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Sleep can help babies' language skills

Sleep can help babies' language skills

Sleeping can help babies learn to talk.

It’s something most new mums and dads hope for, their little bundle of joy going down for a nap to give them a few hours of peace, but not all babies want to play ball when it comes to their sleep schedule.

However, interesting new research has found that shut eye isn’t just good for parents' sanity, but a baby’s language skills too.

Scientists at Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences discovered that sleep helps the important process of associating meanings to words, and not just perceive them as random noise. It was also found that babies as young as six months could associate, which is earlier than previously thought.

“Our results demonstrate that children hold real word meanings in their long-term memory much earlier than assumed," senior researcher Dr. Angela Friederici commented.

“Although the brain structures relevant for this type of memory are not fully matured, they can already be used to a distinguishable extent.”

To get to their results a group of six to eight-month-old babies were introduced to “fantasy objects” which had fantasy names, like Bofel and Zuser. This was so the infants could not access any existing knowledge.

They were then shown varieties of the object, which differed in form or colour but were still similar, and were called the same name. The tots could not associate the new objects with the old name, but after napping for 50 minutes or more, their performance improved and the brain could differentiate between the right and wrong term for a new object.

“In our study, the babies received such a lot of information which they normally pick up within a longer time period,” says study leader Dr. Manuela Friedrich.

“But only during sleep, when the child's brain is disconnected from the outer world, can it filter and save essential relations. Only during the interaction between awake exploration and ordering processes while sleeping can early cognitive and linguistic capabilities develop properly.”

Findings have been published in Current Biology.

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