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Surprising Science

Babies’ Brains Listen While Asleep

Parents, beware waiting until your baby nods off before arguing over the housework—new research from King’s College London suggests the sleeping infant will still be listening in.

What’s the Latest Development?

Using a functional M.R.I. scanner, Declan Murphy and his team of researchers at King’s College London have examined the behavior of baby brains while the babies sleep. What they found is that regions of baby brains are more reactive to certain stimuli than are adults when they are awake. “Murphy’s team first compared the babies’ responses to human non-verbal vocalizations—such as coughs and sneezes—and other sounds that the tots would be familiar with, like the sounds produced by a musical toy.”

What’s the Big Idea?

“The finding might send a chill down the spine of all parents that have engaged in a whispered argument over a sleeping child, but Murphy points out negative sounds might not necessarily be detrimental for the baby. ‘It could be a good thing—the brain could be training itself to respond to these sounds,’ he says. The reason why sleeping babies tune in to the sounds around them remains a mystery. ‘It could be because they are hard-wired to be alert,’ Murphy suggests.”


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