That bedtime story you read to your child every night couldn’t be timed more perfectly, according to science. A baby’s first year of development is crucial during their rapid physical and mental growth. While most of the incremental month-to-month baby steps toward toddlerhood are average and predictable, there may be a trick to speeding up the brain part. German researchers from the University of Sheffield collaborated with Ruhr University Bochum and discovered the power of “sleeping like a baby” can change the way a baby learns new skills. Their findings appear in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

In the first study of its kind, researchers examined the sleeping and learning patterns of 216 healthy 6- to 12-month-old infants. Babies were taught how to remove a mitten from a hand puppet and were then split into two different groups. The first group took a 30-minute nap within four hours of the lesson, and the second group went without a nap. Which group remembered how to remove the mitten from the puppet when they were tested four and 24 hours? The babies who took naps after the lesson remembered what they were taught and “exhibited significantly better recall.”

Power Napping For Skills

“These findings are particularly interesting to both parents and educationalists because they suggest that the optimal time for infants to learn new information is just before they have a sleep,” the study’s coauthor Dr. Jane Herbert, from the University of Sheffield's department of psychology, said in a press release. “Until now people have presumed that the best time for infants to learn is when they are wide-awake, rather than when they are starting to feel tired, but our results show that activities occurring just before infants have a nap can be particularly valuable and well-remembered.”

Flexible napping schedules may be the key to optimizing an infant’s learning ability. However, babies that napped shorter than 30 minutes showed no learning benefits. They were able to consolidate the lesson and retain the information they learned over a long period of time. Previous research has also shown sleep can benefit an adult’s ability to remember information. Since little humans as young as 6 months were able to benefit from napping, it can provide parents with a strategy to create the best learning environment and routine possible for their child.

“Parents receive lots of advice about what they should and shouldn't do with their baby's sleep schedule,” Herbert said. “This study, however, examined learning opportunities around naturally occurring naps and shows just how valuable activities like reading books with young children just before they go down to sleep can be.”

Source: Herbert J. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 2015.