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Child Sleep and Memory Formation

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Do you recall staying up late the night before an exam cramming into your brain as much as possible only to get to the exam and have very little memory of anything that you had read only hours prior? This was me on many an occasion and I scraped though by using my memory recall of what I had learnt in the time before the last minute cramming.

Children go through at least 10 developmental stages and leaps before they reach 2 years old. During sleep, children not only get physical rest but their brain is developing. Beyond the surface of their rested little bodies there is so much going on in their brains. Memories are formed, knowledge is consolidated, and those developmental skills are refined.

The Science of Sleep and Memory

The connection between sleep and memory is deeply rooted in neuroscience. During sleep, the brain undergoes a complex process of memory consolidation, where newly learnt information is integrated into long-term memory storage.

Research has shown that different stages of sleep play distinct roles in memory formation. Deep sleep or REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement) is characterised by vivid dreams and rapid eye movements, is particularly important for consolidating procedural memories—those related to skills and procedures like rolling a ball, crawling, rolling over. Lighter stages of sleep that occurs in the 2nd half of the night or Non-REM sleep, is essential for consolidating declarative memories—facts, concepts, and events like object recognition or a day at the park.

If good quality sleep supports memory consolidation and retention, it is important that once your little one starts school, carers, parents, and teachers support healthy sleep hygiene so that learning can be optimised.

The term ‘sleep hygiene’ sounds like it refers to having a clean bedroom but it is about having good habits to prioritise good sleep. Sleep hygiene can start as soon as your baby arrives and generally the first thing you will concentrate on it helping them to distinguish day from night and giving them a safe sleep space (see The Lullaby Trust for safer sleep tips). 

One of these habits is also having a good bedtime routine and this is something you can start to introduce from about week 8 (the blog for which can be found here). A good bedtime routine can go a long way to making sure a child is as relaxed as possible in the lead up to bedtime plus it also makes them feel safe and secure.

Professor Felipe Benjamini has provided research that shows how sleep may also facilitate active processing and problem-solving. His study shows that the brain continues to work on unresolved problems during sleep, often leading to creative insights and novel solutions when you wake. This could also be applied to infant sleep and over coming and learning all the new challenges they face on a daily basis in their discovery of their little world.

So as you can see, sleep is integral for development, shaping cognitive abilities and harnessing memory formation. Sleep is a powerful tool for shaping cognitive abilities and fostering memory formation and you can help yourself and your little one/s to sleep better by looking at sleep hygiene and incorporating simple bedtime routines

You can also read a little more about the benefits of sleep here.

If you are worried that your little one is not getting the sleep they need please get in touch and we can have a  free no obligation phone call and we can talk about working together to get you a better night’s sleep.

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