New research shows children are learning even when asleep

by Freya Lucas

November 08

Research released this week from Vanderbilt University shows that preschool children have memory traces for sounds heard during sleep, indicating that this development has implications for brain development which haven’t been previously considered for this age group.

 

The preliminary results of the research were presented at the 2018 Acoustics Week conference, held in Victoria, Canada.

 

 

The research is among the first in the world to explore how sleep environments affect preschool age children.

 

 

“The type of environment in which children sleep has been a topic of conversation, especially in recent years,” said Adrienne Roman, an author on the abstract. “But there’s a big hole in the literature and the discussion about what goes on with preschool-age children, which was our jumping off point.”

 

 

To conduct the research, the scientists used portable electroencephalogram (EEG) machines, and tested individual preschool-aged children in a quiet, isolated room during nap time at a university preschool. Once the researchers verified that the children were asleep, the group played three “nonsense” words to the children for a short period of time.

 

 

The children showed positive signs for recognising the test sounds in a line-up of other nonsense words (that they did not hear previously) in a follow-up post-nap EEG. This indicates that while they were asleep, the children were still processing auditory information.

 

 

The study has implications for the early childhood education and care sector, showing that children are still learning whilst sleeping, which may encourage services and educators to consider not only the safety implications of the sleep environment, but also what activities and discussions take place around the children at this time, and how the sleep environment is managed.

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