Sleep and infant learning



Human neonates spend the majority of their time sleeping. Despite the limited waking hours available for environmental exploration, the first few months of life are a time of rapid learning about the environment. The organization of neonate sleep differs qualitatively from adult sleep, and the unique characteristics of neonatal sleep may promote learning. Sleep contributes to infant learning in multiple ways. First, sleep facilitates neural maturation, thereby preparing the infants to process and explore the environment in increasingly sophisticated ways. Second, sleep plays a role in memory consolidation of material presented while the infant was awake. Finally, emerging evidence indicates that infants process sensory stimuli and learn about contingencies in their environment even while asleep. As infants make the transition from reflexive to cortically mediated control, learned responses to physiological challenges during sleep may be critical adaptations to promote infant survival. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.