Sleep Improves and Structures Infant Memory; Sleep Spindle Brain Waves Found Crucial

There is no rest for a baby's brain - not even in sleep. While infants sleep they are reprocessing what they have learned. Working with researchers from the University of Tübingen, scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, Germany have discovered that babies of the age from 9 to 16 months remember the names of objects better if they have had a short nap. And only after sleeping can the infants transfer learned names to similar new objects. The infant brain thus forms general categories during sleep, converting experience into knowledge. The researchers also showed that the formation of categories is closely related to a typical rhythmic activity of the sleeping brain called sleep spindles: Infants with high sleep spindle activity are particularly good at generalizing their experiences and developing new knowledge while sleeping. Sleep means much more than just relaxation for our brain. The flow of information from the sensory organs is largely cut off while we sleep, but many regions of the brain are especially active. Most brain researchers today believe that the sleeping brain retrieves recent experiences, thereby consolidating new knowledge and integrating it into the existing memory by strengthening, re-linking, or even dismantling neuronal connections. This means that sleep is indispensable for memory. The Max Planck researchers have found this to be the case even in infants and toddlers. The results of the new research were published online on January 29, 2015 in an open-access article in Nature Communications. The article was entitled, “Generalization of Word Meanings during Infant Sleep.”
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