleep they have, given how their brains are developed at that point. And they have to get some of that sleep within a reasonable amount of time after inputting information in order to be able to do abstracting work on it. If they don't sleep within four to eight hours, they probably just lose the entire thing," lead researcher Lynn Nadel, a professor in the psychology department, said in a university news release.

The findings were presented Feb. 21 at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting, in San Diego.

While it's important to provide infants and young children with the kind of mental stimulation that comes from talking and reading to them, it's also crucial to ensure this is done as part of a well-regulated daily cycle that includes adequate sleep, Nadel said.

More information

Zero to Three has more about brain development.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: University of Arizona, news release, Feb. 21, 2010

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