Sleep Is A Learning Experience In Itself

For those of us who love Alison Gopnik’s writing (count me as a lead member of her fan club), we’re now fortunate to have a new column by her every other week in the Wall Street Journal. Her latest is about sleep, and why people (especially children) need it to learn:

“Babies and children sleep a lot—12 hours a day or so to our eight. But why would children spend half their lives in a state of blind, deaf paralysis punctuated by insane hallucinations? Why, in fact, do all higher animals surrender their hard-won survival abilities for part of each day?

Children themselves can be baffled and indignant about the way that sleep robs them of consciousness. We weary grown-ups may welcome a little oblivion, but at nap time, toddlers will rage and rage against the dying of the light.

Part of the answer is that sleep helps us to learn. It may just be too hard for a brain to take in the flood of new experiences and make sense of them at the same time. Instead, our brains look at the world for a while and then shut out new input and sort through what they have seen.

Children learn in a particularly profound way. Some remarkable experiments show that even tiny babies can take in a complex statistical pattern of data and figure out the rules and principles that explain the pattern. Sleep seems to play an especially important role in this kind of learning.”

Gopnik goes on to describe two fascinating experiments (read about them by clicking on the link below), and concludes:

“Children may sleep so much because they have so much to learn (though toddlers may find that scant consolation for the dreaded bedtime). It’s paradoxical to try to get children to learn by making them wake up early to get to school and then stay up late to finish their homework.” (Read more here.)

Amen. Sleep itself is a learning experience, and an especially crucial one. Make sure you and your kids get enough of it.

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