Study: A Good Night’s Sleep Could Lead to a Good Day’s Speech

Sleep and language memory

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Research out of the University of York and Sheffield Hallam University has shown that a good night’s sleep can help children develop their vocabularies better and retain new words more efficiently. The British study found that when children age seven and up (as well as adults) slept within 12 hours of learning new words, they were more likely to retain the vocabulary. This could change how we present speech therapy techniques for better retention!

Researchers have long known that sleep works to aid adult learners, but this new study has found this mechanism in much younger learners, which can be a huge breakthrough in the timing of how and what children retain.

One of the study authors, Dr. Anna Weighall said, “These are truly exciting results which open up a new dimension of research in our understanding of language development. Our work provides the first evidence that sleep is associated with the integration of newly-learned words into the mental dictionaries of children.”

The research introduced new words to children and found they began to co-exist alongside known words roughly 12 hours after they first were introduced to the new words but only when there had been an interval of sleep. The study indicates that for words to be integrated into long term memory, sleep is a necessary component.

Another study author, Dr. Lisa Henderson, said, “Children’s ability to recall and recognise new words improved approximately 12 hours after training, but only if sleep occurs. The key effects were maintained one week later, suggesting that these new words are retained in long-term memory.”

Importantly, this study also has implications for children with neuro developmental disorders like autism and dyslexia. These disorders are often associated with disrupted sleep patterns and language difficulties. If sleep patterns could be normalized for children with these issues, could their language retention be improved?

A third study author, Gareth Gaskell, added, “Professor Gaskell said: “Clearly, children need to learn material well in the first place, but then they also need to sleep well in order to weave these new memories in with their established knowledge. The combination of these two components is the key to robust learning.”

Sleep and memory study

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The study was published in Developmental Science and is called “Consolidation of vocabulary is associated with sleep in children.”  These are exciting study results for all teachers, parents and therapists that could change the effectiveness of language learning patterns. Ensuring that sleep occurs within twelve hours of new vocabulary lessons or therapy could help cement that vocabulary.

Hopefully this will also spawn some clinical research into the effects of normalizing sleep patterns for developmental disordered patients with autism and dyslexia to see if they can improve language retention by promoting healthier sleep!

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