As a sleep consultant I know how important it is for a baby and child to get the proper amount of consolidated sleep. An infant sleeps around the clock, but as they get to be around 4 months old, things change. This is when parents can start to have difficulties getting their little ones to sleep. Babies at this age are becoming very social and very aware of the world around them, and even though they desperately need good solid chunks of sleep, they like to fight it. At this age, a morning nap is mentally restorative, while an afternoon nap is physically restorative.
A study done in 2006 by Rebecca Gomez at the University of Arizona compared a baby’s ability to learn something new upon waking from sleep, with babies who learn something new just before falling asleep. Remarkably, the first group learned the specific rules related to sentences that were being taught to them. But even more remarkably is that the babies who were being taught the same sentences just before going to sleep, learned more about the abstract principles related to the sentences.
Similarly, a paper published just this month by Ines Wilhelm at the University of Tubingen showed that older children also learn in their sleep, and in fact learn much better than adults. Added to the empirical evidence of this study, the participants wore electronic caps to measure brain activity. It was found that the children had much more “slow wave sleep,” which is an especially deep, dreamless kind of sleep. Both adults and children who experienced this kind of sleep, learned better.
This study proves once again that as difficult as it may be for parents to get their little ones on a good sleep schedule (and especially one that corresponds with their biological rhythms), it is crucially important not only for your sanity, but for the developing brain of your child.