Newly walking infants’ night sleep impacts next day learning and problem solving

Melissa N. Horger, Aaron DeMasi, Angelina M. Allia, Anat Scher, Sarah E. Berger

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Sleep is part of the process that prepares children and adults for next day cognitive activity. Insufficient or fragmented sleep has a detrimental impact on subsequent encoding (Rouleau et al., 2002) and cognitive functioning (Joo et al., 2012). However, fragmented sleep early in life is a developmental norm, limiting the extent to which conclusions derived from older populations can be generalized. To directly test the continuity of this relationship, newly-walking infants’ (N = 58) sleep was monitored overnight using actigraphy. The next morning they were taught a motor problem-solving task. The task required infants to navigate through a tunnel to reach a goal at the other end. We coded infants’ exploratory behaviors and the extent of training required to solve the task. Using a cluster analysis that accounted for exploratory behaviors and number of training prompts, infants were sorted into three profiles: those who found the task Easy to solve, those who found it Difficult, and those who Never solved it. Wake episodes and sleep efficiency were entered as predictors of cluster membership in a multinomial logistic regression. Of the infants who ultimately solved the task, those with more wake episodes and lower sleep efficiency had more difficulty. Specifically, fragmentation appeared to negatively impact preparedness to learn. Contrary to our expectations, infants who Never solved the task had the least fragmented sleep, indicating that an optimal level of fragmentation is needed for efficient problem-solving. For infants, some level of sleep fragmentation is needed the night before learning in order to solve a task efficiently. These findings highlight the interaction between developmental domains, from sleep quality to motor experience, and their impact on infant learning in real time.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationInterdisciplinary Perspectives on the Relation between Sleep and Learning in Early Development
EditorsSarah E. Berger, Regina T. Harbourne, Anat Scher
PublisherAcademic Press Inc.
Number of pages27
ISBN (Print)9780323851138
StatePublished - Jan 2021

Publication series

NameAdvances in Child Development and Behavior
ISSN (Print)0065-2407

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the National Science Foundation, Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Science (1551703) and (1941122) to SEB, and the Binational Science Foundation (BSF-2015606) to AS.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Elsevier Inc.


  • Fragmentation
  • Infancy
  • Learning
  • Motor
  • Night waking
  • Problem solving
  • Sleep
  • Humans
  • Problem Solving
  • Actigraphy
  • Infant
  • Walking
  • Adult
  • Child

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience
  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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