The study focused on 216 healthy six to 12 month-old infants and tested their ability to recall newly learned skills.
    
The youngsters were shown how to remove and manipulate a mitten from a hand puppet and were given the opportunity to reproduce these actions after delays of four and 24 hours.
    
Infants who did not nap after learning were compared with age-matched infants who napped for at least 30 minutes within four hours of learning the target actions.
    
The study showed that only infants who had napped after the learning activity remembered the target actions whilst those who hadn't napped showed no evidence of remembering the new information and behaviour.
    
After a 24 hour delay children in the napping group also exhibited significantly better recall compared with infants in the no-nap group.
    
"These findings are particularly interesting to both parents and educationalists because they suggest that the optimal time for infants to learn new information is just before they have a sleep," said researcher Dr Jane Herbert, from the University of Sheffield's Department of Psychology.
    
"Until now people have presumed that the best time for infants to learn is when they are wide-awake, rather than when they are starting to feel tired, but our results show that activities occurring just before infants have a nap can be particularly valuable and well remembered," Herbert said.
    
The study also suggests that allowing flexible napping schedules in response to different daily schedules could help ensure optimal learning conditions for infants.
    
Naps of shorter than 30 minutes were shown not to provide sufficient time for infants to consolidate their knowledge such that it could be retained over the long term.
    
"Parents receive lots of advice about what they should and shouldn't do with their baby's sleep schedule," said Herbert.
    
"This study however examined learning opportunities around naturally occurring naps and shows just how valuable activities like reading books with young children just before they go down to sleep can be," Herbert added.

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