Newborn babies are such fast developers because they keep learning even in their sleep.
Even though infants may stay awake for just a few hours a day, their brains keep working around the clock, scientists said.
They believe that the brain is constantly adjusting and adapting to the physical world despite appearances that they are dozing.
Tests on one and two day-old babies showed that their ability to act as “data sponges” – absorbing information about the world around them – never stops.
The discovery was made by experts at the University of Florida after simple experiments with 26 sleeping newborns.
Researchers played a tune to them, and then followed it with a gentle puff of air to the babies’ eyelids. After about 20 minutes, 24 of them had learned to anticipate the puff by squeezing their eyes shut.
The babies’ brain waves also changed.
Dana Byrd, a psychologist, said, “We found a basic form of learning in sleeping newborns, a type of learning that may not be seen in sleeping adults.
“They are better learners, better ‘data sponges’ than we knew. While past studies find this type of learning can occur in infants who are awake, this is the first study to document it in their most frequent state, while they are asleep.
“Newborn infants’ sleep patterns are quite different to those of older children or adults in that they show more active sleep where heart and breathing rates are very changeable.
“It may be this sleep state is more amenable to experiencing the world in a way that facilitates learning.”
The results, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, could be used to identify babies that are not developing properly such as those at risk of dyslexia or autism, she added.