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J Sleep Res. 2015 Oct;24(5):503-9. doi: 10.1111/jsr.12306. Epub 2015 May 7.

Napping facilitates word learning in early lexical development.

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Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK.
Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK.


Little is known about the role that night-time sleep and daytime naps play in early cognitive development. Our aim was to investigate how napping affects word learning in 16-month-olds. Thirty-four typically developing infants were assigned randomly to nap and wake groups. After teaching two novel object-word pairs to infants, we tested their initial performance with an intermodal preferential looking task in which infants are expected to increase their target looking time compared to a distracter after hearing its auditory label. A second test session followed after approximately a 2-h delay. The delay contained sleep for the nap group or no sleep for the wake group. Looking behaviour was measured with an automatic eye-tracker. Vocabulary size was assessed using the Oxford Communicative Development Inventory. A significant interaction between group and session was found in preferential looking towards the target picture. The performance of the nap group increased after the nap, whereas that of the wake group did not change. The gain in performance correlated positively with the expressive vocabulary size in the nap group. These results indicate that daytime napping helps consolidate word learning in infancy.


daytime sleep; infancy; language acquisition; memory; sleep-dependent memory consolidation

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