Sleep is an extremely important part of life that enables us to feel rejuvenated and refreshed for the following day. Research from the Sleep Language and Memory (SLAM) lab at the University of York has examined the relationship between sleep and language learning, and found that sleep plays a crucial role in strengthening our ability to learn and memorize new words. Medical Xpress reported that children who were given new vocabulary words to learn before bed recalled them more easily and accurately the following morning, as opposed to children who learned new words early on in the day and stayed awake afterwards.

The SLAM lab’s research may have important implications for individuals with developmental disabilities. Sleep difficulties affect up to 86% of the autism population, and a review of the SLAM lab’s results makes it clear that a lack of sleep can have damaging effects on memorization. Research conducted by Lisa Henderson and colleagues are beginning to explore more thoroughly if there is a correlation between lack of sleep in children with autism and vocabulary acquisition. Recent findings have found children on the spectrum seem to show a reverse pattern, in which there is no clear relationship between sleep and increased learning.

Henderson’s research is expanding to further examine if there is a correlation between sleep and learning difficulties in individuals with ASD. Currently, this is being done by recording the brain activity of children while they sleep in the comfort of their own beds. There is no other research that is examining this relationship specifically for people with autism.

The SLAM lab was recently awarded funding from the Economic and Social Research Council for the SmartSleep project. This funding will go towards examining how sleep supports language learning in individuals with ASD and without ASD. The results from such studies will form a more comprehensive view of this issue, and identify important information about how lack of sleep specifically affects individuals on the spectrum.

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