Educational Slumber

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New parents often marvel at how much their newborn babies sleep (as many as 16 to 18 hours a day!). Perhaps even more astonishing: A new study shows our sleeping beauties may be learning as they snooze. Researchers at Columbia University Medical Center monitored the eye movements and brain waves of 1- and 2-day-old slumbering infants. Twenty-six babes were exposed to a soft tone, followed by a gentle puff of air to the eyelids, in an exact pattern that was repeated for 20 minutes. At the end of the test, all but two squeezed their eyelids together when the tone was played without the puff of air, indicating that they had learned to predict the relationship between the two stimuli. Their brain waves also showed activity in the frontal area of the cerebral cortex that is involved with memory. According to lead researcher William Fifer, PhD, the findings, which appeared in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, could lead to comprehensive early screening tests for developmental disorders such as autism and dyslexia.

—Stacy Whitman

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