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Does sleep help infants integrate language experience, such as the meaning of a new word or how a word sounds in different local accents?

In the Sleep Room, during an experiment at the BabyLab
In the Sleep Room, during an experiment at the BabyLab

Babies spend more than half the day sleeping, and yet they acquire new skills and knowledge rapidly. We have good reason to believe that sleep is not just a passive state; moreover, it plays an active role in brain de­velopment. In our research, we aim to reveal the role sleep plays in early language acquisition.

Sleep and the mental lexicon

Sleep may help babies to grow a lexicon of words. The mental lexicon contains the sounds and mean­ings of words, as well as encoding the relationship between the words themselves. It grows throughout the life span, successfully incorporating thousands of new words, chang­es in meaning, and important relationships between words. We believe that sleep helps to integrate words into this lexicon, and facilitate the construction of language in the developing brain.


Sleep may have an impact on the generalisation of the properties of a language to new situations.  Even a short nap might help to transfer the complex knowledge of a word which infants have been familiarised with to completely new, previously unheard words.

Development of sleep patterns

We are also interested in how sleep develops in infancy, how the number and duration of naps change with age and how night time sleep becomes dominant. Are naps beneficial for our babies? Is there an optimal duration of sleeping in terms of cognitive development? We investigate these questions not only to obtain a better scientific understanding but to be able to give parents practical advice as well.

Some recent information on sleep and language development can be found in this paper by Horvath et al (2015).

A copy of the Sleep and Naps Oxford Research Inventory (SNORI) can be found here.