Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Newborns Learn While Asleep

Infants are the ongoing future of humanity. And their brains literally hold all promises of that future. How they learn so much, so soon, has long been a mystery.

Now, University of Florida research brings amazing news about early learning. And we mean very very early learning!

Dana Byrd, (a research affiliate in psychology at UF, who collaborated with a team of scientists), said: "Sleeping newborns are better learners, better 'data sponges' than we knew."

Everyone from parents to doctors have long speculated and wondered--- how on earth do babies learn so rapidly, even though newborns sleep 16 to 18 hours a day?

"We found a basic form of learning in sleeping newborns, a type of learning that may not be seen in sleeping adults," said Byrd. How can this be?

Her team's Florida research--- published online in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences--- describes their experiments with 24 newborns, using EEG and video recordings.

Their brain wave maps gave a neural measurement of "memory up-dating."

The UF results were dramatic--- babies update their learning while asleep, as adults perhaps do, but at a much more powerful rate, apparently. And perhaps they are learning so very much that they need much more sleep, to process the flood of new stimuli and data.

Some researchers, however, believe that sleeping adults don't learn new data at all. If this is true, infants brains may even more different than we thought.

Byrd also suggested that the UF research could help early-diagnose certain abnormalities for early treatment.

"This methodology opens up research areas into potentially detecting high risk populations, those who show abnormalities in the neural systems underlying this form of learning. These would include siblings of individuals with autism and siblings of those with dyslexia."

Byrd explained that "learned eyelid movement", using a non-invasive procedure, can reveal normal or abnormal functioning of cerebellum circuitry.

"Newborn infants' sleep patterns are quite different than those of older children or adults in that they show more active sleep where heart and breathing rates are very changeable. It may be this sleep state is more amenable to experiencing the world in a way that facilitates learning."

Another factor is that infants' brains have greater neural plasticity, which is the ability for the neural connections to be changed, Byrd said. "Newborns may be very adaptive to learning in general simply because their brains have increased plasticity, increased propensity to be changed by experience," she said.

Could developmental disorders (like autism and dyslexia) benefit from much earlier intervention than possible before now?

And on the opposite end of the curve, could higher-functioning infants be spotlighted as well?

And even more--- can newborns help reveal the unfathomable secrets, of the mystery that has fascinated medicine since recorded time--- the human brain?

1 comment: