Every minute she is awake, your baby is learning. She is watching, listening, smelling and touching the world around her and taking it all in. She is learning how to crawl, how to talk, and how to get your attention when she needs you. Seemingly, her only respite from all of this learning is when she is asleep. But new research shows that her nap time might be the most critical period in her learning process.

A new study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, has found that naps may actually help babies learn and remember new tasks more efficiently. 

For the study, researchers from the University of Sheffield in the U.K. and Rohr University Bochum in Germany tested 216 babies who were six months to one year old and found that regular naps were critical for helping babies learn. Researchers taught the babies three new tasks using hand puppets. Within four hours of the teaching session, half of the babies took naps while the other half either stayed awake or slept for fewer than 30 minutes. The following day, the babies were encouraged to repeat what they had learned. Researchers found that the babies that, well — slept like a baby — for at least 30 minutes after learning the task were more likely than their non-rested peers to be able to repeat what they had learned.

On average, the babies who napped were able to repeat one and a half tasks after having a good nap. The non-nappers and under-30-minute nappers could not repeat any of the tasks. 

The study contradicted a previous notion that babies would learn best when they are wide awake. Researchers actually found that tasks learned immediately before napping were retained better than those learned earlier.

The results also shed new light on the importance of reading to children of all ages — and especially babies — before bedtime. Yes, it's good snuggle time and a great way to bond with your baby. And it may also be the key to helping her learn about the world around her.

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