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Can Children Absorb Information While Sleeping?

By Debra Pachucki ; Updated September 26, 2017
While his body rests, his brain is hard at work.

Children and adults alike are capable of learning while sleeping. According to the National Sleep Foundation, children are more effective at absorbing and processing information in their sleep than adults, and they do so in a way that makes future learning easier.

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Activating Prior Learning

Children can learn implicitly through sleep -- that is, they can unconsciously absorb information without intent or awareness. All of the information that your child takes in throughout the day -- facts learned in school, details about the environment, and social interactions with others, for example -- are activated and processed into explicit memory as your child sleeps. Sleeping right after learning helps your child’s brain process information more efficiently, according to a 2007 study published in the "Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience." In the study, participants who learned a new computer-based task were able to complete the task better and faster after a night of sleep, which suggests, according to the study researchers, that sleep enhances the learning process even after explicit learning has ended.

Learning New Information

In addition to processing prior information, children can also acquire new information while asleep that has the potential to help them learn more. The sounds of soft music or a language being spoken, for example, can make their way into little ears and minds, even during the deepest of sleep. Sound cues can, according to Northwestern University, enhance learning during waking hours. A 2009 Northwestern sleep study showed that people who were played sound cues during sleep were better able to recall associated information during waking hours. The results of this study suggest that it might be possible for students to perform better on tests or learn a new language faster and easier if daytime studying is accompanied by related sound cues played for the child as he sleeps through the night.

Sleep and Skill-building

In addition to absorbing prior information and acquiring new knowledge, researchers at Northwestern University also suggest that children can potentially learn new skills while they are asleep. While research is ongoing in this exciting discovery, preliminary results from a Northwestern University study indicate that external stimulation during sleep can reactivate memories and store them more efficiently, resulting in skill building.

Sleeping for Smarts

If you aren’t exactly able to whisper a foreign language or other sound cues into your child’s ear at night, fear not -- sleep and intelligence are also associated in more general ways. According to the Good Therapy website, adequate sleep is essential to children’s academic performance, cognitive functioning, behavior, intelligence, mood, memory and attention. Ensuring that your child gets a full night’s sleep regularly can naturally boost her intelligence and performance.

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About the Author

Debra Pachucki has been writing in the journalistic, scholastic and educational sectors since 2003. Pachucki holds a Bachelor's degree in education and currently teaches in New Jersey. She has worked professionally with children of all ages and is pursuing a second Masters degree in education from Monmouth University.

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