Sleeping newborns are fast learners


Baby’s birth is one of the most glorious and blissful times in everyone’s life.  A newborn baby may sleep as much as 16 hours a day (or even more), often in intervals of 3 to 4 hours at a time.  Latest study suggests that new born babies are better learner and better data sponge while sleeping. Earlier researches have documented the learning capability in new borns when they were awake.  This is first study performed in new borns during their sleeping state. 

Columbia University

William Fifer, a developmental neuroscientist at Columbia University in New York, led the research, says that this is the first study performed to demonstrate that newborn infants are capable of learning about relationships between stimuli while asleep.  The study could be helpful in identifying those at risk for developmental disorders such as autism and dyslexia.


What is the study design and how many infants were involved in the study?
The experiment was designed on 26 new born infants. Researchers recorded every sleeping infant’s electrical brain wave activity and used a video camera to record facial expressions.  Researchers played a tune, and then followed it with a gentle puff of air to the babies’ eyelids. That was repeated nine times. After roughly 20 minutes, most of the infants (24 out of 26) would scrunch their faces in response to the tone that was not accompanied by the air puff. The babies’ brain waves also changed. 


What is the major outcome of the study?
Researchers said that – we found a basic form of learning in sleeping newborns, a type of learning that may not be seen in sleeping adults.  Also Newborn infant’s sleep patterns are quite different than those of older children or adults in that they show more active sleep where heart and breathing rates are very changeable.

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The paper published online this week (May 2010) in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, describes the results of their experiment with the 1- or 2-day-old infants, comparing them with a control group using EEG and video recordings.


We know that children learn more quickly than adults. This latest research provides valuable information that how newborns are able to learn so quickly from the world, when they sleep for 16 to 18 hours a day. It seems that even though
infants stay awake for just a few hours a day, their brains keep working around the clock


This study reminds me an incidence happened with my younger brother. My mother, who lives in India, visited a very famous temple “Vaishno Devi” while she was pregnant. The temple is located in a different state and requires over night journey. She didn’t get chance to go to that temple again after that trip. Couple of years back when my brother made his first trip to the temple with his cousins, he felt that it was not the first time he came here. He was familiar with the path and layout of temple. We were making fun of him when he shared this incidence with us. Later my mother revealed that he was in her womb (third trimester), when she went to the temple. It was just surprising for all of us.  


After reading the latest study, I thought it might be possible that baby’s brain not only starts learning after the birth but also inside the womb once it is developed. Further studies are needed to shed some light on the brain activity of baby before birth.



2 Responses

  1. Piyush says:

    Very nicely articulated and informative article.

    Keep up the good work.

  2. Rupali Gupta says:

    Appreciate your response.

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