Washington: Newly-born children learn while they are sleeping -- for at least 16-18 hours a day, a new study shows.
The study could lead to identifying those at risk for developmental disorders such as autism and dyslexia.
"We found a basic form of learning in sleeping newborns, a type of learning that may not be seen in sleeping adults," said Dana Byrd, research affiliate in psychology at University of Florida, who collaborated with a team of scientists.
The findings give valuable information about how it is that newborns are able to learn so quickly from the world when they sleep for 16 to 18 hours a day, Byrd said.
"Sleeping newborns are better learners, better `data sponges` than we knew," she said.
Byrd and colleagues tested the learning abilities of sleeping newborns by repeating tones that were followed by a gentle puff of air to the eyelids.
After about 20 minutes, most of the babies squeezed their eyelids together when the tone was sounded without the puff of air.
"This methodology opens up research areas into potentially detecting high risk populations, those who show abnormalities in the neural (brain cell) systems underlying this form of learning," she said.
"These would include siblings of individuals with autism and dyslexia," Byrd said, according to a University of Florida release.
The findings were published online this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.